Tag Archives: common sense

Common Sense vs. the Digital Revolution

It has always been possible for men with great formal education to lose themselves in their own words and twisted logic. But most intellectuals would reject in practice if not in theory Albert Einstein’s “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. With the still largely unexplored horizons of the digital revolution, the capacity for resorting to formal argument is all the more tempting.
The dictionary defines “common sense” as “sound judgment in practical matters”.
One has to assume that in making judgments, as in other human activities, one learns from his experience. That is, again at least in theory, the more one has to make judgments, the better he will become in making them.
Our intention here is to pose the question of whether, by making it easier and easier to resort to programmed solutions through statistical means, we are not increasingly eliminating the possibilities of one making judgments.
Watching a cashier at a checkout counter, for example, he has become almost an automaton simply locating the barcode and passing it across the sensor. Either he then pushes another button authorizing payment from the customer’s credit card or if you hand him cash, he looks to his cash register’s screen to tell him whether it is the correct amount or how much to return to you. He does have to know the difference between the value of the various coins and bills. But little else, seemingly.
There was a day when a “cashier” was an honored professional occupation for it required a modicum of arithmetic.
Or there was a time when The Dispatcher was the essential center of any distribution system. He had to have memory of frequently used addresses, or the ability to consult a map and find the address and to direct the delivery driver to it. That was, if you will, a carefully calculated judgment call. But with GPS [global positioning system], it is now possible not only for the messenger himself to automatically locate an address but to have a lovely if somewhat mysterious voice directing him, turn by turn, along a path to the location. Thus, we have wiped out a treasured work slot – and a body of judgment necessary to make those calculations.
But is there any proof that the whole development across our society and economy is, indeed, wiping out judgment generally? Or perhaps, even creating new judgmental situations?
A current political debate in the media suggest that if we can equate judgment with common sense, the latter is losing out.
It is now generally known from the endless wrangle about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s activities, that she violated the spirit if not the letter of the law, when she carried on her private e-mail correspondence rather than on the State Department’s ostensibly secure network. Leaving aside all the discussion of why she did this, and how she did this, and whether it profited potential enemies, the question of whether or not classified material – that is, government information moving among branches of government which is at least discreet if not secret – did not pass along this path. Clinton says no articles marked classified reached her; the State Department is still sorting out its answer, apparently; the critics are all contending such material did. Thus an endless banter of words.
But doesn’t common sense, a judgment that might be reached by even the most apolitical among us, indicate a simple truth: any message to the Secretary of State’s eyes would become important, discreet and should be protected. The very access to information by one of the most important members of the American executive becomes in itself of importance, probably worth guarding as “classified” or “secret” or whatever. But we also must remember that the Secretary of State is fourth in line for the presidency in the case of a catastrophic extinction of the leadership.
That, we wager, is an issue of common sense, not requiring digitalization.


All American

Maybe this is a stretch too far, but I watched two TV interviews with Cheney on Fox Sunday afternoon [Sept. 4, 2001]. And I came away with a good, warm feeling: seems to me he is the example of what good old American common sense can do/does in the artificial hothouse environment of Washington. I mean here is a guy who came into public life via the Republican Establishment [after all, he was Ford’s chief of staff! and had made his way pretty much through the “normal” Washington career ladder to near the top], yet, faced with the horrible decision-making that came when he became “assistant president” rather than the usual [“a bucket of warm p___”] vice president with Bush II, he acted with integrity and in the face of an overwhelming opposition within the Bush
cabinet most of the time. [I am forgiving him backing Kay Bailey Hutchison against Rick Perry in the GOP primary for governor of Texas; he had a friendship with her during their Washington sojourns.] By the way, his wrestling match with a bad heart certainly didn’t make any of this easier.
Of course, I am probably taking him “out of context”; Even with all we know about a public figure, we don’t know and never will know the ins and outs of motivation. But we do know that he pretty much hit rock-bottom in his early days — alcohol, dropped out of school, was working as a lineman, not that that isn’t a worthy occupation. [We had proof of that in this damned hurricane!] One story I have heard is that Liz Cheney — whom I also see as a pretty admirable character and we know an intelligent public speaker — did it by refusing to marry him until he went back to school, straightened up, etc.
Then there is Wyoming which I don’t know, but dream of as a pretty wonderfully, “pure” place — and I don’t want to be disenchanted!
Anyway, in a peculiar way, it brightened my day.