What looks like "stupidity" is really something else. Often, it's a constellation of ways of thinking and feeling that's been learned. And it's a program that becomes operative specifically in the realm of politics. It's one of the ways in which the Spirit of Brokenness can such the power out of people in order to magnify its own power.
I've often heard it said that the people in the Republican base, who believe the patent falsehoods purveyed by their leaders, are "stupid." But I don't think that's how they're to be understood. I've known too many people who buy the almost transparent lies nonetheless show real intelligence in other areas of their lives.
Submitters Bio:Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST. His previous books include The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution, for which he was awarded the Erik H. Erikson prize by the International Society for Political Psychology.
Here's what I think we're looking at that may look like "stupidity."
A person's consciousness --- the form their awareness takes --- is not all of a piece, not identical in every situation. We tend to operate differently in different contexts, to have different capacities that get engaged in different aspects of our lives. We might think of people as having different "modules" of consciousness that kick in depending on what "programs" they've learned to apply in each realm of their lives.
With the people on the right, in our times, what I believe is that they've been taught over time to bring a far-from-best self into the specifically political realm. Part of the teaching has been from the deep, long-established culture, which inculcates in those who grow up in it certain ways of dealing with issues of power and authority and rage and pain. But, most recently and most visibly, they've been systematically taught -- for a full generation now by skilled and completely unprincipled propagandists, like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove -- how to be members in good standing in the right-wing political culture.
These propagandists have worked to get people to look at politics through a particular, warped lens. Feeding their fears and hatreds, and turning off their intelligence in the political realm. Over the years, a module has been constructed in their minds for how to think and feel when the cross into the political world-- a module that gradually transferred a bunch of sane Republicans into a bunch of people who support the very opposite of what they think they're supporting.
Mistaking the evil for the good is surely a manifestation of profound brokenness. And the error is built upon brokenness.
Among the various components of that political module the right has cultivated -- rage, resentment, feelings of victimhood, compensatory feelings of superiority, etc. -- one essential component involves shutting off the kind of intelligence that they'd apply to other circumstances. Going into crazy, broken, destructive pictures of the world generally requires parking one's intelligence at the door. People can be taught to be stupid. (Indeed, a famous psychological work once defined neurosis as a form of "learned stupidity.")
The force that serves the Spirit of Brokenness constructs this module in order to open the way for that force to suck the power out of the people for the force's own use. Those who have been conned, who have been manipulated into being so governed by their well-fed fears and hatreds and resentments, are led by the lies into giving away their power to a force that will only do it ill.
Turning off their intelligence with the Political Module is necessary. They'd never be as easy to deceive and manipulate if they brought to their political decisions the kinds of intelligence they'd use in making their business decisions.
A certain amount of the division of consciousness in human life into different modules is probably natural and inevitable. But the more that brokenness is dominating the scene, the more pronounced this "modulization" of consciousness will be. And that's certainly true about the scene being enacted on the right today.
Two levels of brokenness are relevant here: 1) the brokenness that is at the heart of the spirit that animates the right; and 2) the brokenness that was already there in the psyche of those people who have been rendered, by their socialization, most vulnerable to being misled and misdirected by the Limbaughs etc. of the world.
Brokenness works through brokenness.
I've heard that sometimes people with Multiple Personality Disorder can be so split that it's possible for one of the personae of an "individual" to have an allergy that another of their personae does not. If that's true, then it should not be inconceivable that in people who are not that fractured, but who still have unsolved issues impeding real integration and integrity, there would be a consciousness module (a persona, if you prefer) that is intelligent, and another in which the faculty for intelligent critical thinking and the spotting of nonsense as been blocked.
Perhaps such an understanding of the problem -- smart people with their intelligence turned off, not stupid people -- will suggest more effective strategies for bringing our fellow Americans back into alignment with reality. Perhaps ways can be found to help them switch their intelligence back on for use in the political context.