(About a 6 minute read; reading full quote extends post to about 11 minutes)

Please note: Bonhoeffer was a brilliant and compassionate German theologian. He was among the few Germans with the courage to openly and publicly oppose the Nazis after they had consolidated their hold over the nation. He was hanged for it.  This post is about his sharp insights into the mentality of Hitler’s followers — insights that I believe are especially relevant today. 

In an earlier post today, I defended stupid people from our cultural tendency to attack and debase them.  The post prompted one of Café Philos’ readers, Galtz, to respond with a long quote of Bonhoeffer’s that seemingly analyses “stupid people”.  But please don’t be misguided by Bonhoeffer’s and mine use of the same word, “stupid”, to describe a certain type or class of persons.  We are not using the word to mean the same thing at all.

What Bonhoeffer means by “stupid”, I mean by “willfully stupid”.  In turn, what he means by “dull” is what I mean  by “stupid”.  Once that is seen, I believe it becomes clear to any reader of both posts that Bonhoeffer and I are in complete agreement.

Now, let’s take a look at Bonhoeffer’s views. He begins by noting that “against stupidity we are defenseless”.  This is because stupid people cannot be reasoned with: “reasons fall on deaf ears” — an insight that he drives home in brilliant detail.

First, the stupid person simply does not feel any need to believe facts that contradict his or her assumptions.  Even if the facts are irrefutable, the stupid person simply pushes them aside as inconsequential, as incidental.

Moreover, the stupid person shows no signs of possessing an intellectual conscience about his behavior: He feels no shame or guilt for what he does.  Instead, he is likely to feel smug and self-satisfied, and then to go on the attack, becoming critical of the views presented to him. Because of that he becomes dangerous for his attacks might involve violence.

Based on all my experience of people, Bonhoeffer is spot on here. Stupid people behave precisely as he says they do.  They did in his age, and they still do today, a fact that indicates this sort of stupidity — which I myself call “willful ignorance” — most likely has its roots in our DNA, and can be considered part of human nature.

So how do we “get the better of this stupidity?

For the rest of the post…

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