The Evangelical Universalist Forum

A Conflict of Visions

#1

This probably explains half the horse**** that happens around here.

A Conflict of Visions iIt was originally published in 1987; a revised edition appeared in 2007.[1] Sowell’s opening chapter attempts to answer the question of why the same people tend to be political adversaries in issue after issue, when the issues vary enormously in subject matter and sometimes hardly seem connected to one another. The root of these conflicts, Sowell claims, are the “visions”, or the intuitive feelings that people have about human nature; different visions imply radically different consequences for how they think about everything from war to justice.

The rest of the book describes two basic visions, the “constrained” and “unconstrained” visions, which are thought to capture opposite ends of a continuum of political thought on which one can place many contemporary Westerners, in addition to their intellectual ancestors of the past few centuries.

The unconstrained vision

Sowell argues that the unconstrained vision relies heavily on the belief that human nature is essentially good. Those with an unconstrained vision distrust decentralized processes and are impatient with large institutions and systemic processes that constrain human action. They believe there is an ideal solution to every problem, and that compromise is never acceptable. Collateral damage is merely the price of moving forward on the road to perfection. Sowell often refers to them as “the self anointed.” Ultimately they believe that man is morally perfectible. Because of this, they believe that there exist some people who are further along the path of moral development, have overcome self-interest and are immune to the influence of power and therefore can act as surrogate decision-makers for the rest of society.

The constrained vision

Sowell argues that the constrained vision relies heavily on belief that human nature is essentially unchanging and that man is naturally inherently self-interested, regardless of the best intentions. Those with a constrained vision prefer the systematic processes of the rule of law and experience of tradition. Compromise is essential because there are no ideal solutions, only trade-offs. Those with a constrained vision favor solid empirical evidence and time-tested structures and processes over intervention and personal experience. Ultimately, the constrained vision demands checks and balances and refuses to accept that all people could put aside their innate self-interest.[4]

And a speech that speaks to this issue:
https://www.tsowell.com/spquestc.html

#2

Thanks for this summary of the book. I’m in the constrained vision camp (which oddly enough probably puts me closer to Calvinists than usual!). It is only God’s love pouring out into the world that enables humans to look beyond self interest.

1 Like
#3

The two ‘visions’ idea is a very clear-eyed diagnosis of some personalities on the forum (gee, I wonder which one I typify :thinking:) but not just the forum - it explains the lib-con divide in general.
It’s a way to understand the very deep differences in how to solve problems, to answer ‘what are people for?’ , and explains why good people can be utterly at odds with one another, even considering the ‘other side’ as almost evil.
One question I have would be - outside of politics, are these same visions more basic than our religious views? Do we interpret the NT according to our vision of what reality is?
This is a real thought-inducer.

#4

Dave, I do think you are astute to suggest that our perceptions toward our self and others fundamentally shapes a vision that affects everything from politics to how we interpret the NT.

But I’m wary of seeing human nature as such a binary issue. I agree that conservatives especially tend to see see others as devoid of goodness. But if we who are more liberal deny that people tend to see the world from an egotistic self-interested vantage point, we are nuts. All systems and approaches need to grapple with how best to handle the reality that we are all mixed bags.

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#5

The recent flap over the abortion issue on the forum - today - between well-meaning individuals is I think another illustration of the 2 visions thing.
I’m ‘muting’ that conversation for now as I have little to add at this point, and I think everyone has had their say.
By ‘muting’ I mean using this feature to keep from getting notified when things are posted on a thread that is either driving you nuts, or on which you are driving others nuts, or both. :slight_smile:
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#6

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#7

Took me a second, now I’ve got it, good one!