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Matsubara Naoko:
Boston Common (Shōwa era, 1926-1989)

" … a Common sense and an even commoner wisdom …"

A local group, inspired and funded by outside money, fancies itself the store and font of common sense here. They call themselves Common Sense Republicans, which, by their very title, suggests that they're probably about anything but common sense, Republicans having long ago adopted the practice of naming anything they promote the opposite of whatever it might actually be. I feel confident that the members swell with associative pride to think that they've ascended to the altitude where they evoke the spirit of Thomas Paine, a revered founder, whenever they assemble. They appear at city council meetings to protest "despotic" mask mandates, school board meetings to lobby hard against freedom of speech, and in the letters to the editor column of our local newspaper to champion the most uncommon ideals, all under the rubric of common sense. Common bullshit, I might suggest.

Still, it's a part of our common mythos to believe in the sense a commoner quite naturally makes.
This sense, though, seems to mature over time, to evolve into its higher self, and to never gain wisdom a priori. Commoners tend to make common mistakes, normal ones; perhaps the most common one the firm belief in the sense they make when they make little sense at all. Experience informs common sense, and in its absence, it sums to common nonsense. Those who couldn't pass a course in civil discourse do not display common sense but spout nonsense, eroding the very dignity they insist they're displaying. A rabble only demonstrates the curious wisdom of crowds, which reacts to rumor and innuendo rather than circumspection.

What common features seem to accompany Success? Perhaps the most common of all: the experience of choosing wrong in the past. The resulting common experience might not be shared by anyone but remain unique to each individual, yet, at a meta-level, all who succeed seem to need to have suffered through some prior delusion to find themselves on some wrong side of their own future. This experience, often repeated several times, tends to leave one watchful, more careful than boastful. One comes to limit one's own grand assertions. One comes to understand that no one knows very much for certain. One realizes that certainty is almost always the problem, whatever guise it might appear in.

Confidence curiously buoys with this realization. The sure and more confident understanding that one understands almost nothing feels reassuring. No longer responsible for providing all the answers, one can resume their inquiry comfortable with not yet having found THE answer, eventually, perhaps even grateful that no answer might exist, such that one might simply continue their questioning. Never again, then, are they called to know better or force their belief upon another. Never again, after this small 'r' realization, will they feel called to save anyone but themselves, though even that modest aspiration might ultimately prove unachievable. What does such Success become when commonly achieved? What comes of the aspirer? Nothing happens but the commonest of shifts, which everyone eventually experiences if they're paying attention. Those who choose assertion over attention seem destined to become public fools, spouting convictions so damned common as to only publicly discredit themselves.

Anyone dispensing Common sense seems just as misguided as those dispensing wisdom, for neither are collective properties, and each appears to need discovery by oneself. Of course, the very notion that one's primary occupation should properly be the care and nurturing of such a thing as a self qualifies as heresy in some quarters. There, we're here to save others, to instruct and to judge, to nudge others into line, the presumption being that we're okay and that they're unfortunately quite fucked up, such that they might be incapable of stumbling upon their own Common sense or even their own wisdom. Those others appear to be damned without their damners' intervention. Who else could inform them of their Common condition than a purveyor of a Common sense and an even more common wisdom?

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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