When common-sense becomes non-sense

There are several words and phrases in the English language that we could probably do just as well without. Words like “should.” What a deal breaker word this is. I mean really, who are we to say what anyone else should or should not do?religions

Words like “try.” Either you do something or you do not do something–trying to do something amounts to nothing. The fact that we tried to do something is entirely different and valuable to our experience but it cannot ever be construed to be the same thing as doing something. When we say we are going to “try” to do this or that–we are already starting with a defeatist attitude. Doing and not doing is what is important.

But today I want to talk about the phrase “common-sense.”

There never has been, never can be, and likely never will be “common-sense.”

I am not sure how this myth has taken such a hold on the way we look at things, but it is something we hear almost every day.

So let’s pick-on common-sense a bit and see if it is something we can choose to eliminate from our vocabulary.

Don’t get me wrong—I WISH with all my heart that there was such an animal. Unfortunately is a bit like relying on a Carrier Pigeon to take a message across the country for you—but at least Carrier Pigeons actually did exist once.

We can look up “common-sense” in the dictionary or Wikipedia and learn quite a bit about how this term has evolved and how it has been discussed by the brightest minds for hundreds of years. There has been a yearning to prove that there was such a thing, but all these discussions always seem to devolve into narrow thinking–thinking that comes closer to fitting the wishes of the thinker than anything universal.

The reality is that common-sense is more likely to promote all the social ills that we could also do so well without, than it will ever come to bringing us closer to a common way of thinking. Things like elitism, sexism, nationalism, racism and a host of other prejudices are supported by the concept of common-sense. For example the notion of what constitutes common-sense to a Muslim may be radically different than what constitutes common-sense to a Catholic, or a Protestant. And guess what, “miraculously,” each ones version is the correct one.

Interestingly enough, much of this thinking is devoid of “science.” After all, if what we say cannot be supported by science, by empirical evidence, tested over time—it is merely wishful thinking and fantasy–not common-sense.  In this sense even widespread public “agreement” cannot be used to define common-sense.  Scary perhaps, but this is the state of our current evolution–or as some would argue–devolution.

Common-sense is not what is missing in our world–what is missing is a yearning for scientific truth.
As near as I can tell, common-sense has zero chance of sorting out the differences of opinions between Muslims and Christians, or Republicans and Democrats.

If we are killing each other over things that cannot be figured out scientifically, that simply defines us all as idiots–savants or otherwise.

As a home inspector, I hear the phrase often when we are baffled as to how someone could install, build or remodel something so poorly. This is interesting in light of the fact almost nothing about house construction is common knowledge, in the sense that anyone was born knowing how to do it. Everything takes education, training—sometimes considerable amounts of education and training. So what is missing? Science. That is what education and training are—or at least can be.

One of my favorite examples of both common-sense gone wrong, but also education and training gone wrong, is when how to build something is passed down from father to son to son to son. It becomes a matter of not only being the way the person has always done it but the way that person’s great, great grandfather did it as well. It matters little to this person that it does not meet code, or was even wrong back when great, great granddad did it. Mantras are like that.

The human brain seems to want things to be forever—this is the insidious goal of “common-sense.” Education and scientific thought allows for change as new information is learned—nothing is set in stone—but in an ideal world it is always going to be subject to scrutiny. We must always be willing to throw aside what no longer works and embrace what does.  Common Sense is not flexible and we can see first hand the repercussions of this inflexibility all around the world.

Charles Buell

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