Monday, 8 April 2019

On Race and Culture

Thomas Sowell
In Race and Culture: A World View, Thomas Sowell offers a different perspective on ethnic and race related issues. He begins the book by noting that “the history of cultural differences among peoples enables us to understand not only how particular peoples differ but also how cultural patterns in general effect the economic and social advancement of the human race.” He rejects the conventional social science wisdom that environment plays a role in molding peoples minds:
A particular people usually has its own particular set of skills for dealing with the economic and social necessities of life—and also its own particular set of values as to what are the higher and lower purposes of life. These sets of skills and values typically follow them wherever they go. Despite prevailing “social science” approaches which depict people as creatures of their surrounding environment, or as victims of social institutions immediately impinging on them, both emigrants and conquerers have carried their own patterns of skills and behavior—their cultures—to the farthest regions of the planet, in the most radically different societies, and these patterns have often persisted for generations or even centuries.
In the book’s chapters there is an examination of issues such as migration, slavery, economic behavior, intelligence and political participation. Sowell says that the normative consequences of slavery, subjugation and imperialism have not been as negative as what the historians and social scientists have been suggesting. However, his focus in the book is primarily on those aspects of culture which provide the material requirements of life. In the Preface, he defines culture as the “specific skills, general work habits, saving propensities, and attitudes toward education and entrepreneurship—in short, what economists call ‘human capital”. On the term “race,” he says that it is a biological concept and a social reality, even though genetics is not destiny.

According to Sowell, cultures are not erased by crossing a political border, or even an ocean, nor do they necessarily disappear in later generations which adopt the language, dress, and outward lifestyle of a country. I think, he does not have the answers to all the questions, but this is an interesting book and its ideas need to be examined closely.

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