“When you’re dead, you don’t know you’re dead. The pain is felt by others. The same thing happens when you’re stupid.” And to explicitly conclude the thought of that popular meme: “When you’re stupid and you don’t know it, the pain is felt by others.”
The truth of that statement strikes at the heart of what was experienced in Nazi Germany, thanks to the seemingly willing support that so many German people gave to Hitler. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, believed that this was a not a consequence of malice, but of widespread stupidity.
While in a German prison during the Hitler years, he formulated a theory arguing that we must seek to understand the nature of stupidity as stupidity is not an intellectual defect, but a moral one. Stupidity, therefore, is a much more dangerous enemy than malice because one can expose malice and argue against it and even use force to stop it, but this is not possible when dealing with stupidity.
One has but to look at all of the utterly stupid ideas and causes (and quite demonstrably so) being supported in today’s zeitgeist. From Covid to climate change, these stupid fictions continue to be believed by a significant number of people who, as a result, become a danger not only to others but to themselves as well. But having chosen to be stupid, they are oblivious to this reality.
Moreover, this phenomenon of stupidity, observed Bonhoeffer, is most predominant among people living in groups and collectives, and very rare in independent individuals or those who generally live alone. This suggests a strong psychological force at play, and goes a long way towards explaining why the collectivist Left (communism/socialism/fascism) promotes so many genuinely stupid and immoral ideas, policies and ideologies.
Upon a review of the evidence, it would appear that Bonhoeffer’s theory that stupidity is a moral defect turns out to be Just Right.
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