the common sense imperative

“PERHAPS the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense Philadelphia, Feb. 14, 1776.

Although most of us would believe that the human race has progressed significantly since 1776 when Thomas Paine wrote the above, I would maintain that the Common Sense that he talks of is still sadly lacking today! You want proof? I just checked the Doomsday Clock and apparently it is six minutes to midnight! Some of the worlds greatest minds believe that we are that close to the abyss!


In my personal view, one large part of the reason that we stand at a crossroads today is that we have given over the protection of our own personal and collective well-being to ‘big brother’, whether that be government, NGOs, QUANGOs, doctors or any other person or body that we consider to be authoritative! In almost every area of our existence, we have regulations, guidelines, folklore and/or generally accepted principles that tell us what we must do in order to be protected from ourselves and each other. And nowhere in all this tangled mess of often contradictory directions is there mention of, or indeed room for, good old, plain common sense.

When I think of the changes in the ways that we collectively treat our children within the last 50 years, I am truly saddened! So much of my own childhood, which I happen to believe was not so terrible, would be unlikely, if not impossible for a kid growing up in today’s world. I am reminded of the words of a nursery rhyme from my youth: “Leave them alone, and they will come home, dragging their tails behind them”.

There in a nutshell is the very thing that we individually and collectively can no longer do: ‘Leave them alone!” More than 50% of our day as kids was spent doing things that today are considered dangerous, anti-social, unhealthy or prejudicial to some minority’s perceived rights. A child today can literally not even sneeze without someone coming to administer antibiotic to the offender and passing face-masks to everyone else within sight. And this is progress?

Today, we want to wrap our kids up in an impenetrable cocoon that protects them from all the worlds ills and potential threats. The real problem is that even though it is utterly impossible to foresee all the threats, the children never learn to protect themselves and become even more vulnerable when the coccoon is breached or, heaven forbid, removed.

“There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.”Anon

In almost every area of our day-to-day lives, freedoms are being curbed in the name of the good of the majority. And if you think that I am being alarmist, let me cite a few examples:

  • In many neighbourhoods around the world, you cannot choose what colour to paint the exterior of your own house.
  • Increasingly, in schools, authorities dictate what your children may or may not eat and drink. Personally, I did not know what a peanut allergy was as a child but it would NEVER have been a collective responsibility in those days merely an individual one! Today, the tail wags the dog!
  • In order to go to school, your child must have had certain injections whether you like it or not. Billions of taxpayer dollars were spent last year inoculating for a flu threat that never materialised.
  • If you let your grass grow too long in many locales, the city will come and cut it and send you a bill or a citation.
  • Most places you need a complicated, time-consuming and expensive permit to make any modification to your residence (which will often be denied)
  • In many countries, you can be fined and or locked up for merely displaying a flag, symbol or message deemed to be inappropriate by the powers that be!
  • In Ontario, if you are under the age of 18, you cannot ride a bicycle on public roads without wearing a helmet.
  • In Ottawa, if a tree trunk is less than 50cm in diameter, you may cut it down. If it is more, you need a permit, even if it is about to fall on your roof!
  • If you park a car in your driveway, it must have a current plate even if it cannot be driven!

These are just a few of the inanities that abound on the statute books around the world. Entire books have been written on the subject usually in a comic vein. Unfortunately though, it does not augur well for our collective future. Unfortunately, in this world of instant communication, every time that there is an unusual, accidental death, there is always some overzealous, nervous-nelly ready to take up the cry and remove another choice or freedom.

The real problem is that most of us have subjugated our common sense in favour of the plethora of so-called experts, most of them TV personalities, who we seem to believe to possess some special power to find the solution to all our collective problems. If we accept blindly what they say, and most of us do exactly this, then we don’t have to think too hard for ourselves and we have someone else to blame for our woes when something goes wrong. After all, it is much easier and safer to follow the crowd than it is to blaze a trail. The only problem is that from the back, you can’t see where you are going and have no control over where you will end up. Remember, it is only the lead dogs that get a change of scenery!

