Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Stupidity

a brief and minimal reduction of maximum personal freedom

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a noted German theologian and resister. “So despondent had been the German people after the defeat of World War I and the subsequent economic depression that the charismatic Hitler appeared to be the nation’s answer to prayer — at least to most Germans…

“Hitler’s anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions intensified — as did his opposition, which included the likes of theologian Karl Barth, pastor Martin Niemoller, and the young Bonhoeffer.” You should read the whole passage, as it is instructive. “On April 9, 1945, one month before Germany surrendered, he was hanged with six other resisters.”

Now his biographer, theologian Charles Marsh has brought these words to our attention. “You can apply them … as you see fit.”

“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…

“Against stupidity we are defenseless; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed, and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one.”

A couple things I read recently came to mind. One was from a friend of mine IRL that she had posted on Facebook. It started: “From Yale Epidemiologist Jonathan Smith: As an infectious disease epidemiologist, at this point I feel morally obligated to provide some information on what we are seeing from a transmission dynamic perspective and how they apply to the social distancing measures.” Then 16 more paragraphs of rational thought about how to fight COVID-19.

He blinded them… with science!

Yet I wrote: “Yeah, science, blah blah blah. The audience who believe this already knows. And the ones who refuse to listen, you lost them at ‘Epidemiologist.'”

Opposing Social Distancing Isn’t About Freedom, Tim Wise wrote. It sure the heck isn’t about science either.

Scenario One: For the next six months, everyone masks in crowded public places such as stores, restaurants, and office buildings. It’s a minor irritant that no one enjoys, but it helps reduce infection, saves lives, and makes more people willing to go out and engage in commerce. This, in turn, puts us on a path to economic recovery, at the cost of just a brief and minimal reduction of maximum personal freedom.

Scenario Two: For the next six months, people are allowed to mask if they want to, or not, in crowded public places, and many — chanting freedom and liberty — choose not to. As a result, there is more infection, more illness, and more death of persons with underlying health issues (but who nonetheless have to do things like getting groceries and who engage with otherwise healthy people who may spread the virus to them).

And as a result of a much slower reduction in COVID cases, commercial activity returns more tentatively as many people remain afraid to venture out for much of anything beyond necessities. This, in turn, slows the recovery but maximizes the personal freedom of those opposed to masking (even as it reduces the true freedom of everyone else by forcing them to take greater risks).

Is there any doubt what the Gadsden Flag wavers and MAGA faithful would choose? Of course not.

Do unto others…

Tim Wise calls those people sociopaths. “What do we call those with such a cavalier attitude about the well-being of others? What is the word for persons who lack a seemingly functional conscience about the consequences of their actions?” While I’m not yet willing to slap that label onto these people. I will say they are, apparently intentionally, woefully ignorant.

The number of cases begin to rise worldwide as restrictions are lifted. But this isn’t just a function of pandemic exhaustion. There was an article, “I’ll do what I want”: Why the people ignoring social distancing orders just won’t listen back on March 24.

I’ll stick with Dietrich Bonhoeffer on stupidity as the root of the problem. Not just here and now, but crossing time and place. Or to quote the philosopher Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.”

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