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Posts Tagged ‘On Stupidity’

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“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” 

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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I thought for this installment of Gratitude Week, I would start with the quote above from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The name might be familiar. I featured him a post last year, On Stupidity, that has been pretty popular, consistently getting quite a few views each week. He was the German pastor who spoke out against the Nazi regime throughout the 1930’s, later being sent to a concentration camp before being sent to his death on the gallows in the last days of the war. On Stupidity described the sort of blatant ignorance that led to the rise of the Nazis and seems to exist here today in forms. Bonhoeffer also coined the term Cheap Grace which also seems abundant these days. It’s a post that is worth another look.

But the words above from Bonhoeffer offer a different and positive thought, that we receive much more from this life than we ever give in return. Understanding this concept and living with a sense of gratitude gives our lives a richness beyond material wealth.

In that vein, I want to point out that there is a political/economic philosophy that has been out there for some time now, one that has led to the increasing disparity of wealth between those at the top and those in the middle and at the bottom.

It basically labels people as Makers and Takers. In the eyes of those at the top, the Makers are those who control the wealth and means of production and the Takers are everyone else. They believe that no matter how integral a person might be in assisting the Makers amass their wealth, they are only there to take from them.

They see the world as a zero sum scenario where there are only winners and losers. Those at the top are winners and anyone below them are losers. The loser Takers are tools at best to be used in their view. When their usefulness has went away, they are nothing more than dead weight.

It’s a distressing idea, one that I would love to say couldn’t exist, but there is ample evidence to support that this belief is flourishing.

I would like to offer a counter-thought.

In my eyes I see the Makers described above as the real Takers. By doing all they can to gain and gain at the expense of others, they extract joy and compassion from this world, along with dignity,respect, and honor. They take away from the humanity of all people with an extreme selfishness that creates a world of solely winners and losers.

But in my worldview anyone can be a Maker because wealth is not the only factor that makes for a better world. Anyone who acts to better people’s lives is a Maker. Those who inspire, those who teach, those who heal, those who put their own lives on the line to rescue those in harm’s way, those who come to the aid of others in need, those who give what little they have until it strains their budgets, those who volunteer, those who work to least the least among us a voice, those who stand up to power so that our air is clean and our food safe, along with so many others—these are the people who make this world a better place, who bring a sense of dignity to all people.

These are the true Makers. These are the people who create the richness of this world.

Please understand that what you have in this world is the result of being assisted by others. You may be the most fabulous, self-sufficient being in the universe but you have done nothing absolutely on your own.

We are the beneficiaries of the work and care of others.

Let us acknowledge that and be grateful. Be a Maker.

 

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I have written a number of times here about the events that are taking place in this country and my frustration at how little effect reasoning and factual evidence have on the followers of the current president. Their stubborn stupidity seems impenetrable to even the most glaring truths.  I am sure that there are many of them out there who still, faced with an ever expanding list of acts of malfeasance, refuse to see anything other than a conspiracy against the leader of their cult.

It turns out that this phenomenon is nothing new. It can probably found in every major movement based on political power or religion. One of the most enlightening essays on the subject of the stupidity of the follower came to us in a letter written in a German prison during World War II by theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Boenhoeffer. The first paragraph of the essay is shown above.

Dietrich Boenhoeffer was a pastor and theological writer who stood in direct opposition to the Nazi regime and spoke out against its programs of euthanasia and genocide. He had an opportunity to stay in the US in the late 1930’s, safe from the reach of the Nazis, but he insisted on returning, believing that if he were to rebuild the German church in the war’s aftermath he must endure it with its people.

He was imprisoned in a German prison in 1943 and later transferred to a concentration camp.  He was implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler and he was hanged in the waning days of the war, in April of 1945.

Dietrich Boenhoeffer’s story is most interesting and his writings live on and have great influence to this day.  One of the terms he coined was cheap grace which also has great meaning today. I’ve included an apt description of this at the bottom of this page..

The following essay is taken from a letter written while in captivity.  I urge you to read it. It may help you understand better your own frustration wit what you see today. And if you are one of those who fail to see what seems so clearly evident to most people, perhaps you should read it then ask yourself how you allowed yourself to be swept up in this grand wave of 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.

‘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 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.

‘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

 

Cheap Grace-

“But there is another, uniquely religious aspect that also comes into play: the predilection of fundamentalist denominations to believe in practice, even if not entirely in theory, in the doctrine of “cheap grace,” a derisive term coined by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By that he meant the inclination of some religious adherents to believe that once they had been “saved,” not only would all past sins be wiped away, but future ones, too—so one could pretty much behave as before. Cheap grace is a divine get-out-of-jail-free card. Hence, the tendency of the religious base of the Republican Party to cut some slack for the peccadilloes of candidates who claim to have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and reborn to a new and more Christian life. The religious right is willing to overlook a politician’s individual foibles, no matter how poor an example he or she may make, if they publicly identify with fundamentalist values.”

Mike Lofgren

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