Common sense, fun fact, isn’t common. One look around society is plenty evidence enough of that. When the famed Thomas Paine penned his political hit Common Sense, he had a goal and a hope. The goal was to use logic, emotion, and truth to persuade restless colonists of his day that absolving connections to the British Empire was not only beneficial, but inevitable. The hope was that colonists would see his arguments as worthy of thought. For Tom the goal was indeed to persuade his audience that his opinion was the correct one. However, he didn’t simply make lofty claims, use jargon and word salads to inflate the perception of his intelligence, or belittle his audience by flaunting credentials or knowledge of current events. Quite the opposite. He lowered himself in writing to the level of the common man. Despite the seemingly inflammatory title choice, Mr. Paine laid out his arguments as a concerned citizen not unlike his audience. He presented his reasoning for how he reached his conclusion, and then left the reader to develop their own conclusions based on his logic. There was no effort to conceal bias or predisposition. In essence, he was so confident of his conclusion he actively encouraged the reader to refute it.
This style of debate and presentation of logic has been lost in society at the present. People now see persuasion and proof as synonyms. Modern propagandists and the media industry as a whole are experts at this, but sadly it extends even to common man. Breaking it down farther, there are three core parts of presentation of augment and opinion that have been lost: the need to prove claims, the assumption of a competent audience, and the willingness to be proven wrong.
The need to prove a claim is the first trial any argument or position must pass on its way to being valid. Anyone can say the sky is purple, but without a significant amount of evidence they would, and indeed should be, laughed out of any meaningful conversation. Modern society falls far short of this standard. Instead of disproving the illogical or even blatantly false, people simply accept what they are told as a “new truth”. Why you ask would they not prove them wrong? They have a college degree, or a title, or a position perceived to be over the meager common man. Don’t take my word for it though, simply go look around you. It doesn’t take much to find a logical contradiction in the world of today being propagated by someone in a position “above” others.
This bring me to the next element of debate that has been lost: the assumption of a competent audience. Writing and publications as recent as 1950 were filled with material now deemed too complicated for the common man. It was never that the material was designed only to be read by educated person, but rather it was always assumed that the audience of any publication was intellectual enough to learn. Many of the issues debated in the years of the past were rife with heavy jargon and intricate paper design. All that to say writers and thinkers both assumed the common man had common sense. Again I implore you, the reader, to take a look around you. When is the last time you read something in a normal periodical that was grammatically complicated? Can you recall the last time a technology news publication published something actually advanced for concepts and ideas? Maybe, but you have to think about it which is my point. What was once a common style of writing is now woefully neglected in favor of dumbing down material and belittling the populous. Writing as an art has suffered from it as now most people read material no harder than grade school. While there are many reasons for this they are outside the scope of this post.
Then comes our final roadblock to debate: Willingness to be wrong. This is less of a science and more an art of speculation unlike the previous two. People have always been prideful. In some cultures that resolve was celebrated, and in others it was rebuked. I’m not here to postulate that humans were humbler in days’ past as opposed to now. Instead I’m here to state that it was more societally acceptable to be rebuked in the past. The concept of open debate at its core cannot function without a willingness to hear and entertain new ideas. It is one thing to be confident in your belief. It is another thing entirely to be unwilling to have that belief challenged. In mild forms it is a unwillingness to argue such as agreeing out loud while dissenting in your mind. In worse forms it is a need to prove an argument to someone who dissents. At its worst? Stone cold hatred for any voice daring to disagree. This last one has resulted in death and violence so great one cannot find an era in history it is not present. From the Spanish Inquisition, to the Armenian Genocide, to the Uyghar Genocide, to the infamous Holocaust. Hatred and the mindless belief that ones’ opinion is invulnerable to correction has never led to a outcome most of us would consider desirable.
We admonish those people now, while doing the same thing’s in our daily lives. You follow news sources you agree with and shut out any you don’t. In the last few years especially people have become polarized in their views on matters. They willingly cut off their neighbor, their friends, even their own family over stuff as trivial as wearing a mask around them or not. People are unwilling to be wrong in the face of evidence, and unwilling to accommodate dissent. Pick any issue imaginable and you will see both sides demonizing and dehumanizing the other in a way only the internet makes possible. People cannot change opinions without fear of recourse, in some more political issues that recourse could even be their job or jail. All these modern issues are to emphasize my point: the crux of free debate is not invalidating any opinion. It doesn’t matter how much you disagree with them. It doesn’t matter if they identify as (insert political party here), you must see them and their opinions as no less valid then yours.
This brings us back full circle to Thomas Paine. Mr. Paine was quite literally an anarchist at the time. His ideas were considered dangerous, bold, and fringe. In fact only a third of the colonials at the time of the American Revolution actually wanted independence. The vast majority simply wanted more amiable deals with the British or were indifferent. Despite being in the minority, despite talking to largely uneducated colonists about war with a world power, and despite he himself not exactly having a solid plan on how to win he pressed on. He didn’t believe himself or his view infallible. He was simply a man with an idea he believed in, and he believed in it so much he trusted colonists (many of whom couldn’t even read), to come to his same conclusion. As you know, it worked.
In conclusion, the only way to fix society is to make changes in ourselves. We must seek out knowledge in its purest form, free of tainted biases and our own belief systems. We must bind ourselves to logic, always weighing out the arguments we have and the one’s we are given. We must strive not to always be correct, but to always be pursuing truth. Above all in this pursuit we must be willing to give up the old garments of our old arguments and be willing to receive new one’s as our own should it pass all the above criteria. Pursuing Knowledge, bound by Logic, seeking Truth.