“Common sense” used as a weapon against decency and compassion

Jack Molay
3 min readFeb 6, 2024

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Photo: Professor25

Too often the concept of “common sense” is used to invalidate people bigots do not like, whether they are women, people of color, queer or transgender people.

“Common sense” is the lazy person’s replacement for knowledge-based reflection. It is a catch phrase used to cover any prejudice a specific social group holds dear. It is a term used to strengthen the social bonding of the members of a tribe.

What it truly is not is “common” or “sense”, or at least not all the time.

I know some would argue that “common sense” serves an important role in the lives of humans. Common sense is an intellectual short cut that stops you from having to think through every facet of the problem you have to solve. Common sense refers to “scripts” or “truisms” that make it possible for us to navigate the world without having to question everything.

There is some truth to this. We cannot all question everything all the time. The problem is, however, that even if such scripts may be useful or even benign, the problem is that they are far too often hijacked by world views and belief systems that are both oppressive and violent.

If you ever doubted the idea that language and narratives can make even the best of people tools for oppression, the frequent use of the term “common sense” in defense of hate activism should dispel that doubt.

Common sense from history

“People who live outside the Polis are barbarians who deserve to be enslaved.”

“Slavery is a natural thing, and no civilization would survive without it.”

“Women are a weaker version of men, emotional and unstable. They cannot be politicians, philosophers or warriors. That is just common sense.”

“Nordic people are intellectually superior to black people. White people have built Western civilization through hard work. Black people cannot build anything.”

“Men who have sex with men, engage in effeminate and unnatural behavior condemned by God.”

“A man who wants to live as a woman is mentally ill. No one with an ounce of common sense wants to be a woman.”

“Your gender is defined by your genitals. That is just common sense.”

And so on and so forth.

‘Against the «common sense» of anti-rights groups’.

My friend Amilka González, a trans activist from Venezuela, recently published an article on bigotry and common sense over at our new Spanish language site for LGBTQ issues.

We have now published an English language translation of this article over at Crossdreamers: ‘Against the «common sense» of anti-rights groups’.

Amilka writes:

But if we look at what is happening today, where we are a greater threat to the planet, we have to admit that it has been of no use to inherit common sense from centuries and millennia, especially when there are people and political groups whose common sense gives them “authority” to say that there is no such thing as climate change caused by human action and that it matters little whether there is evidence demonstrating the impact of human action or whether there is a scientific consensus that supports this impact.

For some curious reason of fate, which is relevant to this article, people who deny climate change in the name of common sense tend to also be anti-LGBTIQ rights and, paradoxically, sometimes argue that inclusive laws for this population are a «real» threat for the survival of humanity.

The main drawback here is that, due to its nature as a cognitive shortcut, common sense is the antithesis of critical thinking. While common sense is a type of quick knowledge that takes the shortest routes without using a lot of information and nuances, specialized knowledge such as science and philosophy needs a lot of information, a lot of analysis and a methodology that is clear enough to draw valid conclusions about their objects of study.

Needless to say, unlike common sense, science and philosophy cannot allow generalizations based on appearances and surfaces — not in vain, visual evidence alone has not been considered a priori scientific proof for centuries.

Read the whole article here!

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Jack Molay

Writer and news curator looking at everything transgender, nonbinary and queer.