Our War on Common Sense

Once upon an attention span, America had rules that all of us followed.

Rules so steeped in common sense, that we simply accepted them as good advice with never a thought of debating much less defying them. Not anymore than we would deny the existence of gravity or take our chances with sticking our fingers in a fan.

At times, an excited child might carelessly chase a ball into the street, but there was nothing willful about it.  No child that I ever knew thought that he or she had a Constitutional right to run across a street without doing something else:

Look both ways.

That was one of America’s rules before our national amnesia took hold.

And that was just the start of it.  A child, or an adult, would look to the driver of an oncoming vehicle to make eye contact.  If stopping would not be abrupt–a consideration of and courtesy to any drivers following that vehicle–the driver might stop.  And then you looked in the other direction and did the same.

That simple concept, much like all else that might honestly be called common sense, is long lost to us.  Today, drivers are expected to slam on their brakes as soon as a pedestrian leans toward a curb.

Drivers behind them?  Who cares!

As an apparent result of the policy-and-procedure 70s and the age-of-appropriate 80s, pedestrians now have every right–and no responsibility–while drivers are guilty of anything that goes wrong regardless of circumstances.

This means, however, that drivers are now free to ignore a rule of the road–though it is still a Mass. state law according to my sources–long buried under America’s trash heap of common sense:

Red cloth attached to the ends of objects–boards, pipes, metal–that protrude more than five feet from the back of a vehicle.

Back before the “you can have it all” Zeitgeist of the 80s, you never saw such a vehicle without bright red towels or shirts or something on them as a courtesy and caution to other drivers.

Today, they are so rare that, when you do see one, you can safely bet that the driver of that car or pickup is at least 55 years old.

As with the loss of “look both ways,” the loss of warning flags is yet another indication of how America has abandoned E Pluribus Unum for every man for himself.

Rather than looking to reclaim E Pluribus Unum, even the most aware of us are more likely to bicker about how the words “man” and “himself” should be politically corrected to “person” and “themselves.” Maybe the Right is right to ridicule us as “woke.”

Another rule that Americans followed before the national lobotomy:

Watch your step.

If you tripped over some object on a floor or sidewalk–even if the surface was damaged or irregular–it was your fault.

That much is–or was–common sense, but there was more:  If no one was hurt, you all got a laugh out of it.  If there was an injury, you came to each other’s aid, and you learned a lesson.

Today?  The rule might as well be:  Blame the business or home owner for the floor, blame the city or town for the sidewalk, and be sure to keep a lawyer’s number on your phone.

About 30 miles from here is a farm-stand where I made deliveries for over 15 years.  One day, near the end of that run, a new sign on the door caught my eye:

Welcome to R—— Farm!

And below, in print smaller but still easy to read:

This is a working farm.  As such we have pails and hoses placed on the floor for use when and where needed.  Please watch your step and enjoy your visit with us!

When the owner signed the invoice, I mentioned the new sign and asked if she had just been sued.

Her eyes widened and her laugh dripped with disgust.  I put my hand up before she could speak:  “Sorry! Very sorry! That was a rhetorical question.”

There are numerous other examples of this, other matters of common sense that form America’s trash heap.  If everyone I’ve ever had a conversation with these past 30 years added their stories, we’d have heaps enough for a mountain range that would make the Rockies look like Kansas.

Nor is this the first you’ve read of it, anymore than the first I’ve written of it.  And I’ll bet that you have talked about it–wondered about it, complained about it, joked about it, fumed about it–as often as I.

Some of it is hilarious. Like cups warning you that the coffee in them is hot, or power lawnmowers that have stickers telling you not use them to trim hedges, or the sacks of grain that have “Do Not Eat the Plastic Wrapper” stamped on them.

Laughter aside, I wonder about it in a new light:

Has all of this paved the way for so many Americans to reject science?  To dismiss climate change as our new reality?  To distrust vaccines?

Before the national lobotomy, before we lost our attention span and started expecting and demanding immediate results for problems that might arise, it was possible for a Republican president to make Jonas Salk’s vaccination against polio available to all–and for all to agree.

Twenty years later, it was possible for another Republican president to initiate the Environmental Protection Agency. While some raised concerns about limits on what businesses could do, no one argued in favor of continued pollution of our air and water. More importantly, no one denied the need to act.

And what of our self-governance?

Has our loss of common sense also paved the way for the refusal of many to accept the results of our elections?

No one needs me to recount the controversy surrounding the 2020 presidential race anymore than there need be yet another recount in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, et. al., but it is worth recalling that, four years earlier, the Republican candidate kept discrediting the 2016 election as “rigged.”

Until he won it in the Electoral College.

Still, the damage was done, even if he didn’t need it for another four years. If his followers believed him in 2016, why wouldn’t they believe him in 2020? Or believe him now and all the way to and past 2024?

As one of his advisors told us, we have entered a world of “alternative facts,” a term that all by itself defies common sense.

Despite that, it explains not just what happened before the election, but after it, especially the claims made about what happened on January 6.

Though we all saw what happened, we have been asked to believe, first, that it was really a peaceful demonstration–a normal “tourist day” according to one Republican congressman. Then we were expected to believe that it was really Antifa and Black Lives Matter–no matter all the Trump flags, MAGA hats, and white faces. Then it was the media making something out of nothing–and pay no attention to the noose hanging out on the lawn.

As I write, a congressional committee is uncovering all kinds of documents showing just who was involved and to what extent, but who is going to believe it other than those of us who already know it?

As a nation, we all saw January 6 with our own eyes, heard it with our own ears. Once upon an attention span, that would have been all we needed.

Instead, we argue with those in denial, not just of science, not just of facts, but of sense.

Seems like an argument that should be easily winnable, except that those in denial are much more willing to be heard and seen. Perhaps ridding oneself of common sense makes them louder and more demonstrative, and in a nation that favors sensation, that’s a winning formula.

With it, our national lobotomy–especially in the form of newly enacted voter restrictions and partisan control of vote counts in several Republican states–will continue.

Until and unless more Americans with common sense make themselves heard.



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