Every so often, a new public guru arises who has miraculous answers to problems that we didn’t even know existed. A perfect example of this is the recent meteoric rise of Dr. Oz. Everyday he has a new revelation of some bug that is threatening our existence that we didn’t know about and the magic superfood, calisthenic exercise or other miracular solution that will banish it from our lives forever. If you don’t watch the show religiously, just think of all the dangers and their solutions that you will not find out about!

And that, folks, is where good old common sense should come in. For several millennia, the human race survived without Dr. Oz and I am pretty sure that we will be here long after he has gone. Now, I am not saying that he doesn’t have some good points but scaring people and making them paranoid about bacteria that are omnipresent in our world, serves no useful purpose, in my view at least. Whatever happened to ‘prevention is better than cure’?

There is plenty of evidence that bacteria, like humans, are going to survive, no matter what we throw at them! Life has a way of overcoming every obstacle put in its path, unless you are a dinosaur and the obstacle is a monster meteor! To me, common sense dictates that the best defence against disease is to maintain a healthy body! Unfortunately, we humans always want an instant magic pill that cures our ills rather than having to actually work for a solution. Why bother to stay thin when you can get liposuction or go on a crash diet? We sit around on our fat asses watching virtual life on an LCD screen while stuffing our bodies full of junk and then wonder why we are falling victim to more and more attacks from microscopic invaders!

Experts like Dr. Oz. are at least open about what they are trying to do. Others are a little more subtle but just as insidious. Think of the power that individuals like Al Gore, Robert Moore, Oprah, Doctor Phil are able to exercise. They are not the smartest or most knowledgeable amongst us but they have literally millions of followers blindly accepting their word as gospel.

If you doubt that the foregoing is true, just imagine the following scenario. I write a book that has little or no literary merit. It also spreads the message that dying one’s hair blue is a great thing to do. However, I somehow manage to hoodwink Oprah into giving it her seal of approval. She adds it to her book club and promotes it on her TV show. She also has a few people on her show with their hair dyed blue.

What are the chances that:

a) My book WON’T be a best-seller? and

b) that people, the world over would start dying their hair blue?

Oprah’s endorsement won’t change the intrinsic value of the book but it will change the behaviour of millions watching the show. My worthless effort would become a bestseller overnight and blue hair would start popping up all over the globe!

Recently, Michael Moore in one of his so-called documentaries managed to convince many Americans and others around the world that Canada actually has a First Class health system. I’m guessing he never needed an MRI here! Most Canadians, none of whom appear in his movie, know the truth and would immediately be on their guard. Many others around the world believe every bit of it. After all, it’s a documentary and Michael Moore is a celebrity so it MUST be true!

So much for common sense…..

(to be continued….)

The Land of the Free?
Here are our Top Ten Nonsense Statutes still on the books in various U.S. States:

  1. Arkansas: It’s illegal to mispronounce the name of the state of Arkansas. (Well phonetically “R can saw” is better than “R cans ass!”?)
  2. California: You may not eat an orange in your bathtub. (Tangerines O.K?)
  3. Iowa: One-armed piano players must perform for free. (You’d think they’d at least be able to charge half-price!)
  4. New Jersey: It’s against the law for a man to knit during the fishing season. (I guess he’s supposed to wear the Old Jersey?)
  5. Minnesota: It’s illegal to paint a sparrow with the intent of selling it as a parakeet. (Shades of Monty Python?)
  6. Massachusetts: No gorilla is allowed in the backseat of any car. (But may he drive it?)
  7. Kentucky: Every citizen is required to take a shower once a year. (If you take two, they’ll lock you up?)
  8. Wyoming: Unless you have an official permit, you may not take a picture of a rabbit from January to April. (This way, the Easter Bunny gets his privacy?)
  9. Tennessee: Selling hollow logs is strictly forbidden. (Now who wood do such a thing?)
  10. Rhode Island: You may not bite off another person’s leg. (Personally, I see no ‘arm in it!)