January 28, 2013
Stupid Cowards

From The Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell (The Modern Library, 1927). We have not, of course, made much significant progress on any of these matters since. It is what it is. We are what we are.

All sorts of intellectual systems — Christianity, Socialism, Patriotism, etc. — are ready, like orphan asylums, to give safety in return for servitude. A free mental life cannot be as warm and comfortable and sociable as a life enveloped in a creed: only a creed can give the feeling of a cozy fireside while the winter storms are raging without…

From the point of view of psychology and physiology, fear and rage are closely analogous emotions: the man who feels rage is not possessed of the highest kind of courage. The cruelty invariably displayed in suppressing negro insurrections, communist rebellions, and other threats to aristocracy, is an offshoot of cowardice and deserves the same contempt as is bestowed on the most obvious forms of that vice…

Only a man dominated by fear would join the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascisti. In a world of brave men, such persecuting organizations could not exist, and the good life would involve far less resistance to instinct than it does at present…

Poverty, since the industrial revolution, is only due to collective stupidity. Sensitiveness would make people wish to abolish it, intelligence would show them the way, and courage would lead them to adopt it.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at January 28, 2013 11:08 AM
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Silly optimist, Russell. Poverty is a useful way of keeping people scared, enervated and grateful. It's not a product of stupidity at all. We got a little shared prosperity going in postwar 20th-century America and look what happened: civil rights, equal rights, asking of questions, general flipping-off of Mr. Dithers. Had to be stopped. Easiest way: cut public services. It made everyone scared, enervated and grateful again. Couldn't quite put the ideas back in the bottle again but it went a long way to tamp things down, no?

Posted by: Martha Bridegam on January 28, 2013 11:31 PM

I'm guessing he meant stupidity in the megasense: failure to grasp that huge inequalities of wealth, health, education, monopolies of natural resources and so on are not just bad for the poor but will be bad in the long run for the species and the planet itself. I agree with your point, though. Republicans are not being stupid in the short run when they run up deficits and cut taxes on themselves (and services for everybody else.) This is their personal/party get rich quick plan and the suckers fall for it every time. Keep your government hands off my Medicare, and so on.

Posted by: Red Tide on January 29, 2013 10:28 AM
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