Simple Sam & the Problem of Common Sense

Posted on February 11, 2010


“The trouble with you liberals,” says Simple Sam, “is that you lack common sense.”

The trouble with you conservatives, Sam—oh, one of many troubles—is that you so often start sentences like that, so confidently.  Yet by the end of the sentence, you have already destroyed your credibility.

Such sloppy thinking, Sam.

Common sense?  What is that but someone’s opinion?  What is that but somebody’s intuition?

For many people—and conservatives often suffer from this vice—opinion always trumps the evidence.  What you want to believe, what your world view tells you to believe, becomes the truth.  And then whatever confirms that ‘truth’ is translated as common sense.

Common sense is what us folks do.  Idiocy is what those folks do.  It`s my intuition tells me so.

But the universe is not an opinionocracy, Sam.  Believing something doesn’t make it true.  And many things are demonstrably true which seem to violate “common sense.”

For instance, punishing children through the justice system—and I bring this up because so many of you conservatives are law and order types, and for conservatives law and order means punishment—makes the children more likely to break the law as adults.  And the more you punish them, the more likely the adult lawbreaking will be serious.  Thus, punishing children through the justice system is almost the worst thing you can do in respect of preventing crime in the long run.

All of which has been shown to happen by careful studies.  But the results of such studies run so counter-intuitive for people with a conservative worldview that few would accept it.  You don’t like it, either, do you, Sam?

But really, is denying the evidence the “common sense” thing to do?  Let us accept—conservatives and the rest of us—that “common sense” does not include things that don’t work.  Things that people believe but which are doubtful or disproved, let’s call that “popular prejudice.”

And then let’s work out a definition that separates common sense from popular prejudice.  I think ideas like “works in the real world,” “testable,” “self-consistent” fit in here.

You know, like science, rationality, that sort of stuff.

I know that bothers you, Sam.  Us feather-brained liberals always resorting to science.

Posted in: politics