The term “common sense” is often used in political discourse as if it represented the truth. On the contrary, common sense cannot be anything more than a belief. Moreover, citing common sense doesn’t help but rather hurts our chances of convincing others—if that is what we are attempting to do.
The universe is infinitely complex; yet, human intellectual capacity is limited. So no matter how hard we try, there are always aspects of things that are beyond our ability to know or understand; hence those are unknowable to humans. Consider why we sense, to various degrees, that what goes around, comes around, though we cannot pinpoint the causality. This suggests that we are connected with one another in a dimension incomprehensible to us. Unknown connections are even more noticeable in science. When scientists cannot expect or specifically explain the causality of certain variables, they use statistical correlation to make observations. Furthermore, they realize that the more answers they find out, the more questions there will be. Therefore, if everyone and everything in the universe is connected and we can comprehend only part of the infinitely complex reality, then we don’t really know the whole truth about, for example, the economy, environment, origin of life, existence of extraterrestrials, or where we go after death.
Humans have to act to survive or to improve their lives. In doing so we are not just driven by instincts; our consciousness longs for guidance for our thoughts and actions, and wants to be guided by nothing but the truth—not half-truth, but the whole truth. Thus we have a problem, for even the most intelligent, studious, open minds among us can only grasp simplified man-made concepts and partial data (sensory as well as second-handed) for the reality. This is where beliefs come in. We do not have the entire truth, yet we can believe the doctrines which we are attached to and are conceived by other human beings provide the truth for us.
With the illusion of having a handle on truth, we start to form views on some practical matters based upon the assumed truth. After meeting some kindred spirits who share these same views, we deem those views qualified to be common sense. Our egos take pride in our common sense and we further build concepts based on our commonsense views. Soon so much has been built on our common sense that it becomes part of our identity and, for fear of loss of sense of identity, we avoid scrutinizing our commonsense views. In addition, when making an argument, we emphasize it is grounded on common sense, thus implicitly or explicitly dismissing the opposing side for lacking common sense. This emphasis is commonplace in debates between believers of supply side and demand side economics, for instance. Whereas one side insists tax cuts increase tax revenues for the government by promoting economic growth, the other side claims arithmetic dictates tax hikes increase tax revenues. Not only do both sides have quite intuitive theories behind their respective opinions, they also have data to back them up. What often ends up happening in our political system, however, is a compromise: a smaller than initially desired tax cut or tax hike is implemented. Then, when the result proves unsatisfactory, one side asserts that is evidence that the other side’s idea didn’t work and thus the course should be reversed, and at the same time the other side maintains that what has been allowed to be implemented wasn’t substantial enough and thus more needs to be added. In a contentious impasse such as this, we have all heard or even said “Our idea is just common sense!” or “They have no common sense!” Indeed, what these emotionally charged words convey is a lack of empathy for people who disagree with us. Changing the minds of those who hold opposing views is extremely difficult; a lack of empathy makes that virtually impossible. Moreover, to spectators who have no emotional attachment to either side of the debate and whose support is contended for by both sides, the claims of common sense are just nonsense.
Let it be known that I don’t pretend to know what really works in a political debate, but it is pretty obvious that citing common sense isn’t helpful. By the way, what I have said is only my belief; I do not claim it is actually the truth, and nor do I call it “common sense.”