Two Visions – Thoughts Inspired by an Article

I read a neat article in theWall Street Journal the other day (Sept 7 edition). It was called “Don’t Suffer the Little Children,” by Tony Woodlief. He discusses a book – Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions” (published in the 80s) – specifically in terms of its application to parenting, but it applies to many areas. Anyway, the point is that there are basically 2 opposing visions… the “unconstrained vision” of utopians and the “constrained vision” of realists.

Utopians/”unconstrained vision” folks want to make the world a better place by improving humankind (and believe this is possible), often by way of government and “experts,” and at the cost of liberty. They view people as basically good at the core, though they would say society corrupts us (thus we need their intervention on our behalf).

Realists/ “constrained vision” people begin with the idea that humankind is essentially self-interested, utopia is an illusion, and government’s job is to “protect institutions (like markets and families) that channel our inherent selfishness into productive behavior.”

This contrast makes so much sense to me. It explains why, politically speaking, liberals and conservatives talk past each other so often… they’re coming from 2 completely different worldviews/ starting points. Different assumptions altogether. This also ties in with parenting and a book I read recently called It Takes a Parent by Betsy Hart, in which she challenges the “parenting culture” that tells us it takes experts to know how to properly raise and cultivate children (making me wonder how the world ever got this far, with all the unenlightened parents raising kids forever). In classic utopian style, in 1897 the president of the National Congress of Mothers declared that science-based parenting techniques would improve the world so that “those of us who live to see the year 1925 will behold a new world and a new people.” And now, after 2 world wars and devastation caused by utopian totalitarianism, some continue to hope beyond reason. Stephanie Marshall (an education expert) wrote in 2006 that “the fundamental purpose of schooling is to liberate the goodness and genius of children.” What??!! No wonder public schools are struggling.

I think children are the purest form of ourselves – not meaning pure in the sense of innocent and good (though they can be that way at times). They haven’t yet learned social etiquette, customs, and such. So they are sincere – sincerely sweet, honest (maybe painfully so), selfish (“mine!”), spiteful, etc. Without masks, they reveal the potential for good and evil in the human heart. But with the presence of evil, how can you think utopia stands a chance? How much better to acknowledge the selfish nature and try to work with it, redirect it, etc? I love my children with all my heart, but I do not operate under the false pretense of their being little angels. Discipline is essential for them to grow into responsible, mature adults. Thomas Sowell summed up the parent’s duty: “Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.” Is it getting to be too late?

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