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Tuesday
May192015

Stupidity is a form of dishonesty

I have been reading and immensely enjoying a war memoir by an Irish woman married to a German official living in Berlin during the second world war. The block leader- the party member whose job it is to collect dues and spy on the other residents is the local gardener. After WW1 he lost all his savings in the inflation of the early 1920s. In the crash of 1929 he loses his job and again all his pitiful savings needed to get married. He joins the Nazi party and finally gets married though its too late to have kids. the author remarks on a Berlin joke of the 1930s- intelligent and dishonest=nazi, stupid and honest=nazi, intelligent and honest=anti-nazi. And the gardener is honest, though portrayed as stupid- he cannot through the many lies told by his beloved party. When the war ends he is hanged by disgruntled locals- or perhaps by Russians- from a lamp-post. His luck has run out yet again.

But it made me think- we often describe people as stupid but honest- meaning they won't cheat or lie to you. But this is a child's definition of honesty. Real honesty- the only kind that has developmental potential- is knowing when you are deceiving yourself. It's having a propensity for self-deception, it is, in fact, hypocrisy by another name. 

Stupid people are forgiven for being easily deceived. But most deceptions are a result of greed not a simple mistake (you can tell the difference- a simple mistake allows of correction, the greedy reject outside correction). We are greedy for an outcome we don't deserve, or something plainly unlikely- we deceive ourselves that something is true when it is obvious to outsiders that it isn't.

Focusing on the stupidity or intelligence of a person seems less use than seeing how much they choose to deceive themselves. But even this doesn't quite hit the mark- the moral censure isn't needed. Those that deceive themselves are lacking mental flexibility. They can only see things one way, the greed makes them inflexible. By focusing on mental flexibility you outwit stupidity and dishonesty.

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