Is common sense dead?
TRACKSIDE © by John DíAloia Jr.
April 22, 2003
In a previous TRACKSIDE, word count precluded one other tobacco-related sea story. You cannot open up your lungs to see what is being deposited therein by what you breath, but there are other ways to get an idea. The Chief Petty Officers Quarters (lovingly called the Goat Locker) on the boats were small. It seemed in my time at sea, all CPOs smoked. One field day, I happened upon the sailor wiping down the Goat Lockerís formica bulkheads. His rag was coming up covered with a light brown gunk, residues from cigarette smoke that was deposited before the atmospheric control equipment could remove it. Yuck.
Weeks ago, a reader called and we had a discussion about many topics. I mentioned that I had started to read "Orthodoxy" by C. K. Chesterton, but had not got very far into it, finding it difficult to understand what he was saying buried in his style and words. Turns out the reader was a Chesterton fan and as we talked, he lead me to a book written about Chesterton - "The Apostle of Common Sense" by Dale Ahlquist. I got a copy. It turned out to be a small book that contained a survey of Chestertonís writings and style, each chapter a synopsis and explanation of a particular Chesterton book. I wished that I had known about it before I started trying to read "Orthodoxy." The subtitle for "The Apostle of Commons Sense" could be "Chesterton for Dummies." It helps explain Chestertonís presentations, but more importantly, it whets-the-whistle for reading the real thing. Now when I pick up "Orthodoxy," understanding will be a bit easier, knowing that, as Ahlquist states in the opening paragraph of his chapter on "Orthodoxy:" "It is possible that no one has ever defended the Christian faith with such wit and dazzling illustrations..." The reader also pointed out to me that Chesterton makes great use of paradoxes, that to understand Chesterton, you have to recognize and contemplate the paradoxes presented and put them into the context of society as it is.
From Ahlquist I find that Chesterton was a prolific writer, from a book on St. Thomas Aquinas to Father Brown mysteries, from societal decay to sanity. In "Whatís Wrong with the World," written in 1910, Chesterton looked at society and where it was headed. As Ahlquist writes in 2003: "Our society is experiencing exactly the crisis that Chesterton warned us about almost a century ago ... families falling apart; our schools are in utter chaos; our basic freedoms are under assault." Chestertonís view was "Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick." He held that "what is wrong is that we do not ask what is right." For Chesterton, what is right is Christianity and common sense - he states the problem to be: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried." What also is right is common sense and the wisdom of tradition - and from this Chesterton belief comes Ahlquistís title.
Todayís society cries out for a large dose of common sense and the application of wisdom. In so many ways, American society has taken the path that every problem, every inequity can be solved by one more law, by giving government just one more power to regulate our existence, taking us further away from the Declaration of Independenceís recognition of our Creator as the font from whom all blessings flow, further away from the underlying beliefs that lead to our constitutional republic. I do believe that John Adams and Chesterton were using the same play book - consider this John Adams quotation:
"Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there contained! Every member would be obliged in conscience to temperance, frugality and industry; to justice, kindness and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love and reverence toward Almighty God."
In 1994, Philip K. Howard wrote "The Death of Common Sense." In it he explored how the law has replaced humanity. He wrote that "The rules, procedures, and rights smothering us are different aspects of a legal technique that promises a permanent fix for human frailty. Dictates are so precise that no one has the chance to think for himself. Procedural layers do away with individual responsibility." His solution: "...stop looking to law to provide the final answer." "Relying on ourselves is not," he wrote "... a new idealogy. Itís just common sense." I wonder if Howard read Chesterton.
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