Dedicated to the citizens of Mason County, Washington since 1886

These Times

We need old-fashioned uncommon sense

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”

— Clive James, author

When I was a youngster growing up among the sticks and hicks of Eastern Washington, an adult volunteered some of his precious time to tell me I didn’t have any common sense. I can’t remember what behavior prompted the comment, but I do remember wondering what “common sense” could mean.

I wondered for so long that I finally decided that spending time wondering what constitutes common sense indicates a lack of common sense. Because I didn’t have common sense, I must have either uncommon sense, or worse, no sense.

Thus cursed, I trudged on with this burden I was given, like a big, dumb ox.

So … I’ve grown into adulthood sensitive to mentions of the use of the phrase “common sense.” It shows up a lot in public, especially among some politicians. Some recent examples:

■ U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (July 2023): “This is … about a dialogue for common sense, which is very hard to have here, finding commonality. And we’re going around the country basically talking to people who want this commonality and common-sense approach to how we fix problems.”

■ State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (September 2023): “Washington state is undefeated in court against challenges to Washington’s common-sense firearm safety laws. …”

■ Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (January 2024): “This should not be a Democrats versus Republicans issue … Holding fentanyl makers and dealers accountable is just common sense.”

■ State Rep. Frank Chopp (March 2024): “I focus on the values that have guided my decades of service: working together for one Washington; common sense for the common good, and a positive agenda in the public interest.”

■ U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake (April 2024): “I oppose today’s ruling, and I am calling on Katie Hobbs and the State Legislature to come up with an immediate common-sense solution that Arizonans can support.”

Promoting the superior value of common sense is a common tactic, mainly because it’s vague enough not to obligate the promoter to a specific action. It also helps the common-sense community feel superior to the communities of the uncommon-sensed and the no-sensed. Also, you don’t have to worry about a noncommon-sense community banding together and rising in outrage.

I can’t recall ever describing anything or anyone as lacking in “common sense” because it’s too undefinable to mean anything and, of course, because of my common-sense disorder syndrome. My mother-in-law once described someone as “not having the good sense that God gave a duck,” which seems OK only because she’s so adorable.

We’ve got some complex problems in need of solutions, so how about we try promoting uncommon sense with the same vigor as we do common sense.

Here’s an example of uncommon sense at work. The following showed up April 23 on an online site called “Interesting Technology:”

“A small-scale and compact device built by [Seattle-area-based] fusion startup Zap Energy has achieved plasma electron temperatures of 1-3 keV, roughly equivalent to 20 to 66 million degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 37 million degrees Celsius). In nearly a century of humanity working with fusion reactions, only a few technologies have reached plasma fusion temperatures above 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius), the temperature of our sun’s core.”

This is a remarkable breakthrough. It’s the precursor to the day when we can generate renewable energy without generating significant pollution. Imagine. No more dams. No more oil drilling. No more solar panels. No more windmills. Maybe no more Elon Musks. Maybe even, dare we dream, no more barbecue lighter fluid.

And here’s the uncommon sense required to construct such a technology, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency:

“On Earth, we need temperatures of over 100 million degrees Celsius to make deuterium and tritium fuse, while regulating pressure and magnetic forces at the same time, for a stable confinement of the plasma and to maintain the fusion reaction long enough to produce more energy than what was required to start the reaction.”

The knowledge required to accomplish this pursuit of fusion energy is not the kind of project solved with quick and uncomplicated answers that require doing things the way we’ve always done them — all fundamental elements of how we use the phrase “common sense.”

Maybe, just maybe, it’s a sign of common sense to understand that we need uncommon sense to make this world operate. I asked Mrs. Ericson whether she thought I’ve developed any common sense since she’s known me.

“Some,” she replied.

“Some.” Good. Maybe I’m on my way.

Author Bio

Kirk Ericson, Columnist / Proofreader

Author photo

Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald
email: [email protected]


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