Have you wondered why so many people understand the world differently?
I did, too. Thomas Sowell’s book, A Conflict of Visions, was like discovering a code breaker. It won’t change your thinking. It will help you understand and recognize your vision and the vision of other people you encounter. It gave perspectives that eluded me for a generation.
My day job involves serving economic winners as they aim to improve things for their family and the people around them. These leaders come from both political parties and many faiths. Collectively they speak several different languages and come from several continents. Their views differ on many topics. We have many different visions.
Thomas Sowell defines “vision” as our understanding of how the world works. He writes as a social theorist. He’s not trying to make a political point. The New York Times Book Review said: “There is nothing one-sided about his argument … He makes his case fairly, lucidly, and persuasively.” I want to highlight enough for you to consider whether the volume is worth exploring.
The book describes two substantially different visions arrayed along a spectrum. No person is 100% at one end or the other. A Conflict of Visions suggests that the two visions are in irreconcilable conflict. Sowell names the visions “constrained” and “unconstrained.”
People with a constrained vision believe that human beings are flawed and not perfectible. Think that, collectively human nature is unlikely to make dramatic improvements anytime soon People with a constrained vision believe equal opportunity is more important than equal outcomes. They believe there are always trade-offs, but there are rarely solutions to major conflicts. They think societal transaction costs, unintended consequences, can be significant and should be considered Our best hope is to trust processes, culture, and laws more than a few brilliant experts.
People with an unconstrained vision believe human beings are perfectible. They think that human nature, social consciousness, is evolving and that the frequency and intensity of evil is rapidly diminishing. People with an unconstrained vision believe equal outcome is vital, but equal opportunity is a myth. They believe trade-offs are a waste of time, only solutions matter. They think societal burden, unintended consequences, are usually small, bearable and can be quickly corrected. Out best hope is the moral and intellectual elite.
The two visions use the same words: values, equality, freedom, knowledge, and power. Unfortunately, each of those words means different things to the two camps. The insidious reality is that sometimes you think you’re talking with someone with the alternate vision, but the two of you are talking past each other because the same word has a different meaning for each of you.
No matter which vision you lean toward, A Conflict of Visions may help you understand others. This classic was in the best 20% of what I’ve read in the last year.
What was your best book or movie in the last year?
Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.”