The tyranny of visions

Thomas Sowell
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Posted: Oct 14, 2004 12:00 AM

At long last there is some reconsideration of the child molestation hysteria that has sent innocent people to jail for long terms behind bars, often with zero evidence and with testimony from children who have been heavily pressured or manipulated by "experts."

 Genuine child molesters certainly belong behind bars and a case could be made that they should never be allowed out again. But that is wholly different from saying that an unsubstantiated allegation should be automatically believed in a court of law.

 The New York Times Magazine in its September 19th issue had a long article featuring one of the children who made false accusations against a man who spent 15 years in prison as a result. The supposed victim now says that all of it was a lie. Why did he lie? Because "experts" leaned on him to say what they wanted him to say and he was just a kid at the time.

 Were those "experts" trying to frame this particular man? Probably not. More likely, they just had a set of preconceptions about the world -- a vision -- that made them believe that the accused man was guilty, so they saw their duty as getting the kid to testify in a way that would get a conviction.

 CBS News probably didn't set out to frame President Bush with a forged document about his National Guard service. More likely, the story they heard fit their vision of the world so strongly that they believed it -- and brushed aside any witness or expert who told them something different.

 Visions are powerful things. For some people, visions make facts unnecessary and can even over-ride facts to the contrary.

 In the years leading up to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, Lenin developed a whole vision of the world of the past, the present, and the future. Although he spoke in the name of the workers, he never bothered to ask what actual flesh-and-blood workers thought. In his years of exile before returning to lead a revolution, he never bothered to go where workers lived or worked.

 Lenin was just the first of the great vision-driven dictators of the 20th century. Like Hitler and Mao after him, Lenin was prepared to sacrifice the lives of millions of human beings on the altar to his vision.

 Even in democratic nations, there are people who can impose their vision on other people, with no consequences for being wrong and no requirement that they prove themselves right.

 Social workers have for years tried to stop white couples from adopting orphans from minority groups because that goes against their vision. They don't need a speck of evidence to back up their preconceptions.

 Many a minority child has been ripped out of the only home they have ever known by social workers who have sent them off to live among strangers, or a whole succession of strangers in foster homes, simply because a vision says that this is better than having them grow up with a white couple who have raised them from infancy.

 Everyone has visions but everyone is not in a position to indulge those visions, or to impose them on other people, without suffering any consequences for being wrong. Even the biggest businesses can find themselves looking red ink in the face if their idea of what the public wants turns out to be different from what the public will buy.

 Federal judges, however, pay no price for being wrong, even if the costs to others   -- sometimes the whole society -- turn out to be catastrophic. When murder rates skyrocketed after 1960s judges started conjuring up new "rights" out of thin air for criminals, there were no consequences for those judges, who had lifetime appointments and were not likely to be living in high-crime neighborhoods.

 The political left has long favored putting more and more decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong -- not only judges but zoning boards, environmental commissions and, internationally, the United Nations and the World Court. This is a vision of the wise and the virtuous imposing their wisdom and virtue on the lesser people who make up the rest of humanity.

 Egalitarians are often in the vanguard of those seeking to promote this most dangerous of all inequalities -- the inequality of unaccountable power in the service of a vision.