Bonhoeffer on Stupidity

During most of my adult life, I avoided putting too much thought into politics because I had a sense that I had other work to do as a pastor which would be hampered were I to become involved in political matters. Now that I am retired, I am paying much more attention and am finding that these are interesting times, with the far Right trying very hard to advance its program of negativity toward government, diversity, minorities, and on and on. All the while, they are trying equally hard to avoid words which might reveal their inherent racism and elitism.

For several months I have been tracking Fox News, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh, as well as going back over clips of Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin in an effort to understand how anyone could have supported them. The level of dishonesty, sheer ignorance, and blatant hypocrisy I have found in each of these sources has been dumbfounding.

Time and again  words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer have come to mind, words which in his day applied to those who defended the Nazi regime in Germany. Today, methinks, they describe the Far Right in American politics. Bonhoeffer wrote in the essay After Ten Years:

“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 when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.”

Stupidity? Yes, I think that’s the most accurate word for such Fox tricks as they pulled in September of 2012, repeatedly showing during the day a photo of President Obama sitting next to a person dressed as a pirate on “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” The issue which had offended the Fox team was that the day before the President had not met with Israeli President Netanyahu, citing lack of time. And they were right — meeting with a pirate instead of a president is terrible.

The only problem, just a tiny one, was noted later in the day by Fox on Twitter (but never on the air): “The picture we aired this morning of the President and the pirate was from 2009.”

Aside from the fact that their little Tweet hardly counts as the apology which Fox owed, the larger question is, How could a station devoted solely to the news (or so they say) make such a ridiculous error? There are many conceivable answers to that question, but not one which does not make Fox News look simply stupid.

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About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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2 Responses to Bonhoeffer on Stupidity

  1. Bob Light says:

    Whereas you seem to view the conservative world as “stupid”, I read Bonhoeffer’s words and think of all those on the left attending rallies for Bernie Sanders and advocating the ways of socialism during a period of history which has shown socialism to be an utter failure as an economic system….or worse yet, rallying behind Hillary Clinton – someone who is most definitely a felon and likely a traitor…. how stupid is that?

    You rail against FoxNews because they goofed by getting caught up in the pirate picture debacle where the real story was that Obama was snubbing Netanyahu – the former being a valid slight against the stupidity of the press…the later being truth about the stupidity of the POTUS.

    I like the Bonhoeffer quote though… it is very true. If you are stupid, you really can’t tell how stupid you are.

    • mthayes42 says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Bob. I don’t think conservatism is stupid or that all conservatives are stupid. I would like to think of myself as being somewhat right of center but that seems to be a lonely place these days. What does seem stupid to me is refusing to see that Trump has so very much in common with Hitler. He stands for nothing beyond cliches , makes up policies on the spot, reverses them a day or two later, jumps on any idea — without any regard for whether it is true or false — that makes his opponents look bad. Like all tyrants, he is hypersensitive to criticism, usually labeling it “vicious attack,” and for some brainless reason thinks he must respond more viciously. I am as frustrated with our political leaders as much as anyone is but I do not believe turning to a petty tyrant will be an improvement.

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