On stupidity

“Having 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”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a vocal critic of Hitler’s Nazism, wrote in his essay ‘On stupidity’. It was part of Lettters and Papers from Prison, that Bonhoeffer wrote while imprisoned by the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer lived through the darkest period of German history. He witnessed incited mobs throwing stones at windows of private citizens, public beatings in the streets and cruel humiliation of innocent civilians for daring to express contrary views.  In prison, Bonhoeffer reflected on how his country of poets and thinkers had turned into a collective of cowards, crooks and criminals.

He concluded that the root of the problem was not malice but stupidity. “Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of good than evil,” he declared.

Joseph Mary Borg, a 71-year-old, was charged with sending threatening letters to Opposition figures, Repubblika president Robert Aquilina and a newspaper columnist. He faced 26 charges for harassing and threatening his victims and causing them to fear violence.  His crusade of intimidation and abuse had been going on since 2017. Inspector Pulis testified that the letters’ contents were “terrifying”.

The accused knew where his victims resided. Borg was denied bail. He may not have intended to execute his threats but still caused his victims to fear for their and their family’s safety. I know because I was one of his victims. Borg harmed his victims. The root of the problem, as Bonhoeffer suggested, was probably not malice but stupidity.

Bonhoeffer noted that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere infects a large part of the population with stupidity.  That stupidity facilitates the process of State capture by spineless forces. The power of the one needs the stupidity of many.  “This is not because the intellect fails – instead, 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 towards emerging circumstances”.

Labour creates a narrative that blames scapegoats for complex problems.  Whoever doesn’t conform to their narrative becomes the “other”, an enemy to be destroyed. Labour successfully propagated that narrative and actively bolsters it through relentless propaganda on its Party station and by the State broadcaster.

Labour’s government has saturated social media with propagandistic adverts paid by our taxes.  Hundreds of party loyalists are paid by the State as “persons of trust” to do the party’s bidding. An army of trolls is efficiently and effectively deployed to harass adversaries and critics. Its own MPs, like Glenn Bedingfield, systematically harassed a journalist even broadcasting her car number plate – a gift for her assassins.

The prime minister denigrates Roberta Metsola because of “what she did to our country” even in her moment of glory. Labour generates an aggressive, hostile and toxic environment for its critics and abuses the stupidity of the masses.

As Bonhoeffer stated “Against stupidity we have no defence – neither protests nor force can touch it.  Reasoning is of no use. Facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved – indeed the fool can counter by criticising them, and if they are undeniable they can be pushed aside as trivial exceptions.”  Yet fools are not harmless. “They can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make them aggressive”.

Stupidity is not an intellectual defect – it is a moral one. It is not a congenital deficiency, it is what people allow to happen to themselves when they relinquish their responsibility to hold autonomous views, when they refuse to believe the facts, when they choose to ignore reality.

That sociological problem reached its culmination in the era of social media. Herd instinct is among the pre-eminent causes of stupidity. Individuals can be swayed by their Party to adopt positions that defy logic. In conversation with them, it is like dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans that have taken possession of them (“40,000 lemons”). They are under a spell, blinded and abused. More disturbingly, these individuals can be easily incited to cause harm.

The moral responsibility for the reckless actions of the mob lies not with the fool who acts in ways he thinks his Party will approve – it lies with the Party and its leaders who create the narrative of “we are the masters now, the rules don’t apply to us”. We don’t wear masks, we don’t bother with codes of ethics, we don’t answer freedom of information requests, we don’t publish contracts, we party with criminals, it’s none of your business how many persons of trust we’ve employed.  And there’s nothing you can do about it. 

The responsibility lies with the Party that portrays the “others” as the enemy to be destroyed, the traitors who are not part of “our” country – and therefore deserve what they get.

But the moral responsibility lies also with those who remain silent. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil – not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act,” Bonhoeffer declared. “We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself”.

Bonhoeffer practised what he preached. For personally driving that spoke into the wheel of evil, he paid the ultimate price. Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis on 9 April 1945 at Flossenburg concentration camp. His death remains a stain on the conscience of those who remained silent. 

