Voltaire was a talented French writer, playwright, philosopher and historian from the 17th century. He was an outspoken critic of the French aristocracy, religious dogma and corrupt institutions. He was banished from France after a fall out with a minor aristocrat and was exiled to the United Kingdom for three years during the Scottish enlightenment. This influenced him a great deal. He thought very highly of Scotland, famously saying ‘We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation’. He is famous for stating;
“Common sense is not so common.”
Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique (1764)
He was not saying that common sense does not exist, simply that such a thing is not universal.
The concept of “common sense” is widely known and cited in our society. “Common sense” is a core of knowledge and wisdom that we possess and think everyone else should share. In truth though, it is based on an individual’s experience and their subjective perceptions. It follows that “common sense” is different from person to person, therefore “common sense” is not common. By common here, we mean universal.
When Voltaire wrote this in the 18th century, he was talking about the differences between “common sense” in people from different social backgrounds. What was considered “common sense” for the landed gentry would likely be different from what was “common sense” for the farm hand.
This can be applied for more than class, however. People from differing countries and cultures too will find their concepts of “common sense” might differ greatly from those they find when they travel abroad.
VOLTAIRE’S ADVICE FOR BDSM
With this in mind, when discussing subjects in online forums, and in the scene in general, do not consider your position, or the position that you agree with, or even a position that has consensus within your group of friends, to be “common sense”, because it’s nothing more than your own subjective perception.
Your idea of “common sense” is likely to conflict with or contradict someone else’s idea of “common sense”.
Instead of relying on “common sense” to make choices and conclusions, you should instead rely on compiling a consensus for your position and perception, and work with other people to reach a conclusion most people can agree with. Allow your preconceived ideas to be challenged, and be open to the idea that you could be wrong. By assuming your position is “common sense” and acting upon it, all you’re doing is insulting the people who disagree with you, as you are dismissing their perception as invalid by default.
Understand that there is such a thing as cognitive bias, including confirmation bias, which will mean most people will simply look at the evidence before them and give more weight to the evidence they agree with, while less to the evidence which contradicts their preconceived ideas.
There is also the framing bias, where you collect evidence within a very narrow field and use this very narrow view of the available evidence to come to a conclusion which is unlikely to be truly representative of the whole, and therefore is potentially wrong.
This is especially relevant within the scene, when people are discussing kinks, complex psycho-sexual concepts and topics of a personal identity. Very few concepts or philosophical objects within BDSM are solid and universally agreed upon, and most of them are fluid to a degree.
This is also something to be considered by people that come from someplace in the world and have contact with the scene in a different part of the world. Your “common sense” is unlikely to be in tune with the scene or society there. You may have different points of view and your opinions and views are always welcome, but do not assume they are “common sense” there, and certainly do not make the mistake of asserting them as such.
Voltaire was cool. Your idea of what common sense is will not be universal. Keep an open mind when discussing BDSM topics and kink. Just because you and your pals think something, doesn’t mean everyone agrees.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MutualRespect is a Scottish firecracker. In the bedroom he’s a Dom, but outside of it he’s a self-proclaimed feminist who wants gender equality and would never be comfortable being involved with someone who felt they weren’t an equal, based on gender. The thing he finds most attractive in a member of the opposite sex isn’t their bra size or the length of their legs. He’s more of a prefrontal cortex kinda guy. You can find more of his writing on FetLife.