By Brendan Patrick Purdy
A vision is a pre-analytic, cognitive act that is a human’s sense of how the world works. While visions themselves are subjective, the theories that spring from them can be evaluated objectively. Thomas Sowell’s informal trilogy of A Conflict of Visions, The Vision of the Anointed, and The Quest for Cosmic Justice discuss two conflicting social visions. The unconstrained (or anointed) vision is when someone believes that an individual can overcome self-interest through reason, and that knowledge and expertise are limitless; or at least they are among the anointed themselves. The constrained (or tragic) vision believes the opposite, viz. reason cannot defeat self-interest and there are limits to human knowledge and expertise. Throughout his brilliantly prophetic trilogy, Sowell uses several case studies to illustrate the failures of the anointed and draws the following pattern.
In Stage 1, the anointed declare a negative societal situation a crisis while with Stage 2 there is an unconstrained solution that purports to solve the crisis. Those who have the tragic vision criticize the proposed solution, warning that instead of giving a solution to the so-called crisis, it will instead cause unintended and detrimental consequences. The inevitable Stage 3 comes after the policies of the anointed go into effect, and the tragic results occur. When the anointed are confronted with the detrimental results, their response in Stage 4 is two-fold: First, the benighted are accused by the anointed as being simplistic and ignoring the complexities involved, thus placing the burden of proof on the benighted critics to demonstrate with certainty that these policies alone caused a worsening of the crisis. Second, the anointed claim that the situation would have been worse if not for their bold and wonderful actions. While Sowell’s own examples in the trio of books fit this pattern, it is worth considering if this pattern holds for the current Crise du Jour, viz. COVID-19. Not only will this allow us to test Sowell’s theory as he believes all social theories should be, but it also allows us to understand why governments have responded the way they have to this pandemic. We’ll primarily focus on the responses by different levels of the American government.