5 Ways 'Common Sense' Lies To You Everyday

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.

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.

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!"

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?

The Regression Fallacy

You'll Hear it As:

"If this cock ring isn't lucky, then how come I got that new job when I was wearing it?"

How It Screws Us:

Human beings are hardwired to see patterns. Seeing links and connections between various stimuli is a big part of how people navigate complex environments. Back in the earlier days of our evolution, it helped us to hunt and find food; today it helps us deal with people, keep track of large amounts of information and figure out just what the fuck is happening on Lost.

But misfires in pattern recognition create all sorts of weirdness, particularly in the form of superstition. You're playing the slots, losing and losing, when suddenly an obese woman next to you farts. You hit the jackpot, and suddenly you're convinced her colon houses gaseous magic. You're following her around the casino the rest of the day, continually asking if she wants one of these extra burritos you happen to have lying around.

It Gets Worse...

A great example of The Regression Fallacy is the alleged "Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx."

The Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx is a supposed curse where athletes who appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated will then become terrible or have a run of bad luck afterward (there's a similar belief about Madden Football). Forgetting that Michael Jordan was on the cover 49 times and never had a slump, everyone fails to realize that people are often on the cover of the magazine at the height of their careers, so they're bound to get worse. Big fluctuations are natural in an athlete's career, as is a downward level of skill.

That's why they call it the Regression Fallacy, because any trend is going to regress back to where it normally is. Crime goes way up in the city, they elect a new mayor, and crime goes down. Wow! This mayor is magic! Or maybe he's secretly Batman! Actually, the crime increase was out of the ordinary and crime was destined to fall back to its normal level. But the mayor--and countless other politicians and gurus--will make an entire career out of exploiting the Regression Fallacy.

Special Pleading

You'll Hear it As:

"I know I was a heroin addict, but this is different. It's meth."

How It Screws Us:

Although it sounds like what you'll need to do to get your significant other to, just this once, try on a rubber hood and call you "Duke," Special Pleading is actually when we allow something to be an exception to a rule, for no logical reason.

In every day life, people use Special Pleading to make them feel less guilty about doing shitty things. When someone else eats the last doughnut, they're a classless motherfucker who deserves to rot in Hell; when you or a friend does it, it's because you were really hungry and you've had a bad day and you didn't get any doughnuts the last time. Special Pleading is the lettuce in mankind's hypocrisy salad.

We'll slow down with the food references, now.

It Gets Worse...

You don't need us to point out examples of hypocrisy, from cops who won't write traffic tickets to other cops, to politicians who talk about how important the public school system is while putting their own kids in a exclusive private schools.

What's interesting is how everyone excuses it in their own mind.

You can't find anyone who simply says, "The rules don't apply to us because we're awesome!" Thanks to Special Pleading, there are elaborate mental gymnastics that happen inside them that eliminate even their feelings of guilt. And the thing is, sometimes they're right; you did call your boss a motherfucker because you were having a bad day. You do have bad habits due to your childhood upbringing. You were abrupt with your girlfriend because you were running late.

But what's strange is we don't let anyone else have those excuses. The girl behind the counter at Starbucks wasn't rude because she was having a bad day. She's just a bitch. The kid at Best Buy wasn't just clueless about the return policy, he was intentionally evil and trying to steal your money. Some of us have held grudges for years, based on actions by someone else that we've forgiven ourselves for doing countless times.

They might as well call it the "This Is Why The World Seems to be Full of Dicks" fallacy.

Don't miss Michael Swaim's look at The 4 Most Impressive Wastes of Time on Record. And find out how else you continue to be your own worst enemy, in 5 Ways Your Brain Is Messing With Your Head and Sleep Jerk to Piss Shivers: 5 Body Mysteries Explained.

And visit Cracked.com's Top Picks because your brain will force you to, anyway.

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