Thomas Paine — the great revolutionary scholar — wrote his Common Sense disquisition in 1776. It wasn't about common sense in the modern understanding of the term, but rather, it was a stir to independence, a rousing of the soul, a secessionist act of defiance. If Paine were writing today, he may have titled it "The Common Man's Dissent Against Government" to avoid the entanglement with the present notion of common sense.
After all, you've probably heard more than a dozen quotes to the effect that "common sense is not all that common," or "‘common sense' really means ‘good sense.'" People hear or see such homilies, deem them clever, and email them to everyone they know. The term historically connoted something to the effect of "good judgment," which makes it a little clearer why common sense is so uncommon.
Even the most inept individual can achieve common sense — good judgment — by giving a few extra seconds' thought to ordinary tasks and interactions. Thus, since sloth is one of the deadly sins, the deafening absence of common sense in daily life is a moral failing — part of society's continuing descent, a lazy refusal to think. We can thank the lumbering Nanny State for this in large part, because in fostering feminism and its purging of good manners; in regulating every aspect of our behavior, from how fast we drive to what materials go into our mattresses; in ensuring that the least ambitious of us get everything we need for free; the State has removed much of life's natural daily thinking requirement.
Hence, and herewith, we suggest a few steps in the direction of rejecting this aspect of State moral-behavior codes and replacing it with common sense. If those with no sense would follow these rules, their thinking would improve. New guidelines would begin to suggest themselves as the mindless acquired experience behaving as if they have good judgment. Their lives would improve, as would the lives of those around them. Here's our laundry list of common sense follies:
- Buy a great big vehicle, and enjoy it, but don't put a "save the environment" license plate on it. Put those plates on your comedy, novelty gas/electric clown car that gets 75 miles per gallon and has a top speed of 55 mph.
- If you're dozens of pounds overweight, cover up. Nobody wants to see that. Try exchanging that lycra crop-top and short shorts combination for a lab coat.
- Do not go to a first-rate brewpub and order a bottle of Miller Lite.
- Don't go to a great Italian restaurant and order "spaghetti."
- Do not tell the world your child is an honor student at the local public school. You're telling us you're proud that your child has done better than other children at exceeding the lowest possible standards.
- Learn to walk before you run: Don't try to access and manipulate your bank accounts, utility bills, credit cards, and retirement investments via the internet if you don't know what a "browser" is, and don't understand what is meant by such terms as "scroll down" or "back button."
- Use some shopping cart etiquette: If you're in a grocery store and must walk away from your cart for a moment, move it out of everybody's way — don't leave it in the middle of an aisle.
- Some more shopping cart etiquette: Do not consistently run your cart up the Achilles tendons of the person in front of you. Those tendons are necessary for that person to engage in all future walking endeavors.
- Get out of the passing lane, and stay out, unless you're willing to match the speed of the people already there. If you study traffic a little, you'll learn that it's people going slowly who force other drivers to change what they're doing. People driving faster than other traffic do not force others to make adjustments.
- Here's a toughie, one your mother told you: Put yourself in everybody else's shoes. How would you like it if someone held a door open for you, even though that someone had an armful of books and had to wait a moment for you to get there? You'd feel honored? Good — then do kind things yourself.
- More from your mother: Check yourself in a full-length mirror before you leave the house. Develop good posture.
- If you don't understand something, say so, or be quiet. People from the south are better about this. "I don't know wine, but I know what I like" is a southern expression, and cannot be said without a smile. "Look how the artist, with this welded pile of garbage, captures the ennui of unactualized transcendence" is a northern expression. Whose company would you prefer?
- Don't argue with somebody smarter than you. If you think they're wrong, but you can't say why, save it for when you can say why.
- When fate smiles on you, recognize it, and smile back — modestly.
- If both your parents had long hair, and you are pierced and tattooed, consider what your children will be like.
- Do not whimper and howl about ATMs charging fees to use them. Who deemed that this should be a free service, and why? After all, does One-Hour Martinizing clean your shirts for free? I didn't think so.
- Don't talk loudly and brashly on your cell phone when out in public. You may find this amazing, but the fact that you are "important enough" to warrant a cell phone does not impress us.
- Ladies, do note the scaly, cracked, fungus-ridden, leathery skin all over your feet BEFORE you put on those sandals. Superb body lotions are available at ‘most all major retailers.
- When you get turned down for a raise at work, realize that showing up for work 45 minutes late every day has had its consequences.
- Do not tell us that this horrible, three-chord, violent rock-and-roll music sounds that way only because it's written by people just like us who are angry and tired of the establishment. Beethoven had a lot more to be angry about: He had no cell phone, cable TV, or Palm device; he didn't have free health care; he went deaf; and he was ugly and short.
- That "boom-ba-boom-boom-boom-dum-da-boom, yo I'm gonna kill ya ho, boom-boom-ba-ba-ba-boom-beem-da-beem-da-boom" sound emanating from your Ford Ranger low-rider will have an adverse effect on other's opinions of you.
- In November of election years, do not put signs on your lawn that read "Democrats Care: Jobs, Health Care, Education". Politically shrewd libertarians will laugh at you.
- Do not consider us beneath you because we do not know the latest trappings on Friends, NYPD Blue, and ER. Quite the opposite.
- Do not sit behind either of us at a red light where there's a "no turn on red" sign, and beep at us to turn. It is us - not you - who will be forever stuck with our respective driving records.
- Do remember, as you are whipping through parking lots at 35mph, that it is just that: a lot for parking. This means you are going approximately 35 times faster than most cars and pedestrians in that lot. Bad things are likely to happen.
- When you are walking/biking/rollerblading on a suburban bike path, the signs tend to say "keep to the right". This is good advice. Heed that warning, because if you don't, and somebody coming the other way is obeying that rule, a collision is highly achievable.
- Do not show up for a job interview looking like a slob. It says something about your ability to prepare and organize.
- If you choose to pursue argumentation with a writer via e-mail, do be sure that you can spell, punctuate, and use proper grammar, or you will be immediately discredited. Coherence is everything.
Don't tell us you hate our columns, our writing, our ideas, and everybody and everything on LewRockwell.com, and then come back and write us every week just to tell us that. Something is wrong with that picture.
Don't put a sign in your yard that reads "We're praying for public schools." Pray instead that you and your neighbors can muster the selfless discipline to home school.
- No, electing Republican George W. Bush is NOT synonymous with a return to the gold standard and a constitutionally limited republic.
- And finally: In all sincerity, do believe that your common sense or lack thereof does affect others' opinions when determining your intellectual proficiency. Common sense, after all, is a part of IQ.
In conclusion, know that the coercive, dominating State compels the masses toward ineptitude and failure with its inherently evil moral code. Note that the United States has evolved from a cerebral Republic into a vaguely representational democracy where those lacking common sense are most responsible for electing the politicians that legislate our lives. Realize that our elected politicians are morally impotent, and have the common sense of a squirrel in the road. Hence, the laws of the State lack simple common sense because they are a product of that very political structure bequeathed to us by power-mad politicians. Therefore, we seem to be a nation lacking in common sense.
As the great Mr. Paine said, "these are the times that try men's souls".
August 28, 2001
Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a freelance writer and graduate student in economics, and works as a business consultant in the Midwest.
Brad Edmonds [send him mail], MS in Industrial Psychology, Doctor of Musical Arts, is a banker in Alabama.
Copyright © 2001 Karen De Coster