Common Sense (fill in the blank)

A growing pet peeve of mine is the use of phrases like “Common Sense” as in “Common Sense Legislation” or “Common Sense Rules.” (Fill in the blank after common sense with immigration reform, gun control, tax reform, health care reform, etc. and you’ll get an idea of the topics I’m thinking about when writing this.) When used in this context, the message is, this is a simple problem with a simple fix; it’s just common sense so why don’t we just implement this rule, pass this legislation, etc. and the problem will be solved once and for all time. It is my perception that, more often than not, this is an attempt to oversimplify a truly complex issue. And, often, not even the real problem is being addressed. The proposed rule or legislation is, instead, a BAND-AID® to a make it appear that something was done about a real, often poorly defined, problem. Further, such an approach is, to me, condescending to those of us who can see beyond the illusionary “common sense” rule, etc. I resent being treated in such a way by politicians, newscasters, or others who presume to tell the rest of us what is common sense. This is not about fake news. It is about having, and using, intelligence to address a well defined issue. Many people who use this phrase don’t understand the issue well enough to have a serious discussion or debate about it. Maybe they mean well, but their arguments become pervasive without being persuasive because of their superficiality. These are usually issues which have many layers of complexity. These are issues which have decades, or centuries, of history. They do not lend themselves to fast, common sense, rules. Instead, careful thought and discussions are required. The proliferation of the use of “common sense ____” indicates to me a dumbing down of, or attempts to dumb down, societal debate. And, it contributes to further acrimony and polarization of our society. Don’t fall for proposed “common sense” solutions without thinking about the issue thoroughly. If “it” were that easy, it would not be a problem.

I’m not sure what sparked David’s sudden interest in common sense. Many people I know believe they possess common sense, defined as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.” Upon close examination of this, dictionary, definition of common sense, I will agree that many people have a simple perception of the situation or facts, however, I strongly disagree these individuals make sound and prudent judgments. Could it be that many people’s self assessments about their degree of common sense are inaccurate? Could it be that, instead of possessing common sense, these individuals’ simple perceptions of situations and facts are based on their life experiences, attitudes, values, beliefs, and personality characteristics, which color their views of the world? Often, when we disagree with others about a particular issue, such as politics, gun control, abortion rights, #MeToo experiences, and so on, we tout our common sense as the reason why we are right and they are wrong. I recently read an article in one of my professional journals, Perspectives on Psychological Science, authored by 8 esteemed research psychologists, that meta-analyzed 18,000 participants’ attitudes about political attitudes. By now, almost everyone is aware of the issue of partisan bias, which refers to the belief that the political party opposed to one’s own is more biased that one’s preferred political party. The conclusion of this research was that partisan bias exists in approximately equal amounts in both conservatives and liberals. Applying this scientific research finding to David’s commentary about common sense, how can it be possible that, if opinions about a certain “hot button” issue are merely a matter of common sense, then people’s opinions vary widely? Could it be that their so called common sense is affected by their biased view of the world? If I have as much common sense as the next person, but we disagree on just about every political issue there is, does this mean one of us lacks common sense? I don’t think so. David is right; there are too many people who’s common sense views of the world are nothing more than a simple, perhaps misguided, view of media reports, political analyses, etc. because they rarely take the time to think through the issue for themselves. The fact that something is common does not mean it makes sense. Think about it.

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