The Ruricolist is now available in print.

Common sense

I respect common sense only because it is inconsistent. Of course consistency is good; certainly inconsistency is bad; but there is a kind of knowledge which is useful, not because it is known to be right, but useful only until it is known to be right.

Beginning with what we cannot deny, consistency brings us to what we cannot support. Surprise is a conserved quantity. We can begin with common-sense principles and end with surprising conclusions; or, if we wish to derive common-sense conclusions, in working backward we will arrive at surprising principles. Consistency always incurs surprise – surprise relative to common sense.

This is why I avoid political systems. They begin with, they have as their attraction, common-sense conclusions I could no more disagree with than fail to think of myself. Of course I see, and seeing condemn, the horrors of exploitation, the grotesqueness of consumption; of course I see, and seeing condemn, the incompetence of government, the farce of bureaucracy. But commitment demands consistency, and what begins in the recognition of common sense ends unrecognizably.

Always use common sense; never trust it. Common sense is not wisdom, it is wisdom made fungible. All of its rings true, but none of it agrees with itself. You can no more think with common sense than you can eat money.