Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“Uncommon Common Sense”
January 19, 2020
“Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Literary Remains, Volume 1
Edited Henry Nelson Coleridge, 1836
At some point in the mid 1950s I attended a party at Dr. Edwin Land’s summer home in Peterborough, New Hampshire. I was fifteen and Dr. Land’s thirteen-year-old daughter was my girlfriend. I found myself listening to three or four learned men trying to define horse sense. There was no unanimity. Having grown up with horses, I knew they were not the most intelligent of animals, but I also knew they had enough sense to seek shelter when it rained and come to the barn when hungry for grain. They had (and have) common sense. Horse sense and common sense are born of the same mother, though I was too intimidated to say anything 65 years ago. Webster’s agrees. Horse sense is defined: “the ability to make good judgements.” W. C. Fields also agreed, when he said that “horse sense is a thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.” Besides providing a horse laugh, there is a lesson in that adage.
Coleridge was right. Wisdom is the exercise of common sense. Wisdom is rare, especially in politicians who choose political correctness (the world as they would like it to be, not as it is), identity politics (segregation over unity), and victimization (the passing of blame rather than the assuming of responsibility). Common sense bases judgements on empirical evidence, on “self-evident truths,” as Robert Curry wrote in his book Reclaiming Common Sense: Finding Truth in a Post-Truth World. Meanwhile, politicians appeal to emotions, not reason, for example getting attendees pumped at rallies, which common sense says is a reason not to allow early voting.
“Facts,” as John Adams is supposed to have said, “are stubborn things.” Nobody in Washington seems to worry about deficit spending even in a period of economic growth, yet last year’s deficit of just under a trillion dollars is equal to $3,000 per person. The published national debt is an obligation of $80,000 for every man, woman and child in the nation. When one adds in the unfunded liabilities of Medicare and Social Security, per person debt rises to $380,000. Facts tell us that our population is aging – that the number of workers is shrinking, while the number of retirees is expanding. Yet, the six candidates for President in last week’s debate in Iowa were interested only in programs that would add to the deficit, add to the national debt and add to unfunded liabilities. Even the Republican Party, the party supposedly of thrift seems to care little about running a fiscally responsible administration. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss: “How did we get so stupid so soon?”
Listening to those candidates in Iowa talk about the economy, one would conclude prospects are grim for lower income folks and depression is around the corner. They claimed things have worsened for lower income workers since Mr. Trump took office. Yet facts tell a different story. Unemployment, at 3.5%, is the lowest in fifty years. Employment for Blacks and Hispanics is the highest on record. Last year, income gains for the bottom tenth of workers rose faster than income gains for the top ten percent – something that never happened during the Obama years. Net worth gains for the bottom half of households have risen 47% since the 2016 election, according to the Wall Street Journal. U.S. GDP, in the first three years of the Trump administration, has risen 30% faster than it did during the last seven years of the Obama administration. And, take the Trump Tax Reform Bill: When Democrats shed crocodile tears over the unfairness of the Bill, were (are) they thinking of the 20% reduction in rates for median households, or were (are) they really concerned that deductions for state and local taxes were limited to $10,000? Keep in mind, for plutocrats in California, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – those making two million dollars – the limit has cost each $100,000 or more. Between Democrats and Republicans debate, whose policies have done more for working people, and which party is appealing to common sense and which to sensibilities, as Jane Austen might have asked?
Or take the killing of Qassim Soleimani. Here was a man that all facts demonstrated had been implicated in the deaths of thousands of Americans and even more Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Lebanese and even fellow Iranians. Yet, the Left found it more palatable to see him as a martyr, a Martin Luther King, or, at a minimum, an Iranian politician deserving of respect. His death became a rallying point to curb the ability of the American President to respond to imminent, or even not so imminent, threats. And what about the problems of illegal immigration, border walls and sanctuary cities? There are, by some estimates, thirty million illegals in this country. And there are those who do not see this as a problem, financially, socially and culturally? Does it not make sense to control immigration? It is not a question of not wanting immigrants. We need them for the jobs they perform and for what they offer the Country. We need, in my opinion, more legal immigrants. But should not all of us want to control the process? A wall may not be the only (or even the best) answer, but it won’t increase the flow of illegals. Sanctuary cities break federal law. Would it be okay if a city in Idaho or Texas broke federal laws regarding the carrying of firearms? Or should mayors and governors enforce only those federal laws they like? Should judges be allowed to make laws, or should that be the responsibility of legislatures, or a referendum voted on by the people? Was not our government, a nation of laws, set up on the principle of three independent branches, with clear and distinct responsibilities – a legislature to enact laws, an executive to administer them and a judiciary to interpret them. Each branch serves as a check on the other two. Common sense says that the answers to these questions are not complicated. The problem is, as Will Rogers once said, “Common sense ain’t common.”
