In recent months, it has been very popular with the national media and with
advocates of gun control legislation to refer to "common sense"
restrictions on gun purchases and possession. The Million Moms March (which
drew, of course, only 100,000 or so participants) crusaded for "sensible
I would like to examine exactly what the phrase "common sense"
means in this context - the context of legislative proposals - and why you, the
reader, should be instantly suspicious at its utterance. In general,
"common sense" is understood to have the following characteristics:
- It is common to everyone; that is, everyone understands this information,
- It is instinctively understood; that is, it needs no analysis or
explanation. It is obvious.
Let us examine in detail each of these characteristics of "common
Common sense is common to everyone.
This principle indicates that there is widespread support for the idea.
Everyone understands it and agrees with it, or should. Therefore, nobody
disagrees with the idea - nobody with any sense, anyway. Remember this point;
I'll come back to it later.
Common sense is instinctively understood.
Most people accept "common sense" principles as a knee-jerk
reaction. Since common sense principles are instinctively understood, they need
no substantiation - or thought. During normal legislative debates, each
participant must be armed with factual evidence and a logical train of thought
in support of his contentions. If he isn't, he'll be laughed out of the debate.
However, the label of "common sense" changes all that. If the
individual making the assertion can force the opposition to accept his notions
as "common sense", he has relieved himself of the burden of proof.
After all, it's obvious that the idea is true; why would he have to prove it?
It's as though his opposition has asked him to prove that 1 plus 1 is 2.
Further assisting his cause is the follow-up conclusion that, if the
opposition does ask for proof, he obviously has no common sense. It therefore
follows that there is no need to discuss the issue with him, as one does not
attempt to debate people who are not sensible. In other words, the opponents of
the idea do not have to be answered or acknowledged, because they are not
sensible. This is a very important point. By following this line of reasoning,
you can completely dismiss your opposition with the application of a single
phrase: "Common sense". You can utterly discredit anyone who disagrees
with you, because that person is obviously not sensible. Incredibly powerful.
Can you see why those who oppose "common sense" legislative
proposals are reviled publicly? In the minds of the media leaders, the opponents
of these measures are just freaks, irrational lunatics who have no common sense
and no popular support. And, incredibly, the supporters of these measures have
created this image by doing nothing more than calling their proposals
"common sense". They haven't justified or proven their positions; they
haven't presented any practical evidence in support of it. Instead, they've
turned respect for thought and logic into ridicule, and uplifted knee-jerk,
emotional reactions as appropriate justification for legislative change.
The truth of the matter is, the people who oppose "common sense"
legislation are most likely the ones who are actually using their intelligence.
They have evaluated the proposal against the factual evidence and analyzed it
logically. They have come to the conclusion that, in fact, the proposal does not
make sense, common or otherwise. How can I know this? I know this by evidence of
opposition. If they hadn't considered the measure carefully, they would have
accepted it as beneficial due to its "common sense" nature, just like
everyone else. The fact that they are opposed to it means that they have
challenged its "common sense" label and found it lacking. Yet, they
are publicly cursed for their opposition - arrived at through logical thought
and factual evaluation.
When an individual asks you to accept a proposal because it's "common
sense", he is asking you to surrender your mind. He is asking you to accept
that his proposal is the right thing to do, without question. He's hoping that
you will be embarrassed into agreeing with him; after all, who wants to be
accused of having no common sense? He's afraid of your intelligence. He's hoping
that you won't use it - no, worse; he's attempting to intimidate you away from
using it. He's trying to prevent you from thinking about his proposal. Why?
Unexposed, this strategy is tremendously powerful, and equally damaging. How
many people have fallen into this trap of implied peer pressure and
unsubstantiated dictates? Have you?
As historical references, I would like to present some of the ideas once
touted as "common sense":
- That the world was flat
- That life sprang from garbage via spontaneous generation
- That the earth was the center of the universe
"Common sense" is fine if you're discussing staying out of the
rain, or looking both ways before crossing the street. However, this smokescreen
strategy has no place in discussions of the merits of legislative proposals.
It's deceptive at best, and downright evil at worst.
Never accept the label of "common sense" as proof of the merit of
any proposal. Instead, be instantly suspicious. The individual speaking it is
attempting to embarrass you into thinking that you must agree because everyone
else does, and because it's intuitively obvious, and therefore not subject to
debate. Recognize this evil for what it is, and reject it.
Whenever someone asks you to accept his proposal because it's "common
sense", stop for a moment and think. What is it about his proposal that
he's trying to hide? Why is he trying to stifle your intelligence? Research the
topic. Determine for yourself whether or not what he's telling you measures up
to reality and logic. Only then can you free yourself from the folly of