Recently I read a meme posted on Facebook about stupid people. The first time I read it, I was uncomfortable that he spoke about people being stupid. Growing up, stupid was an unacceptable word, so when I read this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an anti-Nazi theologian imprisoned in Germany in the 1940s reflecting on the danger of stupidity, it gave me pause for reconsideration of its definition. (The link is to the complete quote from After Ten Years’ in Letters and Papers from Prison. Please read it.)
As a child I learned that using the word stupid was unkind because it denoted that someone wasn’t smart- or the opposite of intelligent. I now believe that many intelligent educated people are stupid for it doesn’t refer to innate mental reasoning, but neglecting or refusing to use that ability. Stupidity is being closed minded, arrogant in the assumption that others are wrong without consideration of all possibilities, missing that all issues have sub-issues that have to be considered. Researching before forming an opinion is absent, and opinions are formed in ignorance. It is childlike, yet undeserving of the pass given to children based on youth and mental development. We all do it at some time or another whether we recognize it or not. It is easy to pass on information we hear like playing “Whisper Down the Lane” as kids. Unfortunately the results are about the same while in real life it is not amusing.
Part of the arrogance of stupidity is a need to criticize and judge the opinions of others, to argue, believing wholeheartedly the other is wrong. I remember as a college student going home for the first time and attempting to correct my parents for all their uneducated beliefs. In my case, I just felt guilty for hurting them when I realized I had shared a professor’s perspective as a belief, that I hadn’t thought out or believed with conviction, perhaps looking for a reaction to the newly educated me. Unfortunately today’s culture permits arrogance of thought and persecution of those who disagree without any emotional tie to the degradation it is. More often than not, thought and action are not autonomous, but repetition of what has been heard, which may be editorialized facts and far from the original data.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer presents that stupidity is a sociological occurrence that comes in reaction to a strong rise in political or religious power. In this situation, individuals give up their independent thought. “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 stupid 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.”
He went on to say that people with less socialization are able to remain unaffected by stupidity around them. Isolation while not typically considered mentally healthy, allows people to think for themselves. In an era of division broadened by social media and TV propaganda, we all must be very aware of what we are seeing and hearing, and before accepting it as truth, discern whether it is first and foremost fear mongering. Fear creates imbalance that makes us uncomfortable, searching for our comfort zone. Attaching to anything that returns us to to comfort, fulfills our needs. Soon we are spouting the slogans and catchwords but if honest, unable to explain the opinion. Mr Bonhoeffer suggested that to return from stupid we need to return to God. Fear is overpowering without it. Fear keeps us stupid, controlled and dependent.
A frivolous thought recently came to me that the whole country needs a Debate Club where for every current public issue, before speaking each person must research the topic, uncovering evidence, using whole evidence as is without editing or manufacturing, and using logic without prejudice because no one will know whether they will debate the affirmative or negative until their turn comes up. Wouldn’t we all be educated Americans?! A novel idea- know all the facts before forming opinions. Perhaps we could go a step further and when presenting news, the media could share the evidence, period. I remember when opinions were in the section called Editorials, not on the news program as the news.
The truth is that we are a divided nation. And at this time there is no agreement on why as it is a blame game for all. Some of you reading this will agree completely with what I have written, assured that each and every person that disagrees with you is the stupid one. For the sake of our society, I ask you to reconsider. One at a time, we each have to assess where and when we are stupid, remembering that it is not a lack of smarts, but taking the easy way out, by not thinking for ourselves. Keep your independent thought and trust your heart. I am not urging you to advertise opposing views among dissenters if that makes you uncomfortable, but keep your mind open and when you can, make statements like “I haven’t seen any data that supports that.” One at a time, individually with faith and courage, we can each release ourselves from the stupidity that is overpowering our country.
If you wish, Pray with me:
God in heaven, on earth and in my heart, thank you for your constant presence in my life. Help me to stay focused on that reality. Let it encircle me with courage to live from my heart. Cleanse me of evil in my thoughts, words and actions and remove judgment and criticism of others from my every day life. Although evil and lies may remain around me, lead me away from the temptation to follow them. Free my character from the closed mindedness of stupidity and restore my integrity. Give me the strength and discernment to recognize truth, and defend what is right, living my life in love and compassion. Understanding the plight of those still controlled by stupidity and for the sake of our country, I ask you to lead all on a path to freedom of thought, and love for mankind. Thank you. Amen
2 thoughts on “Have We Become the United States of Stupid?”
Thanks for linking – it’s a powerful quote.
I have both recently read and highly recommend the 2017 book ‘How to Think’ by Alan Jacobs for his take on our current divides, on being able to be in conversation with different people and ideas, and resisting the always present temptation to groupthink.
thanks for sharing.