Bonhoeffer on Stupidity the entire quote

Taken from a circular letter, addressing many topics, written to three friends and co-workers in the conspiracy against Hitler, on the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s accession to the chancellorship of Germany.

‘Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use  of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings  at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

‘If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who lives in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other.The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupdi person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

‘Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in must cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really thing are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

‘But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from peoples’ stupidity. than from their inner independence and wisdom.’

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from ‘After Ten Years’ in Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works/English, vol. 8) Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010

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The Intellectualism of Stupidity Pt 4

 

As the shrouds of mystery surrounding the ruins of Egypt are slowly inched back allowing us to peer into its dim darkened halls, the shards of pottery, fragments of papyrus, and the walls of hieroglyphs remind us who seek her clues that the Egyptians were indeed human beings. They too were susceptible to the patterns of human complacency and decadence that were so starkly apparent in the civilizations they would precede. They too would build a civilization based upon the foundation of their marriage construct, yes, Egyptians were marrying long before Christians were, focused upon the generation, preservation, and cultivation of human life.

When the allure of personal pleasure and gratification caused them to abandon and compromise their foundational construct, they faced their own decline as a repercussion. The repetitive rise and fall of the Egyptian Dynasties heralded an ominous warning for civilization to come. Abandon your foundation at your own peril for if you do all that you have built upon it will crumble into the sands of time.

The patterns exist. They are etched in time. The evidence lies before us stark and cold and who could ignore it.

But we can and we do. We of all peoples of the earth and time are without excuse with so much evidence and information before us. Mountains of knowledge we eschew in order to embrace the same patterns of collapse the have plagued past civilizations. We stumble drunkenly towards our doom heedless to the calls of Egyptian leaders who decried the collapse of the family structure predicating the falls of the Egyptian Dynasties chronicled for our warning on sacred relics in hallowed tombs or the Roman Emperor who in a decree of desperation tried to protect the Heterosexual Marriage Construct by law to save a crumbling Empire, but too late as the seeds of licentious, decadent, and immoral behavior were rooted too deep in the social fabric to bring Rome back.

Through the fog of the stupor we now find ourselves, are we so debased that we cannot perceive the evidence before us that shouts through time that marriage is not about sexual preference and personal pleasure but it is about the preservation of life? It is necessary to the security of a nation and therefore must be protected as Rome learned too late. Without life there can be no living.

The modern man mocks this truth, even in anger. Our political parties scheme and work to remove those who defend these “antiquated” ideas of life from public expression. So bent on popular appeasement they forget that fact and truth are rarely popular but necessary to stability.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood this in his letter on stupidity. Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.”

As Bonhoeffer watched Germany crumble, we would do well to heed his warning to the results of our craven stupor. We cling, we crave, we claw in a blind belief that we are the civilization that can transcend the laws of human descent. As we demand to avail ourselves to the opportunity to repeat the disastrous mistakes of past civilizations, we would do well to ask ourselves: Is not that the very definition of insanity?