Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Common Sense?

There's a lot of talk these days about "Common Sense" as a political virtue. With apologies to Thomas Paine, here's what I think the people mean today when they invoke "Common Sense":

That which I find so obvious that I need not explain it to you.

That notion of common sense is problematic. First, because it assumes the speaker's obvious superiority over the listener: I know what's right and, if you disagree, it's because you are stupid. Where's your common sense?

But second, and more importantly, because it renders dialogue superfluous: We need not talk, we need not argue, we need not exchange ideas, because the conclusion -- mine, at least -- is self-evident. Don't weary me with your questions, your doubts, your alternative perspectives. It's so tedious. I was done thinking about this the moment my mind first formed this thought. I think it, therefore it is common sense.

It's a convenient cop out, allowing the person claiming "Common Sense" to escape scrutiny and challenge, to avoid thinking, to evade defense of his or her ideas.

The invoking of "Common Sense" is a dangerous trend in a democratic society.

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