The Suffolk Eigenvector

 “Education is not the same as intelligence; education is not the same as common sense.”

That quote came from one of myriad internet fora, where people descend like shoal of piranha to devour any article they take issue with; I’d imagine you know the type of place. I have never sought out things I disagree with, with the sole intention of railing against them. Maybe that’s just me.

In daily life, the term “Common Sense” seems to be used as a weapon: used by one group of people to hit another, especially when the weapon wielders feel at their most vulnerable. It is a familiar old comfort blanket, defending the user from the idiocy they perceive to be ruining everybody’s day.

It is a term used by people who feel pushed out of their own lives: Pushed by an ill-defined external threat, one which they perceive to be holding back their development, their success or their preferred, endangered way of life. It is an alluring defence mechanism against that which is “new”.

I’ve been hearing this line about common sense vs education for years. I’ve been roundly beaten with the stick of common sense vs education for years. I’ve been reading people defending their “unfashionable” views under the guise of common sense vs education for years. I’ve now decided it’s high time for me to have an angry rant on the subject. I would like you to join me, if you will.

Common sense has become a self-nullifying bromide. It is dispensed by those who prefer not to give much thought to that which isn’t staring them right in the face. We are indoctrinating our children to not think, to assume that their knowledge is universal, and to subsume to the “common consensus”.

Please allow me to explain with what I see as the main point of confusion around common sense:

“Commonsense” is not the same as “Common sense”. [Bear with me on this, please.]

  • “Commonsense” can be defined as a person’s conclusion, based on the perception of a set of facts. It is a rational framework of understanding, including such radical ideas as the fact that water is wet, the fact that dropped things fall, and the fact that night follows day.
  • “Common sense” is some kind of psychic superpower whereby those so equipped can see anything which is obvious to the commenting observer. Consequently, anyone who cannot see the obvious thing, and so acts accordingly, “has no common sense”. i.e. they are a fool.

This point of confusion, which leads some to the notion that there is some universal, or common, set of “that which is obvious”, is comforting but not based in any kind of reality. It may be obvious to you the quickest route between Ipswich and West Byfleet; it may be obvious to me how to reduce a given matrix to its Eigenvector. Neither is universal, and it would be insulting to project that it is.

Common sense is used by any number of bright people, without the need or luxury of a university education, to attack the young: graduates, recent or otherwise; those with less practical experience; their own children. It especially prevails when it is perceived that supremacy, money or advantage may be at stake. It is a natural defence mechanism. Why help when you can sneer, after all?

Common sense is employed by purveyors of news, fake or otherwise, to appeal to some fictitious “man in the street” – a person with far more between their ears than they are ever given credit for – as a dog whistle. In order to whip up a storm of ire about issues that doesn’t even exist, common sense is trotted out as an alternative to thought. It’s common sense that the country is full, after all.

Common sense is used as a shibboleth by people who want to bring other purveyors of hate in to their fold: the multicultural, liberal elite, with their education, their opposition to free speech and their respect for the tired, poor, huddled masses: they have no common sense and simply cannot be trusted. There is a whole continent on its way here to turn our daughters in to child brides, after all.

We must stop hiding behind this idea of common sense: it stops us from thinking for ourselves, it gives protection to peddlers of lies and it makes the next generation think less of themselves.

“Common sense is the obvious. Common sense is the thing which you have missed. Common sense is the set of values which will restore this country to its once vaunted position of immense power.”

“If you disagree with me, you are resisting common sense. If you have made a mistake which I would not have made, you have shown a complete lack of common sense. If what you know relies on your knowledge, investigation and understanding, you clearly have no common sense.”

“Because it cannot be taught, common sense is pure. Because I feel it, because my family taught it to be the right thing, common sense is the most important truth. Because you stand up to the establishment, because you speak from the heart, and not in the polished tones of a politician, because you say the things I am no longer allowed to voice, you have common sense.”

Laziness is the enemy of progress. When we don’t question lazy ideas they set like concrete. We need to stop believing the first thoughts to enter in to our dim, tiny minds: We need to grow up.

We need to stop building weapons with which to beat our children. The idea that they do not know what we know, and so have not acted in a way we’d expect, does not make them stupid: it makes us lazy for not understanding what it is like to lack the knowledge we have spent years acquiring.

Education is the golden bullet. For all the advice to the contrary I worked hard to learn, and continue to do so: to learn, to discover and to progress. Where would I be without my education? Probably in much the same place, but with a chip on my shoulder and a need to decry the youth of today: sat in my underwear, ranting on the internet about the injustices of the world. Instead, I wear clothes.

I know people with very little, or no, formal education who are masters of their chosen fields; I have known people with very expensive educations who can barely be trusted with their own shoe laces.

Having an education does not mean that you have not acquired skills in life; life skills are those you pick up as you go along. The University of Life (favoured educators of the common sense fan club) is not an exclusive organisation: you can enrol in all of its courses while struggling to pay rent on your student flat, as easily as any other more salubrious accommodation. You just have a few other bits – lectures, seminars and exams – to fit in too. Juggling responsibilities requires some common sense.

Education is the same as education; intelligence is the ability to make logical connections; common sense is a noxious myth. The frequently wielded totem of common sense is nothing but a convenient weapon, used to attack those we fear; it’s time we stopped doing that, I think.