6/07/2005

Common Sense

Aint it funny how common sense don't make no sense no more. John Prine

I'm not sure what John was referring to when he wrote those words all that time ago, but I get the feeling he must find the current usage of common sense highly ironic if not down right pathetic. The man who gave us lyrics such as: they don't know how lucky they are/they could have been hit by a car/ struck by lightening/run into a tree/or raped by a minority/and they don't know how lucky they are, must be sitting somewhere shaking his head as he hears conservatives rattle on about how their policies are only common sense.

Common sense. What exactly does that mean anyway, or what does it imply is more to the point I guess. Meanings aren't relevant in this day and age, what's more important is the emotional reaction evoked. I've noticed that the expression is usually evoked in tandem with words like traditional, family, etc. etc. I'll create an example for you. "A mother, a father, and kids, now common sense tells us that is a family, they'd have you believe that two fathers, or two mothers and children make a family but that's not biologically or physically possible is it? Where's the sense in that?" They use the phrase to imply that there can be no alternative to their opinion. That right thinking people couldn't possibly see it any other way.

Funk and Wagnals Standard dictionary defines common sense as sound reasoning, practical judgment. Although when you break it down into it's components it would read more like: common: widespread general; frequent or usual; unexceptional; the norm; something shared jointly(in common)and sense: a feeling accompanied by rational thought; normal power of mind or understanding; signification, import or meaning; Sound reason or judgment, wisdom. I would more inclined to define the saying in our usage as general wisdom, the usual judgment, or even looser as simply practical.

In the past the attribute of having common sense was linked to individual behaviour: looking both ways before crossing the road is common sense. Simple practical guides that help us from making mistakes in judgment when it came to issues of personal health and safety or other black and white issues where the answer can be based on behaviour patterns or other observed actions.

What conservatives are doing with utilizing this phrase for everything from finances to gay rights to justifying war is a process of over simplification so as to reduce debate on issues down to emotional reactions based on so called traditional behaviour. For some issues, like marriage and families it's the we have always done it this way so it's right argument that makes it common sense. For others like welfare, medical insurance, and cuts to social programs, they use it as a catch all justification for their actions without the words having any meaning. "Instead of spending the money on day care or hospitals it's only common sense to take that money and put it back in the hands of the tax payer so they can spend it and stimulate the economy and create more jobs. It's only common sense to let people make their own decisons on how they want to spend their hard earned cash." That sounds pretty good doesn't it, until your come to the reality that the only people who really benefit from this are the ones who didn't need any sort of tax break to begin with. Since the "money in your pocket" only works out to be around $200.00 it comes no where near covering the cost of the day care you find you need when both parents have to work so as to be able to afford medical insurance and pay for prescriptions. Where's the common sense in that.

Common Sense is fast becoming one of the new catch phrases of the right which on closer examination is a way of legitimizing their actions without actually explaining how it will work or what the long term effects will be while at the same time casting aspersions on any point of view that may differ. We are the normal people they are saying, all those others are out to corrupt your children, destroy our wholesome way of life, and sell the world out to dangerous lunatics.

John Prine had it wrong sort of, it aint funny how little sense common sense makes, it's dangerous and it's sad. The next time you hear anyone justify anything with that phrase listen closely to what she or he are promising and if you have any doubts or questions call them on it. Now that would be common sense.

cheers gypsyman

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