This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The myth of common sense

Finally, I need to address a popular myth that seems to persist in democratic societies. It is the belief in a thing called ‘common sense.’ Now, I call it a myth not because common sense does not exist. It does. But the very particular way it is used in American society is a myth. Common sense–real common sense–is what keeps you from spitting into the wind. That’s legitimate. But common sense does not tell you what appropriate tax policy should be on a national level; it doesn’t tell you when it is legitimate to use military force. These things are not within the purview of common sense, and so when I talk about the myth of common sense, what I am referring to is the ridiculous idea that common sense is able to provide anyone and everyone the ability to answer every complex question that comes along.

When we encounter that sort of thinking, we’ve encountered the myth of common sense. Then we are right to say with H.L. Mencken: “Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

‘Common sense explanations’ are popular for a simple reason. They have the appearance of obviousness. That’s why the talking heads on the news try to put forward their explanations as ‘common sense,’ because things that are common sense are so obvious that you shouldn’t even have to think about them in order to see that they are true. So of course the folks on television want you to adopt their explanations as that kind of an idea. It is safe to assume, then, that anytime a politician or a pundit offers a common sense solution, he is really just begging you not to think too much about what he just said.

Unfortunately, the pundit often gets his way, and the general population winds up with a collection of ‘obvious’ explanations which they are told they can apply to pretty much anything. For example, if you happen to have free-market leanings, you will hear the word ‘competition’ thrown around in almost every context as a positive force for progress. Whether it’s survival of the species or education or business, competition becomes synonymous with justice itself. That’s just one example.

When a particular collection of these oversimplified notions grows enough in popularity to become a movement or a ‘school of thought,’ we call it an ‘ideology.’

Ideologies are a kind of systematized common sense offered as a worldview. Instead of the single pre-packaged explanation sometimes offered by the news, an ideology is a whole ‘worldview.’ It is not meant to solve one problem, but to solve any problem the person happens to encounter.

An ideology is adhered to not because it is logically coherent. Often it results in outright contradiction. For example, the conservative ideology offers the belief in free markets side by side with ‘family values.’ Anyone even loosely acquainted with family life during the rise of capitalism, with children working seven days a week in sub-slavery conditions, will be able to see that capitalism and family values do not meld. Yet it works, and the conservative ideology is very popular, not because it is effective, and not because it accurately describes reality; it is adhered to because it offers a simple explanation that sounds good to people with a certain temperament. And what is simple and sounds good will always be adopted before what is impossibly complex and often unpleasant. That is to say, ideology will always win against reality.

So, what does this have to do with voting? Well, if you understand your competence and accept your limits, you will have no need for ideology. It is the voter who needs a simple explanation for all problems. If he didn’t have all the answers, how would he know what to vote for?

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