Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Death of Common Sense

I've not had a rant for a while, but Sainsbury's were out of FHM last weekend so I ended up with The Spectator instead. I should have known better...

Common sense is dead; but nobody murdered it. Common Sense died of old age and neglect, its body found after the police broke the door of its flat
down after everyone thought they had seen it regularly but for months, years maybe, just not noticed its absence. Then when no one was looking, they sneaked the body down the back stairs and carried on talking like Common Sense was still alive and kicking.

On Monday on the Today programme Sir Alan Steer, the government's education guru explained why he had felt it necessary to point out the glaringly obvious fact that children copy what they see adults doing. He posited that it therefore follows that adults must behave in a courteous and mannerly way if that is the behaviour they expect children to aspire to. Common sense? Obviously not, because anti social behaviour is rife and we, the adult world simply blame the 'youth of today' and seek solace in ASBOs.

In this weeks Spectator Rod Liddle outlined his support for David Cameron's espousal of good old fashioned common sense measures to encourage conformity to the new ideals, he suggests that by humiliating people we can change their behaviour in a positive manner: think stocks and public floggings. Common sense? Think again.

Common sense, to state the obvious, relies on a sense of commonality, a sense of a commonly held view or moral code by which to judge things. So how can we expect it to work when someone is named and shamed for anti social behaviour or a crime against the climate like owning a Porsche Cayenne when nobody actually cares because they don't know who these offenders are. There is no community of which they are part, ergo no humiliation.

So, next time you are tempted to respond in a positive way when a politician suggests something that seems common sense, just ask yourself among which group of people this suggestion fits with their commonly held moral and social belief; or does it just sound right?

I once gave evidence in Magistrates Court and under cross examination mentioned to their worships that it was common sense to believe that the bruises and cuts on the accused's wife's face and body were the result of his assaulting her, not as he suggested the result of her injuring herself during some sort of hysterical fit. I still remember thinking that the case was won as the Magistrates nodded in agreement with me. But only later did I understand the glance that the Clerk of the Court and two opposing solicitors shared that said that common sense, even if it still lived, had no place in a court of law.

Were they right? Of course they were, the only reliable commonly shared set of principles are those that we all truly do all hold in common and agree, as a society, to abide by.

So is common sense dead, or was it always a myth, like Father Christmas or the Bogie Man, just waiting for us to be mature enough to understand?

1 comment:

Dante said...

This weekend my little cub scout went on his pack's camping weekend. Living off the land, OK only for a couple of nights, but under canvas and being totally self sufficient......

Apart from the fact they, weren't allowed to put their own tents up, weren't allowed to cook for themselves, weren't allowed to light a fire and weren't allowed to have a pen knife... BUT they were allowed to shoot air rifles and arrows at a target.

That funny noise you can hear? I think it's Baden Powell turning in his grave.