Seventy years ago, Chesterton remarked:

Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody's system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody's sense of reality: to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense. Each started with a paradox: a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of what they would call a sane point of view. That is the one thing common to Hobbes and Hegel, to Kant and Bergson. to Berkeley and William James. A man had to believe something that no normal man would believe, if it were suddenly propounded to his simplicity; as that law is above right, or right is outside reason, or things are only as we think them, or everything is relative to a reality that is not there. The modern philosopher claims, like a sort of confidence man, that if once we will grant him this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world, if once he is allowed to give this one twist to the mind.

I sometimes fancy this tendency to trust the experts got a big boost with the dawn of the 20th Century and various oddnesses discovered by the guys researching quantum physics, relativity and all that.  Since the dawn of these sciences with their various weird and counter-intuitive discoveries and their impact on the popular imagination, there has been a vague sense in the air that ordinary people should sit down and shut up while experts tell them what is really going on.  After all, it’s strange to think that space can warp, that light is both a particle and wave, that the very act of observing something affects the thing observed, and many other weirdnesses.  So as the 20th Century rolled on, a successful cottage industry of experts arose.  Some genius would pop up periodically and propose some insane idea, point to his credentials, and then dare the hoi polloi to dispute him on the basis of crude, primitive "common sense".  Some would even dare us with some variation of "It’s true because it’s insane!"

So, for instance, Alfred Kinsey made preposterous and destructive claims about human sexuality.  According to Kinsey, deviant sexual activity is not deviant but normal and natural.  Also, we were informed by this expert that children are sexual from birth and instructed that society should not stifle any sexual activity.  Normal people who said, "Kinsey is preposterous and destructive" were shouted down because Kinsey was a man in a lab coat and they were merely normal people.  It turned out that normal people were right and that Kinsey was getting his expert results from pedophiles and various other degenerates.

 When I was a boy, normal people said that dropping acid and doing heroin, though praised by the Elite as quite cool and consciousness-raising, was also going to destroy many lives.  The cutting edge thinkers again told us that we were being pedestrian in clinging to common sense and continued to do so till they went into Rehab in the 80s and 90s.  The same expert advice to ignore common sense was given by the geniuses who gave us no-fault divorce and abortion on demand.  Common sense said that this would result in the destruction of the family and the abuse of children and cost millions of innocent lives.  Deep-thinking counter-intuitive wisdom prophesied a happy future of relationships built on mutual consent and a paradise of "wanted children".  Oddly, the common sense people called it yet again.

Now the counter-intuitive geniuses are at it again.  The new book More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics by Steven Landsburg attempts to advance the proposition that social conservatism causes AIDS.  We are informed by Somebody a Lot Smarter Than You that chaste and monogamous people achieve this unlikely result through the "sin of self-restraint".  According to Landsburg, sexually promiscuous people are "socially beneficent".  Chastity and monogamy are "immoderate and socially irresponsible".  If you doubt that, it’s because you are stupid.

I look forward to future rich insights from our Chattering Classes such as "Sobriety Causes Drunk Driving", "War is Peace", and "Freedom is Slavery".  Or to quote another expert:

All this was inspired by the principle — which is quite true in itself — that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. — Adolf Hitler, Expert Propagandist

Usually, if it smells like garbage, it is.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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  • Guest

    I would not call this garbage. There is a notion that planned sexual activity is less destructive than planned purity that ends up at sex. That is true about the negative consequences of AIDS and unwanted pregnancy. The problem is planned casual sex has much deeper consequences of denying human dignity. Guys like Landsburg miss things like that.

    There is a truth Christians need to take home. Sexual purity is not something you should do halfway. You need to take it seriously or you actually make some of the problems worse. So we don't just need to tell ourselves we won't have sex. We need to refuse to get into dating relationships that are going to tempt us. We need take seriously modest dress and porn-free entertainment. We need to stay sober so we make good choices. We need to keep reminding ourselves that dating is about marriage and marriage is about procreation. The goal is not to have some sexual thrills.

  • Guest

    I don't know about anyone else, but I often fall into the "If-you-doubt-that-it's-because-you-are-stupid" group.  You make me laugh, Mr. Shea.  Thank you!

     Jesus, I Trust in You!

  • Guest


    Mark, you have one heckuva way with words. You take what I'm thinking and put it on paper. Only better. Wish I had that talent bro.

    Keep it up. AndyP/Doria2   Yonkers,  NY   HOSEA 4:6



  • Guest

    Hitler was a bad guy whose goal was to conquer the Jewish Bolsheviks and obtain lebensraum. The JB's weren't good guys and had murdered 4 million Soviet Christians by 1935. Don't forget, collectivization occurred long before WW2.

    The useful idiots you speak of were nothing more than sympathetic idealogues who weaseled their way into positions of power, often helped by the Soviet Union's intelligence apparatuses. Other weasels mutated from that power and have murdered 120 million in the past 60 years alone. They're still killing to this day and have a lot more work to do.

  • Guest

    Listen to the words of a great prophet: "The world in which we live is the battleground of the church.  I believe that we are now living at the end of Christendom.  It is the end of Christendom, but not the end of Christianity.  What is Christendom?  Christendom is the political, economic, moral, social, legal life of a nation as inspired by the gospel ethic.  That is finished.  Abortion, the breakdown of family life, dishonesty, even the natural virtues upon which the supernatural virtues were based, are being discredited.  Christianity is not at the end.  But we are at the end of Christendom.  And I believe that the sooner that we face up to this fact, the sooner we will be able to solve many of our problems."  Fulton J. Sheen………………food for thought.




  • Guest

    Unfortunately, 'common sense' isn't completely reliable, either.  The obvious example is the many average Joes-and Janes- who 'reason', 'Hey, I can have my dog 'put to sleep' when he's suffering. Why shouldn't I be able to have myself 'put to sleep' if I get incurable cancer ?"  I've heard this quite often among average working folks, who wouldn't know the Hemlock Society from a hole in the ground, but have absorbed the 'common sense' notion that suffering is worthless.

  • Guest

    Isaiah 5

    20 Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.

     Romans 1

    22 For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. 23 And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts, and of creeping things. 24 Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness, to dishonour their own bodies among themselves. 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    Angels fly because they take themselves lightly. G.K. Chesterton

  • Guest

    In reading Mr. Shea's wonderful article about all the "thinking" and "ideas" that we are asked to believe and be "open" to because the experts say its so, I am reminded of a small but powerful quote I read somewhere that really seemed to say it all…If you are too open-minded your brains will fall out…