A note on common sense

We live in an extremely interesting and complicated world – at our times we have more resources and wealth that was ever thought to be accessible for humankind. We live in a world where technically everyone could have a house, a car, a TV, an education, and all other sorts of goods. But so far this has not happened.

Unbelievable technological development, industrialization, globalization, and specialization provided us with the highest peak of wealth and economies ever known for humans. This implies that the world should become a much better place for everyone.

Ourworldindata.org statistics show that for example in 1800s life expectancy on average in the Americas was 35 years, in Europe 34 years, in Asia 28 years and in Africa – 26 years. In comparison, in 2015 life expectancy got way higher – in Northern America 80 years, South America 75 years, Europe 78 years, Asia 72 years and in Africa 61 years. 

So, from a first glance, it looks like that the world is really getting better and better – and this is true, the world did get better. The one tiny problem is that practically it did not get better for everyone in the same way. 

We see that while statistics show that life expectancy worldwide got longer, this didn’t happen equally for everyone. The wealthiest are getting better and better, while the poorest get worse and worse. Even if we see that the world became better, it would be misleading to claim that it represents every person’s reality. 

It would be misleading to create this “average person” for which life improved. (S)he would become a mixture of halves. (S)he would be the one that does not exist in our reality. In the following video by National Geographic, you can find a projection of the average person of our Earth.

We experience the world differently depending on the differences that divide us. Think about it – the bullied and the bully, the employer and the employee, male and female, straight and gay – all of these different “positions” make a difference on how we perceive the world, how we experience it and how we relate to it. Our life chances are not independent; contrary, they depend on where we are, who we are, our family background, gender, sexuality, skin colour and many other factors. 

From this statistical data, we can see already that a factor like education alone determines different life expectancy chances, meaning that only in the European Union people with the lowest education live 4,1 (females) or 7,7 (males) years shorter than the most educated people.

If we added a factor of accessibility to education (for example, considering that not everyone has the same financial means to reach higher education), we would get a perfect example of how life chances do not come only from our personal efforts.

Why common sense?

I imagine that you should have a question right about now: “So, why common sense?”. For a very long time, I wanted to begin writing but never decided on what. And for the last few years, I had this thought in my head that was not going away, namely, “What is this common sense that everyone is referring to?”. When I started asking myself this question, I noticed how often people in my environment refer to it, how much they explain everyday things, acts and events by this mysterious common sense.

I am sure that your environment and daily life is full of phrases as “This doesn’t make any sense”, “Why is it so hard to understand, it’s just common sense”. And my main question is: what is that common sense, where is it coming from and if I took a piece of paper and a pen, would I be able to write it down?

Who created common sense?

I choose to believe that common sense is strictly dynamic, and it is there to help us, simply put, not to go crazy. You see, if every time we need to make a decision or to have a conversation, we would spend hours thinking and evaluating, the cognitive stress that we would face would be just too big. So, we develop certain mental schemes filled with perceptions that helps us to normalize and explain our environment on the one hand, and on the other hand to easily project and anticipate the future so to base our decisions on that.

If we looked at our daily environment, we would understand how much real it is just because we are not questioning it. Or put differently: by not questioning our daily lives, by taking things, actions, meanings, routines for granted, we are “agreeing” with this “common sense” and therefore just reproducing whatever there exists. 

If you have doubts about this underlying system of unwritten rules that we are living on or how close they are to us, sociologist Harold Garfinkel offered a very interesting way to test it out. In the fields of sociology and social psychology, a breaching experiment is an experiment that seeks to examine people’s reactions to violations of commonly accepted social rules or norms. 

Breaching experiments involve the conscious exhibition of “unexpected” behaviour/violation of social norms, an observation of the types of social reactions such behavioural violations engender, and an analysis of the social structure that makes these social reactions possible. 

I will discuss the methods of breaching in more detail in my future works, but for a short glance just imagine what would happen if for a minute you would start questioning everything that is in your daily environment. For example, imagine answering to a question like “How are you?” something like “Could you please kindly concretize? Are you asking how I am physically, mentally or in general? Are you interested how my health is or how am I feeling psychologically at the moment?”.

This question most likely would raise an uncomfortable situation or a person giving you back a short answer like “What? Are you joking?” or “Doesn’t matter, I just tried to be polite”. 

And this is a great spark for the beginning of our journey in search of what is underlying there. Why in the first place we would ask a person “How are you?” if we are not interested in how someone is doing? This is a really important part of understanding how this common sense is working. 

Not free, not equal, not given the same life chances

You see, all of the ways we are normalizing our daily lives and creating this common sense are not happening in a value- or choice-free environment. Economic systems, hidden ideologies, power, and domination are influencing our daily life and our actions in extremely interesting ways. Moreover, it is interesting to realize that the underlying neo-liberal ideology that usurped our societies and the whole world for last 4 decades, followed by the ideals of individualism, is massively repeating that everything that we do, we get, we accomplish or fail at, is the result of our effort and individual behaviour. 

It would be short-sighted not to notice that with the rise of neo-liberalism, the promotion of the individualism, and personal effort, a huge amount of cognitive stress and self-judgement was put on the individual.

According to the World Health Organization, each year, 25% of Europe’s population suffers from depression and anxiety. Much of this is dependent on the social determinants. The World Health Organisation defines social determinants of health as the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These conditions are influenced by the distribution of money, power and resources operating at global, national, and local levels.

So, even though it is majorly accepted to think that all of us are born free, equal, and equally equipped to go through this life, I tend to strongly disagree with this notion, mainly because of obvious evidence that different social groups live in different environments and life chances of people are determined unequally.

Our life chances are not only distributed unevenly from the moment that we are coming on this earth, but we are also affected by the existing inequalities already before being born. Studies show that chronic stress (of not having a job or struggling to get needed essentials for survival) that mothers face, already have an effect on the future new-borns – it predetermines their health, body height and other physical characteristics. 

What to expect?

In this blog, I will dive into more detailed explanations of what I just mentioned. From neo-liberalism and capitalism (economically and ideologically), power relations and domination, up to how we are creating this notion of “common sense”, how our social circles and families, media, social networks and even we are part of the machinery that creates minds and defines our and others lives. 

Don’t rush to write me down as conspiracy theorist, I will provide as much as possible western philosophical thinkers and their ideas to support my critique on different factors that normalizes inequalities, explains power and domination relations, which are unquestionably present in the “common sense”.

Also, it is important to mention that the realization of ideas is well seen in the materialized forms of it. So here I will try to share as well some practical tips from my personal environment on very daily subjects. I hope you may find it useful.