Daphne Caruana Galizia also paid the ultimate price for driving the spoke into the wheel of evil. Her assassination will remain an indelible stain on those who incited the mob against her and those who remained silent. In persisting with its incitement, Labour paves the way for similar atrocities.

                           
                               
guest
12 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Iain Morrison
Iain Morrison
1 month ago

A powerful article. We must learn from the mistakes of the past. Thank you for provoking our thoughts Mr Cassar.

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
1 month ago

Thank you for giving us such lucid articles. Your articles are intelligent, insightful and understandable.

Ted Attard
Ted Attard
1 month ago

BRILLIANT ! BRAVO.

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
1 month ago

The unadorned, but cruel, truth.

A perfect picture of dictatorial workings aimed at the mindless – or the feeble minded.- by powers that seek to thrive on the inability to think and speak, or the fear of thinking and speaking, of a large swathe of the population.

Germany, rightly considered by the martyr Bonhoeffer as being a nation of poets and thinkers did really sink into a “collective of cowards, crooks and criminals” under Nazi dictatorship, as scholars of history can attest.

It was a forced process, egged on by seekers of power, among the criminally minded bullies, latent in all strata of German society, ready to avail themselves of the frail, honest and law-observing sections within that society in return for gain and favour by the ruling clique.

Criminal bullies can also be found in other nations – which by no stretch of the imagination can be considered as having strong elements of thinkers and poets – operating with very similiar, although perhaps more refined, methods. But eventually achieving much the same result.

Last edited 1 month ago by Joseph Tabone Adami
Ġwanni Fenek
Ġwanni Fenek
1 month ago

Artiklu importantissimu. Kemm dan l-artiklu u l-artiklu ta’ Ranier tal-bieraħ (“Cheating the customs”) għandhom ikunu qarjiet mandatorji għal min irid jifhem il-qagħda traġika ta’ pajjiżna.

J. Kerr
J. Kerr
1 month ago

Interesting, intelligent and with plenty to think about. It helps one to start to understand the irrational situation we are living here every day. Even after all these years, Mintoff’s “Min mhux maghna, kontra
taghna” is still misleading minds as it was meant to be.

carmel Cilia
carmel Cilia
1 month ago

B’rispett kbir nghidlek Bravu. Tpaxxini naqrak Bravu.

Paolo Soldi
Paolo Soldi
1 month ago

Perfect

joe tedesco
joe tedesco
1 month ago

THE PL HAS ALWAYS LED THE COUNTRY
TO THE EDGE OF THE PRECIPICE –
FROM THE GREAT DICTATOR DOM MINTOFF
TO KMB’S HANDLING OFTHE EGYPTAIR
HIJACKING-TURNED-MASSACRE, TO
ALFRED SANT’S FREEZING OF THE EU
APPLICATION AND HIS SWITZERLAND IN
THE MEDITERRANEAN MIRAGE TO THE
DISGRACED PASSPORT SALESMAN,
TO THE POLITICALMURDERS OF
RAYMOND CARUANA AND DCG TO
THE FRAMEUP OF PIETRU PAWL
BUSUTTIL, THE PL HAS ALWAYS DONE ITS BEST
TO DISGRACE AND DISHONOUR MALTA.
NEVER, EVER,TRUST A PL GOVERNMENT.

Mick
Mick
1 month ago

Very good article that accurately describes just what is happening in this Dystopian country.

Mary Rose Duara
1 month ago

One of the contributions by the author.
It is so true and so frustrating that this is not appreciated by the majority of the people.
It is so sad and dangerous.

Janet Wojtkow
Janet Wojtkow
21 days ago

Malta is heading down Trump’s America. Look what happened there on the evening Joe Biden was being confirmed President. Using power to rewrite truth or a different version of the facts!
Malta’s politicians remind me of immature prefects at school full of their own self-importance whilst not realising they’re nobody outside Malta. But,yes, they can do a lot of damage on home turf!

Related Stories

The duty of candour
If you aren’t prosecuted and found guilty of serious
The press needs good faith not just new laws
What’s needed to implement the Caruana Galizia public inquiry’s
Support investigative journalism that speaks truth to power.