5 Ways 'Common Sense' Lies To You Everyday

Albert Einstein said common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by the age of 18. It is also a result of some pervasive and extremely stupid logical fallacies that have become embedded in the human brain over generations, for one reason or another. These malfunctioning thoughts--several of which you've had already today--are a major cause of everything that's wrong with the world.

#5. The Historian's Fallacy

You'll Hear it As:

"Hey I heard Lisa tried to stab you! You should have known that ho was crazy!"

How It Screws Us:

Remember that time you decided to jump off your roof and do a back flip into your little brother's kiddie pool? Remember how all your friends thought it was a great idea and it was going to be so cool? And do you remember when you regained consciousness three months later in the hospital, how suddenly they all laughed at you and said you should have known better? Congratulations, you were bitch-slapped by the Historian's Fallacy.

The problem is, there is something about our brains that just won't let us put ourselves in the other guy's shoes. We're the fat guy on the couch screaming about how LeBron James "choked" because he took that bad shot instead of driving the lane. We're all convinced that, had we been in the same situation, we would have made the right decision; the Titanic wouldn't have sank, the stock market wouldn't have crashed and the PlayStation 3 wouldn't have been priced at $599.

The moment we see their mistake in hindsight, we tell ourselves what morons they must have been. The problem, of course, is that when your reaction is to shake your head, laugh and call them dumbasses, it keeps you from learning from their mistakes.

It Gets Worse...

To see this happening on a grand scale, just open a history book, or watch the news. George Santayana famously warned in 1905 that, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" and people have spent the last hundred years ignoring him. It's not so much that we don't remember the past, it's that here in the future everything they did looks retarded.

What were they thinking?

People don't realize that given the exact same set of circumstances and foreknowledge as Hitler in 1941, we would have invaded Russia, too. If we had been Sylvester Stallone in 1985, we would also have made Over The Top and married Brigitte Nielsen.

#4. The Nirvana Fallacy

You'll Hear it As:

"You gave that homeless guy a sandwich? Ha! Like that's really going to fix poverty!"

How It Screws Us:

The Nirvana Fallacy is when you dismiss anything in the real world because you compare it to an unrealistic, perfect alternative, by which it pales in comparison. It wouldn't be a problem, except it keeps us from getting anything done.

"We were GOING to write an album, but...Nevermind." The Nirvana Fallacy.

For instance, procrastination can happen for a lot of reasons--you drank too much the night before, or you're feeling uninspired, or it's your first time doing gay porn and you're having second thoughts--but one of the most common reasons we procrastinate is fear that the end result won't live up to the "perfect" idea in our heads. Think about the writer friend of yours who has never actually written anything, because they're "waiting for the right idea" for a book to come along.

This is why people wind up living in their parents' basement--waiting for the perfect job, the perfect girl, the perfect friendship--before committing to anything.

If you're not full of that kind of self-doubt, don't worry, there are plenty of assholes willing to supply it for you. Any incremental improvement on someone else's part is mocked as some kind of deluded hypocrisy, because anything short of perfect is not worth doing, so you might as well do nothing, like them. "Ha! You're drinking a Diet Coke with your hamburger? Like that's really going to make a difference!"

"A wedding dress. Right. Like THAT will attract a guy. You're pathetic."

It Gets Worse...

Politicians use this to attack any idea they don't like. "Sure, your plan is helping millions of families in poverty. But I found examples of people abusing it! So we might as well scrap the whole system!"

Or, you'll hear radical political types on the Internet say, "I'm not voting for any of those guys! They're no better than Bush! They're all corrupt agents of the NWO! I'm staying home until you can show me a perfect, incorruptible, intelligent politician who believes the exact same things I do!"

#3. The Appeal to Probability

You'll Hear it As:

"Sure I bought a lottery ticket! Somebody has to win, might as well be me!"


"They found another case of bird flu in China! If I see a bird, I'm gonna kill its ass before it can make me sick!"

How It Screws Us:

Our brains are stupid when it comes to calculating probability. As a result, we all have this fuzzy idea that if something can happen, it probably will. And we think this, while having no idea what "probably" even means.

This is why millions of high school kids think they're going play pro sports when they grow up, even though there are only enough available jobs for a tiny fraction of them. When the news says an asteroid may hit the Earth in the next 10 million years, people will watch the skies suddenly sure that an asteroid will hit that day.

And an asteroid that thinks it'll play pro sports is just the apotheosis of delusional.

The Appeal To Probability is the fallacy behind one of the most cherished tenants of common sense: Murphy's Law. For those of you who aren't familiar with comical posters from the 70s, Murphy's Law states that if something bad can happen, it will happen. And while that attitude may leave you depressed and irritable, believing the opposite can leave you having to sell a kidney to pay the rent.

It Gets Worse...

The Appeal To Probability might be one of the most ingenious ways people convince other people to give them money. The entire gambling industry runs on it. Well, that and mountains of cocaine. Any time we buy a lottery ticket, bet on a horse or enter into a financial agreement with the deposed president of Nigeria, we're being bent over by the Appeal to Probability.

Hollywood doesn't help us on this one, since every single movie is about the one-in-a-million shot going through. Nobody wants to hear about the underdog who lost the big game 49-0. So after hearing that same story several hundred times, we somehow come away with an unspoken belief that the unlikely underdog always wins. We don't stop to ask why, if that really happens, they are still called the unlikely underdog?

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