Common Sense As the Easy Alternative To Thought

One of the offshoots of the push that resulted in the elevation of George W. Bush to the presidency was the empowerment of “regular” people.  This meant that views and opinions, under the category of “common sense,” were raised to a level equal to, or above, that of thoughtful analysis. 

We see it in the blogosphere all the time.  Whether on blogs like Common Folk Using Common Sense, which is really a great name for a blog, or the rantings of commenters who parrot simplistic positions that reflect deeply held beliefs that avoid any connection to logic, reason or even a mildly in-depth understanding of the issue.

A while back, I posted about the use of the words “common sense” in the jury charge.


An appeal to common sense is a shorthand way of telling the jurors, make your decisions here like you do out there in your world.  The problem is that people invariably make decisions, even important decisions, about their lives based upon little or no information.  There is only one way to get to the Island of Conclusion, according to the Phantom Toll Booth:  Jump.

Much of the thoughtful, deliberative discussion requires a level of effort and a willingness to consider the possibility that long-held beliefs formed without any particular basis may be wrong. 

Ironically, the end result of these “common sense” contenders may very well be correct, to some greater or lesser extent.  It’s not that this approach produces an inherently wrong result, but gets there by way of an inherently invalid process.

While supporters of the President and his many jingoistic initiatives have fled like rats from a sinking ship, they have no abandoned their beliefs.  They still carry the same baggage, and do so for the exact same reasons they did in the first place.  We don’t need no stinkin’ thought.  This is what we think, and that’s good enough.

One of the maxims that characterize America is that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  I’ve never been able to agree with this, unless it includes the proviso that an opinion is based upon something, be it facts or reason.  Thoughtless or baseless “opinion” isn’t opinion at all.  It’s just facile conclusion.  At my daughter once said in response to my challenging her assessment of American politics, “I hate thinking. It hurts.”  Tough noogies.

Frankly, I admire the fact that the blogosphere has been populated by a bunch of thinkers, particularly academics of various minds, liberal, conservative and libertarian.  I know that some of my neighbors in the blawgosphere don’t care for some of these thinkers with whom they disagree.  But shutting out or ignoring those well-conceived but (as some believe) wrong opinions is no better than settling for knee-jerk “common sense” conclusions that fail in the face of scrutiny. 

Rational, well-conceived disagreement makes it hard to maintain control of the discussion.  So too, of course, does irrational, insipid disagreement, but the blogosphere is open to all comers.  But that doesn’t mean they get to spout nonsense wherever they want.  Noting that an opinion lacks rational basis rarely convinced the holder of anything.  But then, the opinion-holder isn’t looking to consider the issue, just state his or her “opinion”.

I’ve changed many of my ideas as a result of what I’ve learned in the blogosphere.  I’ve also seen irrefutable proof of the Dunning-Kruger effect.  One of the things I hope to bring to the conversation is the rejection of those who, through their prolific attacks, their vapid points and their offensive vehemence, push “common sense” at the expense of actual thought.  I understand that thinking hurts, but no pain, no gain.

I remember a poster in a dorm room many years ago.  There was a picture of a pile of feces, and the words above it stated, “10 Million flies can’t be wrong.”  It really doesn’t matter how many people believe the earth is flat.  It isn’t.  So spare me your “common sense,” your knee-jerk simplistic conclusions.  But if you’ve got some thought behind your ideas, or at the very least some humor, welcome.