I have a bit of an ongoing debate with a friend of mine about the behavior of the cons in this country. He’s a cut-and-dried kind of a guy so once he reached his conclusion – cons are stupid – he was good. That’s his position and he’s not moving off of it. The thing is, I know many cons who are quite intelligent. As an evidence-based person, I can’t just dismiss the evidence in front of me in order to make a preferred position work like the cons do. That is to say, I don’t buy the blanket statement that these people are stupid because I know too many who aren’t. Although my friend seems unwilling to accept my “solution,” I arrived at the idea that the cons are deceived, not stupid. Still, it’s undeniable that the things they support and the positions they defend ARE, indeed, stupid.
I recently learned about a guy named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a pastor in 1930’s Germany who spoke out about increasing atrocities of the Nazis as they came to power. The German people had been led to horrific transgressions by lies and deceptions of the Nazis at the time – call it the Fox “News” effect. Bonhoeffer tried for years to help people see that what they were doing was wrong. In the end, though, (spoiler alert) the Nazis DID come to power and – not surprisingly – arrested old Dietrich and sent him to prison where they eventually murdered him – two weeks before the camp he was in was liberated. Spiteful to the end, those Nazis…
While he was in prison, though, he developed this theory of stupidity. He suggested that the horrific way the German people were behaving at the time was not based in malice but stupidity. He wrote that stupidity was far more dangerous than malice because malice can be exposed and combated. Stupid, on the other hand, is impervious to reason. Facts that contradict a stupid person’s predetermination can simply be dismissed. If the fact is irrefutable, it is simply pushed aside and ignored as inconsequential. (Sound like any cons you know?) But here’s the key. Bonhoeffer defines stupidity not as an intellectual defect, but a moral defect. He makes clear that a person can have a quite agile mind and still be morally stupid. Likewise a person who might be rather dull, intellectually, can still be quite morally intelligent.
Bonhoeffer suggests that this is no accident. People are brought to moral stupidity. They may not be naturally stupid but they allow themselves to be MADE stupid. He observed that people who live in solitude are less likely to fall prey to the big lies while people who engage in groups are made stupid far more easily. That, in turn, led him to the conclusion that this moral stupidity was less a psychological problem and more of a sociological problem – the reason, perhaps, trump’s rallies are so popular among his base. He suggested that every upsurge of power, say…a CheetoJesus, “infects a large part of humankind with stupidity.” He describes it as a symbiotic relationship in which the power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. But Bonhoeffer makes clear that people aren’t losing intellect. Instead, in the face of the rising power, some people just surrender their independence and give up their autonomous positions, more or less willingly.
Bonhoeffer points out that these morally stupid people are often stubborn but they are NOT independent. I have, myself, observed that in conversation with modern cons one can often perceive the morally stupid person as chanting mantras more than expressing independent thought. I know many who support helping poor people, for example, but when confronted with some bumper-sticker slogan they simply retreat into the “safety” of their construct and repeat as they’ve been conditioned. The threat Bonhoeffer wanted the world to understand is that, having been rendered a mindless tool, the morally stupid person is capable of ANY evil and INCAPABLE of even seeing that it IS evil. (January 6th, anyone?)
I used to say that a con would kill their own mother if the conservative media framed it in the right way. Truthfully, I meant it as kind of hyperbolic tongue-in-cheek. Then Covid-19 hit. Conservative media wavered a bit – maybe a day – but eventually went back to support of their “experts know nothing” position and cons DID start killing their mothers. And their children. And their friends and co-workers and people they passed in the stores and even themselves. All of it, in thrall to one big lie after another.
Sadly, Bonhoeffer also points out that there’s really no way to reach any of these people. They have to be internally freed from the power that controls them. Until then, we should just abandon all attempts to convince a morally stupid person. Internal liberation occurs only AFTER external liberation. Ideally, I think this would mean the elimination of conservative media. More likely, the return of the Fairness Doctrine might ensure that the morally stupid people are regularly exposed to correct information to offset the garbage spewed in the conservative bubble. The problem? I’m not sure how one goes about that in view of the fact that immoral people can hide their lies behind the veil of free speech.
There’s an episode of ‘Star Trek’ in which an historian goes to another planet and re-creates the world of Nazi Germany in the late 1930’s and early 40’s. Not surprisingly, his experiment gets out of control and Nazism takes over, finally killing the historian himself. I’ve been watching Republicans take strategies from the Nazi playbook since 43 infested the Oval Office. Karl Rove was apparently a big fan of the Nazi tactics and he borrowed heavily from the Nazi tactical plan. Like the fictional ‘Star Trek’ historian, Republicans seem to believe they can control the froth and frenzy created by the Nazi ideas but we can see cracks in the veneer already.
The Dumbass once came out and suggested his base get the vaccine. They turned on him. He backed down immediately and went right back to repeating the words they want to hear. I see the Republicans losing control of the monster they’ve created. If past is, indeed, prologue, the future isn’t looking any too bright…