The Uncommonness of Common Sense

I don’t even know how to talk about Trump anymore, and this personal crisis has led to a long dry spell of political writing. Do I expend time and energy (and invite attack from the right), attacking him when I think he’s wrong? Do I waste breath defending him (and invite attack from the left), when I think he’s right? It’s such a deep gold mine, yet staring down into the pit of it gives me vertigo. I have two jobs and a bunch of “extracurriculars,” I ain’t got time for that.

I’m going to talk about something else today, completely out of step with the news cycle, that’s been on my mind for a while: the term “common sense.”

It bothers me. I think it’s one of the most abused terms in politics, in a way that attempts to shut down discussion.

What do we mean by “Common Sense?”

The word “common” suggests to me “in common,” but current usage is synonymous with “obvious to me.”

Not sensory-obvious, like the sky is blue or water is wet. But first-order-deduction-obvious: if I stick a fork in a wall socket, I will get shocked. If I flush the toilet again while it’s clogged, it will overflow. People who fail these deductions are considered deficient in some way.

If you ask a question that is considered to have an obvious answer, people often consider it within their rights to mock you for it.

Example: A couple weeks ago, a gas station cashier was very sarcastic and rude to me when I asked a question about getting change when paying for my gas with cash. Sorry Arco-at-Tracy Blvd.-and-Valpico lady, it’s the 21st century and I’ve never paid for gas with cash, but I wanted to avoid your dumb 35 cent debit surcharge so I just wanted to be sure before I committed my phat stacks of dough. I hope your day got better, lady.

You might think this trauma was what prompted me to bravely speak out today, but it wasn’t, honestly.

Other example: my coworker, seeing me make a mistake, tells me I need to use my “commonsense” (that was how he said it with his accent), even though I had no reason to have yet learned the necessary information.

The Problem

So now let me throw out two terms; what these two things mean to you will differ greatly depending on your political viewpoint:

“Common Sense Gun Control”

For conservatives, this mostly ranges from “background checks” to “no such thing.” For liberals, it mostly ranges from “background checks” to “ban all guns.”

“Common Sense Immigration Reform”

For conservatives, this mostly ranges from “extreme vetting” to “build the wall and mass deportation.” For liberals, it mostly ranges from “current level of vetting” to “total amnesty.”

Are you beginning to see the problem? Too many people do not have “in common” a sense of what is obvious! “Common sense” has become a meaningless term, except to implicitly denigrate those who hold a dissenting viewpoint and fire up and vindicate those who agree.

The Solution

I call for a total and complete shutdown of use of the term “common sense” until we figure out what the hell is going on.


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