But it is in the politicization of our changing climate where common sense is most needed, yet it is where it has been abandoned most ardently. Michael Moore and Al Gore made fortunes predicting catastrophes that never happened. Admittedly, there is a small coterie who do not believe that man has any affect on climate. But man is not the only cause of climate change. Why, for example, did global temperatures decline during the 1940s when the world was engulfed in the spewing of toxic gasses from bombs and vehicles during World War II. (According to a May 2007 edition of NewScientist, global temperatures dropped 0.02 degrees during the decade.) There are millions of people in our ivy-coated universities and colleges who do not seem to understand the power of nature. They appear unaware of the way in which the world has changed over millions of years, of tectonic shifts that have caused continents to shift, mountains to rise and shorelines to move – all long before man began spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Consider the energy produced from volcanoes, like the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington that produced energy equal to 1,600 times the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Or think of the fact that one average hurricane crossing the Atlantic produces the energy equivalent to approximately half the electrical generating capacity of the planet. Nature is still more powerful than man. Common sense says we shouldn’t live in the path of hurricanes or within the range of volcanoes, yet populations living in coastal areas continue to expand at a rate 50% above the national average. And, we should not forget, technology has improved conditions in the U.S. Since 2005, carbon emissions have fallen 14% while GDP has increased 50%. Why? It had nothing to do with the 2015 Paris Agreement. The reason had to do with technology– fracking and horizontal drilling that allowed cleaner natural gas to replace oil and the capture of carbon emissions from coal plants. Energy from solar and wind will continue, and we should encourage their expansion, but today they contribute less than ten percent of our energy needs.
My point is not to argue that climate change is not real. It is and always has been. Evidence suggests the Earth is in a warming period and storms, it is claimed, are more frequent. It is the politicization of the issue that has put emotion above reason. We should focus on the elimination of pollutants not because that will affect temperatures, but because a cleaner environment is healthier and more pleasant. To believe that man can halt the increase in temperatures or cause the oceans to stop rising is to believe the sun revolves around the Earth.
If the Earth continues to warm, and to the extent natural causes are in part to blame, are we not better off to focus on adaption than seeking blame? The Country, and ultimately the world, will move away from fossil fuels, but the move should not come at the expense of economic growth, as is happening in Europe where they have not only placed their economy at risk but also their security. Energy independence has empowered the U.S., made it safer and allowed us to face global tensions with more confidence. Consider the difference between the U.S. and Europe. With North Sea wells drying up, Europe imports its energy needs from Russia, the Middle East and Africa. Yet, we read that the amount of shale gas in Europe is thought to exceed that in the U.S. As well, they have given up on nuclear power. Is it not realistic to believe that European energy companies would be more environmentally friendly than those in Russia, the Middle East or Africa? It is a lack of common sense that prevents them from tapping their own resources and building nuclear power plants. A lack of energy independence has made Europe hostage to a hostile Russia and a volatile Middle East and Africa. In the meantime, with an aging and shrinking populations, their economies have been anemic since the 2008 credit crisis.
My father used to tell me to never argue with a dope, because a passerby could not distinguish one from the other. Thomas Paine is alleged to have said something similar: “To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.” Politics is the search for and the exercise of power. As it has descended into a morass of emotionalism and away from reason, it has made our lives increasingly divisive. Our universities should be bastions of search, reason and debate. Instead, they have become advocates for passion and histrionics. The same can be said about our media. The search for truth and sense has been abandoned. “Common sense is not so common,” Voltaire reminded us in his A Pocket Philosophical Dictionary. The responsibility of educators and pundits should be to make common sense more common.