Two hundred forty-six years ago today, Common Sense, authored by Thomas Paine (1737-1809), a 37-year-old immigrant to Philadelphia, was published. According to scholars, the title was a deliberate choice to appeal to the common man about the egalitarian ideals of the Enlightenment and French Revolution.
The 47-page pamphlet went viral throughout the colonies and was read at gatherings and in taverns. Its advocacy for independence for the colonies was based upon Paine’s critique of English monarchy and aristocratic qualities.
Most definitions of the term common sense describe it as sound, practical judgment for everyday matters; the essential ability to perceive, understand, and judge in a manner that is shared by most others. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, there is an absence of common sense among far too many of our fellow citizens in this country today.
YouTube videos of Jordan Klepper (The Daily Show) interviews with ordinary folks reveal to a painful extent this dearth of pedestrian cognition. Sadly, the video clips present more pain than humor and likely contribute to accentuating the political divide rather than bridging it. Other reminders emerge from news reports about organized resistance to masks and vaccinations. Polls verify that some 30% of Republicans believe the current President took office illegitimately. Conspiracy theories and theorists promote the resurrection of John F. Kennedy and his son as saviors of the nation. The task of piercing the fog of disinformation and misinformation is formidable.
Common sense, today, seems to have come into conflict with an intellectual fantasy favoring unabridged and unbounded free speech that mimics the dystopian world scripted by George Orwell in 1984 as Newspeak. Not only did Newspeak acculturate cognitive dissonance but expressed notions that canceled out one another.
This predicament is, in part, cultivated by mass media, less concerned with common sense as it pursues “breaking news,” celebrity influencers, “gotchas,” and news as entertainment. The United States could use a pandemic of common sense.