Showing posts with label common sense. Show all posts
Showing posts with label common sense. Show all posts

July 4, 2023

Is common sense on its deathbed in the United States?


Top: Poster in Mulder and Scully's
X-Files office, bottom, illustration
from Wikipedia entry for wishful thinking
showing a little boy imagining his cart
is being pulled by a real horse.

By Hal Brown

Forget about lamenting the lack of sophisticated critical thinking ability among a large part of the population. Expecting this for more than half the population is too much because it requires a combination of above average intelligence (half the people have below average IQ's) and both the desire and ability to make the effort to analyze all the elements required to differentiate fact from fiction.

To have common sense only requires that a person follows a few simple rules when reaching conclusions. An important one, perhaps the most important, is to want to know the truth. This involves having an open mind and being will to admit that there's a chance that what you believe may not be the whole truth. 

It also means that you understand that what you want to believe may not be true. Ideally the average person should be able to understand the power of wishful thinking even if they have no grasp of the concept of confirmation bias, i.e., searching for, interpreting, favoring and recalling information in a way that confirms or supports one's beliefs or values.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines wishful thinking in three ways: 

  1. Thinking in which what one wishes were the case is believed to be real or likely to become real.
  2. The illusion that what one would like is actually true.
  3. Decision-making based on self-delusion.

Note that the first is a way of thinking, the second is having an illusion, and the third is making decisions based on delusions. The latter is indicative of or at least suggestive of someone having a psychiatric disorder. 

It is frightening that what we are observing in the country today is that a large number of people, from GOP politicians to ordinary people, are making decisions based on things that they wish were true because they support their beliefs but are outright lies. Some are comparatively benign like that Biden stole the election from Trump. Others are can lead to violence, for example that members of the LGBTQ community are dangerous pedophiles.

We have members of Congress spouting QAnon conspiracy nonsense which can lead to mentally ill people committing violent acts.

It's one thing to vote for someone because you believe an exaggeration like this:

It is entirely different to vote for someone because you believe they will save you from someone who is out to destroy your country. 

There is a sobering irony in all of this. This is that the leading Republican candidates for president are all intent on turning the country in an authoritarian direction which disenfranchises minority groups or worse. You don't need to be a critical thinker to reach this conclusion. This is common sense.

The incontrovertible fact is that the two most likely Republican candidates not only spout lies but base their campaigns on them. We can only speculate whether they believe their lies or not. If they do they are delusional. If not they are counting on the lack of common sense among people they hope will vote for them.


In a subscriber only newsletter Paul Krugman in The NY Times writes (in the context of an article about the economy titled Biden and the bad news bros)

...that technology billionaires are especially susceptible to the belief that they’re uniquely brilliant, able to instantly master any subject, from Covid to the war in Ukraine. They could afford to hire experts to brief them on world affairs, but that would only work if they were willing to listen when the experts told them things they didn’t want to hear. So what happens instead, all too often, is that they go down the rabbit hole: Their belief in their own genius makes them highly gullible, easy marks for grifters claiming that the experts are all wrong.
To me this demonstrates that even highly intelligent people can lack common sense.

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