Recently, the NV GOP declared its “staunch opposition” to the Gaming Control Board’s policy tying casino occupancy to the number of employee COVID vaccinations. Part of its stated objection is that the gaming board members are “non-medical.” It’s too bad its own national committee member said people should rely on "common sense" instead of on medical experts when he posted the official statement that claimed to support the interests of our “hardest hit” hospitality workers.
“Use your common sense,” is a phrase many have heard countless times in life. Ever since Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet with that title, we have understood it to mean one’s “prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the facts.” So where is the prudence in a circular argument that is at once both for and against medical experts? Does state GOP leadership recognize the fact that international travel restrictions are easing for the vaccinated, who then will expect the same from the hotels that they are housed in?
My common sense as a voter with an asthmatic son and a “hard hit” livelihood tells me we should vaccinate everyone we can in order to protect the vulnerable and get our event-driven economy booming. It also informs me that the pulmonologists who kept my 3 lb. preemie (now 15 years old) alive has done more to save my family than partisans who used their borrowed power to try to deny their communities preventative health care.
Paine advocated for representative democracy over authoritarian monarchs because, Men who look on themselves as born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent. Between their attacks on the life-saving Affordable Care Act and our free and fair elections, today’s NV GOP leaders might be the ones he warned us about as “Interested men, who are not to be trusted, weak men who cannot see,” and “prejudiced men who will not see”.
There is another sense in common with us that runs deeper than logic. It is empathy. We experience it as something like thinking and something like a sense that connects us to the internal life of others. The Golden Rule is the perfect expression of its function and, for many, the very measure of justice. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is the basic instruction for how to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes'' in order to understand them. Our empathy-driven common sense reacts intensely to abuses of power. We cannot control when a sensation of empathetic danger or joy will hit us, but it gets our attention when it’s triggered because it reveals important truths about our human condition.
Pundits lament the “lack of empathy” and “common sense” in our society when they cover the COVID crisis and the battles for equal justice. The NV GOP’s statements against the Gaming Control Board appear to prove their point. We hold these truths to be self-evident — and that is our first mistake. “Your common sense” is your own, and therefore subjective. But a shared sense of community and compassion between strangers is a thing we can create.
And it is the purpose of theatre as an art form. Actors and audiences make a choice to create a common sense of truth by stimulating empathy through stories of shared struggle. I’m not saying that every performance will change your life or end injustice, but it gives us a place to begin the work in good faith. We cannot open the theatres if the public is not vaccinated. I hope that all who are able get the shots. It is only common sense.
Sarah O’Connell is the vice president of the Producers Alliance of Southern Nevada and the principal director of Eat More Art LLC.