It can’t be “common” if nobody has it

I was reading Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Substack the other day–I’ve been enjoying his writing a great deal–and I saw this quote:

I have to say: I agree with this whole-heartedly. I’ve hated the phrase “common sense” for years, for the exact same reason: what people who refer to “common sense” almost always mean is “My position is inherently self-evident and you are a fool for disagreeing with it.” Referring to one’s own beliefs as “common sense” is rhetorical self-promotion, nothing more.

Now, maybe some people refer to “common sense” to refer to received wisdom that should just be easily obvious: It’s just common sense to change your oil every few thousand miles! It’s just common sense to season the cast-iron pan before you use it! And so on. Here, too, is an implied insult, since “common sense” is almost never invoked to describe a given piece of information until we have encountered someone who doesn’t know it.

So let’s retire “common sense”. It’s a terrible phrase that has no place in an informed and rational civilization.

(Yes, it’s rather late on Friday and I’m on my second drink, why do you ask?)

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2 Responses to It can’t be “common” if nobody has it

  1. Roger says:

    One thing I HATE on the news is when a politician says we need a “common-sense” approach to whatever hot-button issue being discussed (guns, Social Security) as though anyone who doesn’t agree with their approach lacks common sense, or is “radical.”

    • ksedinger says:

      It’s such a common rhetorical tactic that it’s become pretty much meaningless, but it did bother me that not even Obama was above it; he’d refer to “common-sense gun laws” and the like.

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