Understanding Stupidity #4 -Neurotic Equilibrium

 People become stupid when they do not want to understand, where understanding would cause anxiety or guilt feeling, or would endanger an existing neurotic equilibrium.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer

This is a short quote from Bonhoeffer, but it speaks volumes about stupidity. I like the term Neurotic Equilibrium, it is a shortened way of saying they resist change, any change. I am just one to welcome and even seek change when things get to complacent, so it is totally foreign to me to think of people who are so terrified of it. So, I can absolutely see that those who are terrified of change shut out so many possibilities that they become stupid. I kinda think that is a big part of what is happening today.

I realize that until we Baby Boomers came upon the scene that most people lived and died without seeing much outside their home environment. I was one of those people until I left that world for college in 1965. What I entered into at that time was a world totally foreign to me. The first year there, I had a Norwegian roommate. He told stories about things in his country that fascinated me. The across the hall neighbors in my dorm were a couple of black guys who loved to talk to each other before they went to sleep. Since the walls in the dorm were paper-thin, I heard most of those conversations. It was as if I had left earth and went to another planet.

I’m sure there were people who went to college and blocked out all these strange things, but I believe that most soaked them up as I did. It saddens me to think that there are so many in this country who remain in their very restricted world all their lives. Being closed off to new experiences is a tragic way to live, as far as I am concerned. But, as Bonhoeffer said, they do not want to understand because understanding causes anxiety and unbalances their neurotic equilibrium.

Of course, the neurotic equilibrium is the source for most prejudices that many carry within them most of their lives. Their belief in White Superiority (or German self-respect in Bonhoeffer’s case) is a result of prejudices passed on from one generation to another. Those prejudices are broken mainly by people who come to realize the stupidity of such actions. This is something that quite literally cannot be “reasoned” out of them. It can only be driven out by experience, or force. If it can’t be driven out, it must once again be forced into the background, where it has always resided. We do that by driving their leader out of positions of power.

Before I close here, I want to make it clear that not all the people who currently exhibit stupidity in our times can be accounted for by these characteristics. Just like there is no silver bullet to solve this multifaceted problem, there is no one group of people responsible for it.

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