Thomas Sowell

Among the many mindless mantras of our time, "making a difference" and "giving back" irritate me like chalk screeching across a blackboard.

I would be scared to death to "make a difference" in the way pilots fly airliners or brain surgeons operate. Any difference I might make could be fatal to many people.

Making a difference makes sense only if you are convinced that you have mastered the subject at hand to the point where any difference you might make would be for the better.

Very few people have mastered anything that well beyond their own limited circle of knowledge. Even fewer seem to think far enough ahead to consider that question. Yet hardly a day goes by without news of some uninformed busybodies on one crusade or another.

Even the simplest acts have ramifications that spread across society the way waves spread across a pond when you drop a stone in it.

Among those who make a difference by serving food to the homeless, how many have considered the history of societies which have made idleness easy for great numbers of people?

How many have studied the impact of drunken idlers on other people in their own society, including children who come across their needles in the park -- if they dare to go to the parks?

How many have even considered such questions relevant as they drop their stone in the pond without thinking about the waves that spread out to others?

Maybe some would still do what they do, even if they thought about it. But that doesn't mean that thinking is a waste of time.

"Giving back" is a similarly mindless mantra.

I have donated money, books and blood for people I have never seen and to whom I owe nothing. Nor is that unusual among Americans, who do more of this than anyone else.

But we are not "giving back" anything to those people because we never took anything from them in the first place.

If we are giving back to society at large, in exchange for all that society has made possible for us, then that is a very different ballgame.

Giving back in that sense means acknowledging an obligation to those who went before us and for the institutions and values that enable us to prosper today. But there is very little of this spirit of gratitude and loyalty in many of those who urge us to "give back."

Indeed, many who repeat the "giving back" mantra would sneer at any such notion as patriotism or any idea that the institutions and values of American society have accomplished worthy things and deserve their support, instead of their undermining.

Our educational system, from the schools to the universities, are actively undermining any sense of loyalty to the traditions, institutions and values of American society.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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