The constrained vision indicates that world harmony and universal satisfaction are mirages. People are innately selfish, and they’ll always desire more goodies. This means that tradeoffs between competing wants are inevitable. My wife and I therefore forbid our children to use the word “fair.” Parents still in the thrall of the unconstrained worldview are prone to manipulation by their kids, who like little human-rights lawyers insist on fairness as an imperative. And don’t get me started on the damage that an exaggerated sense of fairness and entitlement has done to public schools. In our house things are much simpler: That last piece of cake had to be divided somehow, and in this imperfect world your brother got the extra frosting. Deal with it.
While the unconstrained worldview teaches that traditions and customs are to be distrusted as holdovers from benighted generations, those of us with the constrained view believe it’s good to make our children address their elders properly, refrain from belching at the table and wear clothes that actually cover them. Mr. Sowell noted that some benefits from evolved societal rules can’t be articulated, because they’ve developed through trial and error over centuries. This reveals the sublime wisdom in that time-honored parental rejoinder: “Because I said so.”
It’s not surprising, then, to see Mr. Sowell approvingly cite Edmund Burke’s observation that traditions provide “wisdom without reflection.” This is lived out in our house by the dictum that parents are to be obeyed first, and politely questioned later. That seems oppressive to parents with the unconstrained worldview, who want to nurture Junior’s sense of autonomy and broad-minded reasoning. It’s awfully useful, however, when Junior is about to ride his bike into the path of an oncoming car. Obedience may be a dirty word in progressive schools and enlightened parenting circles, but it saves lives.
I sometimes speak to groups of high-school and college students, and I have taken to disabusing them of the feel-good notion that they can do anything they want so long as they are passionate about it. Intentions, as Mr. Sowell observes, mean very little in the constrained worldview–and, besides, individuals are neither equal nor perfectible. This means that some of us will dig ditches for a living, especially if those certain someones, who know full well who I’m talking about, don’t stop shooting spitballs at their brothers and get back to their math workbooks. Firmly in the constrained camp, I’m less concerned that my children self-actualize at an early age than that they learn a trade and get out of the house.
And since I’ve gone and quoted about half of the piece, you should just go and read the whole thing.