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Common Sense

August 14th, 2007 · 2 Comments

GamePolitics offers this transcript from a Larry King interview with “Dr. Phil” from shortly after the Virginia Tech killings:

You cannot tell me – common sense tells you that if these kids are playing video games, where they’re on a mass killing spree in a video game, it’s glamorized on the big screen, it’s become part of the fiber of our society. You take that and mix it with a psychopath, a sociopath or someone suffering from mental illness and add in a dose of rage, the suggestibility is too high.

I realize that in this context it’s probably just meant as an intensive (“it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see…”), but I loathe invocations of “common sense.” For one, if something really is a matter of “common” (shared, available to us all) sense, I presumably don’t need to be told as much. (The same might be claimed of phrases like “of course” or “obviously,” which I use pretty liberally, but these typically serve more of a concessionary than an argumentative function.) More importantly, the only excuse—and it’s barely one—for splashing this unctuous jackass’s mustachioed mug on a television screen is his purported expertise in psychology. If all he’s going to tell me is what I might have puzzled out with just the whit of wit that any of us possesses, the lowest common denominator of our shared human patrimony, the most basic machinery of a higher primate brain, then why the fuck am I listening to him?

But then, what the appeal to “common sense” actually means in most cases—certainly in this one—is: “I don’t actually have any evidence for this claim.” Or perhaps even more often: “Whatever evidence there is actually cuts in the other direction, but c’mon we don’t need evidence, we’ve got our guts. Except I’ll call our guts “sense,” so it sounds like someone’s brain might be involved.” And that’s the most irritating of all.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 elyzabethe // Aug 14, 2007 at 11:13 am

    oh man, I totally just wrote a blog post invoking “common sense.” Although, to be fair, I did actually point out beforehand that “I don’t actually have any evidence for this claim.”

  • 2 Julian Elson // Aug 15, 2007 at 12:52 am

    Ever since playing Tropico, I’ve been fighting the urge to stage a coup and take over a small Carribean island and launder money from its treasury into my numbered Swiss bank account…

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