Saturday, November 23, 2013

It's just common sense!

Sigh. Writers are supposed to avoid using common phrases. That’s because falling back on them is lazy and lacks creativity. In the case of “It’s just common sense,” which also happens to be a tag line for current Cable One commercials, the phrase is particularly irritating to me, because it is also meaningless.

The phrase assumes there is some vast reservoir of common sense out there we can simply dip into with our little tin cups. I see no evidence of that. The Wisdom of Crowds tells us a random group of people can better guess the number of beans in a jar or the weight of an ox than an expert can. You just average the answers of everyone to get pretty darned close. That’s pooling of knowledge, though, not a measure of something that exists in a single person.

If common sense is really common, why do so many individuals seem to lack it? Ponder that while you read this sentence before I give you the answer. Ready? Because what you mean when you deplore someone’s lack of common sense is that they are acting in a way you would not act or thinking in a way you would not. Common sense is, in fact, YOUR sense, or at least the sense of the advocator of same.

Because there is no commonality of wisdom, some wise people decided that we would have a republic in the United States, not a pure democracy. Setting aside the impracticality of each of us voting on every issue, consider the implications. If the majority ruled, minorities of color, creed, or whim of nature would forever remain second class citizens, if they remained citizens at all.

Instead, we elect people who are intelligent enough to learn more about every issue and come to a considered decision for us. Yes, I just said that, though I am fully aware of the frequent failures of this in practice.

We wouldn’t need elected officials if there were such a thing as common sense, would we? Appealing as that seems at this moment in history, reverting to the biggest stick form of government would not serve us well.

That’s just common sense.

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