Is Common Sense on the Ropes?

Totalitarian propaganda can outrageously insult common sense only where common sense has lost its validity.

Hannah Arendt

In the historical record, it seems it is normal for normal people to worry they are losing their minds while totalitarians come to power. Propaganda, censorship, and the use of violence are so common, that we can scarcely read about a culture in transition toward totalitarians without reading about a frustrated, if not befuddled, resistance of “normal” people who want nothing to do with totalitarianism. Once that frustration becomes a settled reality, it turns into a full-blown intellectual and moral resistance. (here, here, here)

And so it is now, as our culture wrestles with the open contradictions of Leftist politics and the bizarre somersaults it does to attain and maintain power: the stunning amount of sudden censorship, the number of otherwise intelligent people who are unwilling or unable to see it, the number of open contradictions embraced by those who have just come to power and the amount of media support it takes to buttress obvious falsehoods.

But until resistance finds its moral and intellectual legs, we will do well to listen to Hannah Arendt again.

The chief disability of totalitarian propaganda is that it cannot fulfill this longing of the masses for a completely consistent, comprehensible, and predictable world without seriously conflicting with common sense.

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism (Harvest Book Book 244) (p. 352). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.

People are hardwired to make sense of the world and to be frustrated by contradictions forced upon them. It is what she calls, “common sense.” It is significant that one of the most consequential philosophers in the 20th century would use a phrase like that as a philosophical tool. Common sense is a real thing, and it guides our basic perceptions of society, truth, and falsehood. She argues that the only way for totalitarians to gain and keep power is to overcome the common sense of the masses.

She continues:

In other words, while it is true that the masses are obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects, it is also true that their longing for fiction has some connection with those capacities of the human mind whose structural consistency is superior to mere occurrence.

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism (Harvest Book Book 244) (p. 352). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.

This sentence is a little obtuse, but its meaning is important. Expanding the thought of the previous excerpt, Arendt is saying that people really do want consistency in their existence, but the real world is full of “accidents”, or uncontrollable and seemingly random events. As a result, the human mind wants to be able to impose meaning and some semblance of control onto reality. This may be a capacity of our common sense. This capacity and desire can, then, be used to the benefit of those who are building their own, albeit false, vision of reality through propaganda and “infinite repetition”. The totalitarian vision, however, cannot last long. She says a few sentences later:

Totalitarian propaganda can outrageously insult common sense only where common sense has lost its validity.

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism (Harvest Book Book 244) (p. 352). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.

If you believe that parts of our culture – influential and powerful parts of our culture – have lost their collective minds, it is because you still have some common sense. A basic and straight-forward reading of reality tells us that the vast majority of what we are told by the cultural and political Left is simply false. Terms are redefined and manipulated, not because reality has changed, but the common sense understanding of those terms no longer fits a political agenda – e.g. “sex”, “gender”, “boy”, “girl”, “racism”, “Amen and Awomen”, etc.

The most common sensical and reality affirming thing to do is to simply refuse to live by the lies.

If you believe that parts of our culture – influential and powerful parts of our culture – have lost their collective minds, it is because you still have some common sense.

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

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