“History is the third parent.”
This one-sentence paragraph opens “The Blind Man’s Garden” by Nadeem Aslam. That is another way of saying—at least sociologically, scientifically, philosophically, geographically, economically and psychologically—that nothing in the world is independent of the rest of the others, if you look at the scene from any angle of the earliest of philosophers, scientists, sociologists, psychologists, geographers, psychogeographers and economists to those of the current moment. The system of interacting “things” forms a society, to speak sociologically. A government is the finest form of organizing a society that the society knows. Therefore, the political formation of society called the government, considering it is the “third parent” that produces the social mind of every individual in it, is ultimately responsible for everything about the individual.
This used to be high, uncommon sense in the pre-Socratic times—not unlike the knowledge that the earth is round which any grade one child of our time knows but used to bother the best of our ancient scientists, geographers and thinkers. Now if you write this seriously, you will be mocked for this hackneyed common sense. However, is there nothing above and below this common sense which is undeniably common now? The answer to this question is not so common. If something is not common, that is not common. If the sense being sought by this question is not common, then that sense is not common, which means that it is not in common sense. That said, something not being in the common sense of a particular society does not mean that it is not common (so common sense) in another. American common sense is different from ours. When the content of the sets of common sense of two societies may be more or less the same, their levels may vary, which means that the commonality between the common senses of the two countries has limitations.
This proves where Voltaire’s common-sense rhetoric does not work. However, importantly, even if common sense is so profusely common, that does not solve problems. I have three examples from Voltaire-related common-sense issues.
- During the Enlightenment age, Voltaire (among other thinkers including Rousseau, and also the medical doctors of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries) “sensed” that masturbation was the cause of a real and deadly disease (one like onania, which was nonexistent), and this “sense” permeated European societies so much that many youths avoided it while many youths had psychological problems born of the fear of that disease when they had masturbated, while still many more youths masturbated with gay abandon.
The physical reality associated with masturbation had nothing to do with the common sense they held back then. It was later proved by physicians that the old common sense was wrong.
- In his ‘Encyclopedie’ article on coquilles, Voltaire claims that the mystery of seashells being found on the top of mountains can be explained by the water forming calcareous shell-shaped drops (like stalactites and stalagmites). Voltaire knew nothing about geology, and his sense of the coquilles phenomenon was very common after his publication of the book, but that did not made any enhancement in people’s real understanding of the phenomenon.
- In the distended confidence of the Enlightenment, Voltaire thought that the human mind was sufficient to understand the working of human society. This idea was common among the Enlightenment thinkers and the common people sensed it too. This led to what the Austrian economist Friedrich A. Hayek regarded as huge mistakes, such as the French and Bolshevik revolutions, in which top-down political power was used to reorder the whole society based on a preconceived notion of social justice. In Hayek’s day (the middle decades of the twentieth century), this mistake was being repeated not only socialist countries such as the Soviet Union, which relied on rational planning and centralized authority, but by social democratic welfare states in Europe.
This was wrong, according to Hayek, for a number of reasons, the most important of which was the fact that no single planner could ever have enough knowledge about the actual workings of a society to rationally reorder it. The bulk of knowledge in society was local in character and dispersed throughout the whole society; no individual could master enough information to anticipate the effects of a planned change in the laws or rules.
I am not producing these things to discredit Voltaire generally. These are meant to show that what is most common to the mind—which psychologists would like to see in terms of the availability bias—is not always conducive to progress; it rather often stands in the way of progress. Steven Pinker’s latest book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress (2018) and his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature are full of data-based cases against common sense and the availability bias, not to say anything about thinkers and psychologists who have written about common sense, such as Deleuze and Malcolm Gladwell.
It is also worth adding a dimension to the idea of common sense here: common sense is not just common general knowledge of who’s who and what’s what. It is the most common form or substance of the ideology of the dominant class, which we are not so conscious of because it is so common that it has become part of our culture (that is, the unconscious), not any less unconscious of it than of how we groom ourselves, eat, drink, turn round to look, cross the road or withdraw money from an ATM.
This brings us to the idea that we need to raise the level of our common sense. The higher the level of common sense the happier a society is, and the higher that society’s expert sense. Raising our society’s common sense to the level of the common common sense we see among the so-called educated won’t make us much better off because our expert sense is not so much above common sense, common or not so common. Moreover, the common sense that the government, as the third parent, is responsible for every ill would be a cavalier way of finding a scapegoat for an evil. Pointing a finger at the government for every evil perceptible in society is the easiest thing to do. It is not to deny that our government is weak, cancerously corrupted in most of its organs and is irritatingly slow in responding. However, just because the government is suffering from these many diseases does not mean that our society is as bad as anarchy or lawless. We tend to overshoot and exaggerate things when we criticize the government just because we know that we have the luxury of freedom or rather impunity granted us by the very system we are criticizing. What explains that you and I do not just punch somebody into the face and make a hole there for the life of that person to leak out of that every time we are angry in a crowd or when we find somebody committing something unlawful (not necessarily a crime, not serious enough to make the person a criminal) while many people every now and then feel their blood boiling and find themselves being part of an act of mob justice and its result, mob lynching? Where did we get our common sense? Did the government selectively inject common sense into us?
How mob psychology works has very little to do with government policies. How an individual thinks is very different from how he or she thinks in a mob. Though the government gives the physical setting for the citizen’s mind, all the intricate activities of the individual’s mind and the interactions of the minds and their outcomes cannot be attributed all to the government. This is to commit the absolving the guilty of their responsibility, which makes magically vanish crimes and unlawful activities from human affairs.
 Frank Furedi (2018). How Fear Works: Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. p. 136
 Ferdinand Mount (2018). Prime Movers: From Pericles to Gandhi—Twelve Great Political Thinkers and What’s Wrong with Each of Them. p. 194.
 Francis Fukuyama (2011 (2012)). The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. pp. 251–252