Against Common Sense
Last few days 1 I was in a conversation with someone. In most cases he would end the argument with “It’s common sense”. I agreed to disagree with him on “common sense”. “common sense” is a starting point to any debate. It’s not how one ends the debate. Most people including him end a debate with “Common sense is not common”. They are using the phrase incorrectly. “Common sense is not common” is popularly believed to mean “Someone has sense below common and hence an idiot” but it actually means “everybody’s idea of common sense is different”.
Anyway let’s get back to what common sense means. Wikipedia defines common sense as
Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things that are shared by (“common to”) nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without need for debate
So basically something that is so generalized that anyone can get it. Sometimes that generalized fact doesn’t need a debate. On the contrary “Sense” needs more knowledge, debate and arguments. If one thinks that the debate ends at “Common Sense” then he is missing nuance. This is probably what’s happening in today’s political discussions.
Politicians always appeal to “common sense”. That’s where they get lots of votes. I haven’t seen any politician talking sense. Mostly because there is a good chance he will be misunderstood or worst ridiculed. Since most would think “Common sense is the best sense”. But in fact “common sense is the best sense they have”.
Let me give you an example. While debating about privacy, politicians across the world 2 come up with statements like “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear“. It appeals to public’s common sense. But does it make sense? No one asks that question. Mostly because then one needs to get into subtle details, check them and then conclude. It needs a lot of time and effort. It makes one read more. It makes them reach-out to knowledgeable people. Ultimately with knowledge one might end up on the other side. Hence the reluctance to go beyond common sense.
So these days when someone brings up “Common Sense” facts as the greatest truth, I end the conversation.