Comedian Ron White traveled some a few years ago with the very successful and funny Red Neck Comedy Tour. The tour was headlined by Jeff Foxworthy, the “You might be a redneck if …” guy. Ron White had his own catchphrase. He would end a joke about someone doing something dumb by saying, “You can’t fix stupid!” He often would add, “You can’t fix stupid. There’s not a pill you can take, or a class you can go to.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German minister during the time leading up to World War II. He spoke out strongly against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi dictatorship, especially against the Jewish persecution and genocide by the Nazis. This was during a time when most of the German church was silent against Hitler’s barbaric actions. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in a concentration camp in 1943 and was executed by the Germans just prior to the end of the war in 1945.
Bonhoeffer was also a thought provoking writer, and his writings have influenced many since his death. His book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” challenges the church as to its role in a secular world.
Believe it or not, Ron White and Dietrich Bonhoeffer have something in common. Recently, I came across a writing from Bonhoeffer about the subject that Ron White gets laughs about – stupidity. And in their own way they both agree that stupidity is almost impossible to overcome. Bonhoeffer saw it up close in the way the vast majority of the German people mindlessly followed Hitler.
Concerning stupidity, Bonhoeffer wrote, “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.”
Now Bonhoeffer was not just placing stupidity on the backs on the uneducated. He had seen too many intellectuals and well-educated fall under the spell of Hitler and the Nazis. He wrote, “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.”
How could the German people be so stupid as to allow themselves to follow such an evil and demonic leader? As Bonhoeffer wrote, the problem is a “human one,” and “they allow this to happen to them.” In the 1930’s, the German people were suffering because of the aftermath of World War I. Hitler promised to make things better if they would follow him. They allowed themselves to follow him. The result of German stupidity was World War II and millions of deaths.
We live in stupid times. Maybe not, pre-World War II Germany stupid times, but stupid times, none the less. Will we allow ourselves to mindlessly follow leaders in order just to satisfy our emotions and personal needs? Will we become stupid and not see where this road is heading? (By the way, if you think I’m talking about Trump and the Republicans, you’re right. And if you think I’m talking about the Democrats and their allies, you’re also right.)
Is there a solution for stupidity? Maybe. Ron White says, “You can’t fix stupid, but you can numb it with a two-by-four.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that solitude and not following the crowd was a way to avoid falling into the trap of stupidity. That sounds good, but the way it’s going, I’m thinking it’s probably going to take a two-by-four.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at email@example.com.