But we would welcome the arrival in this town of the rare politician or bureaucrat who can replace the "I was following the rules," creed with a new mantra: "I was just using common sense."
I don't think so, Tim. Not really.
There's two reasons for this - one, people who do the right thing, live clean lives and put others before themselves make for lousy scandals. In fact, if ever we come across someone that seems to be too good to be true, we will (or at least their opposition will) leave no stone unturned in their drive to find a fatal flaw. We almost relish tearing down our heroes.
This is particularly true where the media is concerned - after all, it's part of their job to hold people like politicians and leaders of corporations both profit and not to account. Scandal sells - do-gooders are boring.
We know this to be true for a simple reason - there are politicians and bureaucrats who try to do what is right instead of what the rules state or what convention suggests. More than that, there are countless individuals who give freely of their time for causes they believe in.
These stories aren't celebrated because the media isn't looking for them and people who focus on doing for others tend not to be good at sales (or golf).
Two - we keep using this phrase, "common sense;" I don't think it means what we think it means.
If a person's goal is to be personally successful and wealthy, then it's common sense to follow the rules that put more money in your pocket. If you're at all experienced in the ways of partisan politics, then common sense tells you that it's possible to spin your way out of almost anything.
On the other hand, common sense also suggests that doing the right thing in a social context can be bad for your personal success. It's common sense, maybe, to bring forward legislation that's good for everyone, but will that sell? Who can you pick fights with and get media traction/funding dollars through if you're not pissing people off strategically?
If anything, common sense tells us that proactively doing what's right provides no tangible benefit while "following the rules" can provide benefit with a minimum, easily-deflected complaint.
So where does this leave us?
Any solution requires proper identification of the problem. Our problem isn't that people aren't using "common sense" - it's that the whole notion of common sense is a myth.
People aren't rational actors - we like to think we are, because we like the idea that we're in control of our lives, but we aren't. Much of what we think of as "common sense" is evolutionary hard-wiring; the rest is emotionally-filtered experiential memory run through a our cognitive sequencer.
Until we accept that we're not consciously in charge of our own actions, we shall remain beholden to neurochemical behaviours. We have to stop waiting for that fictional perfect leader to come to town and set us right and start carrying the torch ourselves.
That may not be common sense, but it's the truth.
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