Common Sense, Common Purposes, Common Dreams

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Kent-Ravenna Record-Courier (Ohio)

Common Sense, Common Purposes, Common Dreams

I'm tired of the bashing, the negativism, I want to know what they will do. I'm pleased at the variety of winners - shows people are thinking.

I like Obama,, he's honest and reasonable ...

I think Clinton - she really knows hands-on what to do about trying to change the world.

I look for equal rights - equal for everyone - I'm not into politics, I just want them to represent people.

--NE Ohio voters talking to WKSU News Director M.L. Schultze, 1/21/08

For me, what shone through all these statements was their common sense - reasonable, thoughtful assessments of the issues, candidates and campaigns.

Are humans cold calculators of utility or steaming vessels of passion? Are we fiendish agents of evil or cool unflappable saints? mute fungible cogs or talkative problem-solvers? Or are we familial creatures with a talent for reason, logic and science, the gift of speech and storytelling, and social habits of sharing and trading?

All of the above, but it is the last that generates the common sense - both the simple logic of everyday experience and the consensus rising from our shared experiences - that make society and civilization possible.

We reason and talk together to find our commonalities and differences, make stories about the world, and share those stories to generate the values, beliefs and truths we hold in common. Common sense changes as events and perceptions change, and is always open to challenge and modification, new stories about what's important.

We need those stories both to shore up our personal common sense and to create national narratives of what our nation is about - who we are, what we want to do and how we want to do it, and stories about what we fear and what we cherish: our common purposes and common dreams. In a liberal democracy, these national narratives construct our moral order and our public will. Such stories also tell the rest of the world about the common purposes and dreams of a nation.

But what stories have we been telling our neighbors? That they are all irredeemably bad and only we know how to fix them? That we're the most powerful nation on earth and if they don't do as we say we'll bomb them to oblivion? That our war on terrorism is more important than the lives of their children? That we're so terrified of terrorists that we practice torture and give up our own freedoms?

In the last seven years our national narrative has been hijacked by neo-cons who believe that the world moral order is grounded in some divine purpose as revealed to themselves, and that the common sense of ordinary people must not be allowed to interfere.

Bush believes that he has been appointed by God to bring about a utopian world for powerful corporations and rich entrepreneurs. Bush has no common sense - his subjective sense of certainty is all he needs. And he commands vast resources to write our national narratives for us - corporate-funded think-tanks, speechwriters, screenwriters, editors, pollsters, political commentators, syndicated columnists.

We are told we must be self-reliant, then brainwashed to believe we need big houses, fast cars, 10 oz steaks, and huge TV screens, then blamed for being gullible and greedy. We are exhorted to be uncritical patriots, but systematically frightened by myths that walls will keep out immigrants, that voter ID will keep bad guys from voting, and that surveillance of our private communications stops suicide bombers. We are constantly reminded that we are too dumb to know what is good for us.

What does common sense tell us about the 935 false statements supporting the invasion of Iraq? What common sense is there to claim that the first use of nuclear weapons is "the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction."

Which among us believe that waterboarding is not torture? What kind of common sense justifies collective punishment of Palestinian civilians by cutting off fuel and supplies for something they can't control? Do we-the-people want our president to have unlimited executive powers? Is there a broad public consensus that Kucinich and Ron Paul shouldn't participate in candidate debates on TV?

Liberal democracy should means self-determination - the ability to have one's stories heard and discussed by others, to share in generating common purposes and common dreams, and to participate in making up the larger narratives that hold society together,

Common sense requires granting full human rights to every human. It teaches that denunciation, dehumanization and demonization don't help us resolve differences - what they do is make possible every kind of cruelty and violence.

Like the sensible citizens quoted above, most ordinary people are more level-headed, practical and down-to-earth than elites flattered by ideologies and cushioned by wealth. Local, independent media like WKSU help us work out consensus about major issues. Our strength is not a subjective certainty that we are right, but a confidence in the common sense of people everywhere.

There is a plan to take over the world. The stories to cue it up are already circulating. Unless these stories are rejected by the common sense of Americans, they may prevail.

Common sense - both our everyday experience and our shared experience as Americans - suggests that as a first step we need to impeach and prosecute those responsible for the death, terror and dehumanization that stalks the world today. Then we can work out, together, our common purposes and common dreams.

Caroline Arnold

Caroline Arnold retired in 1997 after 12 years on the staff of US Senator John Glenn. She previously served three terms on the Kent (Ohio) Board of Education. In retirement she is active with the Kent Environmental Council and sits on the board of Family & Community Services of Portage County. Her Letters From Washington has been published as an e-Book by the Knowledge Bank of the Ohio State University Library.  E-mail: csarnold@neo.rr.com

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