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Writer argues that common sense is not so common

“At the heart of this wonderful book by Robert Curry is the simple belief that you as a human being can govern yourself. That shouldn’t be a controversial proposition, but when an army of federal bureaucrats, university professors, and social science “experts” begin telling you how you ought to be living your life or running your business or raising your children, you might start to wonder. You may begin doubting your own ability to make decisions and to distinguish true from false, with the fundamental faculty of common sense.”

So writes Brian T. Kennedy in his “Foreword” to Robert Curry’s Reclaiming Common Sense: Finding Truth in a Post-Truth World (Encounter Books, 2019, 107 pages).

I read this book back in the fall of 2019, but given the times in which we live, I decided to revisit it this past week, seeking in it an antidote to the “coronacraziness:” the masks and gloves, the social distancing, the early run on toilet paper, the lockdown of businesses, schools, and churches, the unprecedented quarantine of healthy people, the unreliable data about the number of deaths, the experts who follow their models and issue their predictions undeterred by repeated failures, the government officials who issue directives and proclamations like medieval lords addressing their serfs.

Though Curry is a conservative, readers of all political persuasions — save for Marxists, fascists, and others who believe in dictatorial government — can gain from reading this short book. Reclaiming Common Sense is not some angry right-wing bit of bombast, but is instead a call to return to reality. 

On government, for example, Curry quotes P.J. O’Rourke: “Giving money and power to the government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” As Curry writes:

It is easy to see that P.J. O’Rourke is making an argument from common sense … by appealing to a shared understanding of what is nonsensical. We all know that we shouldn’t give car keys and whiskey to teenage boys. How do we know? Ask anyone and they are likely to say, “It’s just common sense.”

When government puts aside common sense, it sets itself and the rest of us up for failure. One example used to make this point by Curry is the recent scandal at America’s VA hospitals, where veterans were trapped in a system that was failing them. As Curry tells us, the doctors and other personnel who were largely safe from being fired and who were on a fixed pay scale had little incentive to help these patients. 

If we take the common-sense approach to our borders and want them secured, “we are met with cries that ‘walls are immoral.’” Curry’s book appeared before the onslaught of coronavirus, but I wonder: Are there still Americans who in the middle of a pandemic advocate open borders? Today many academics and cultural gurus also tell us that there are many genders and that gender is more real than biology.

To illustrate some of these points, Curry tells the story of Abraham Lincoln when he asked “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs would a dog have?” He then answered his own question: “Four, because even if you call it a leg, it’s still a tail.” 

Calling myself King Tut won’t find me decked out in gold and buried in a pyramid at my death. 

Citing books like Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the writings of figures like Thomas Jefferson and Sigmund Freud, political and cultural movements like communism and romanticism, Curry writes near the end of Reclaiming Common Sense these lines, words that for me explained for the first time much about the divide in America today:

The split between the common-sense realism of regular Americans and the linguistic and political correctness championed by the sophisticated members of the progressive elite goes a long way toward explaining the current divide between average Americans and elites. America has always had an elite, but America has not always had this divide. It used to be that elite Americans and ordinary Americans alike were common-sense realists. 

Is this the missing key to the door that separates us today? It seems a strong possibility. Some of us live by theory and speculation — socialism is good, for example — while common-sense realists look at the countries that have practiced socialism and find failure and dictatorship. 

So what is this common-sense realism? Perhaps the best explanation for it may be found in Curry’s citation of literary critic Lionel Trilling’s description of British writer George Orwell:

He is indifferent to the allurements of elaborate theory or of extreme sensibility. The medium of his thought is common sense, and his commitment to intellect is fortified by an old-fashioned faith that the truth can be got at, that we can, if we actually want to, see the object as it really is. 

Now let’s apply some common sense to the coronavirus. Here’s a meme my daughter shared with me:

If masks work, then why are we social distancing?

If social distancing works, then why are we wearing masks?

If masks and social distancing work, then why are our businesses closed?

If we can stand in line at the grocery store, then why can’t we stand in line to vote?

Why? Because our governors and other officials treat us like kindergarteners who lack common sense. But it’s some of them who lack common sense.

Freud called it projection, a psychological defense mechanism that places one’s own inadequacies on another. 

I wonder: If a governor decided that we might carry the virus in our hair and ordered everyone to wear hair nets, how many of us would obey?

Curry is right. It’s time to revive common-sense realism. 

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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