This is something that I wrote in November of 2010, prior to the elections but Glenn Reynolds mentioned today that a reader said that the SOTU reminded him of the Dunning-Kruger Effect after reading this…
Emanuel’s ad-hocracy, meanwhile, didn’t faze Obama. The president’s friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett sometimes pointed out that not only had he never managed an operation, he’d never really had a nine-to-five job in his life. Obama didn’t know what he didn’t know, yet his self-confidence was so stratospheric that once, in the context of thinking about Emanuel’s replacement, he remarked in all seriousness, “You know, I’d make a good chief of staff.”
Those overhearing the comment somehow managed to suppress their laughter.
See also my promotion of An Affirmative Action President? that I wrote on September 8, 2010.
A common idiom directed toward the less intelligent is that they “aren’t too quick on the uptake”, are “slow learners” or “not too swift”. As unfortunate as these epithets are, the fact remains that there are varying levels of intelligence in our society. I recognize my personal limitations, I will never win the Nobel for physics or chemistry but that doesn’t mean that I am incapable of rational thought. We must recognize that even intellect has its limits and proper applications. I had a college roommate who eventually went on to achieve a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and he is one of the best chip and microcircuit designers in the world but if you gave him a screwdriver, he would kill himself with it.
We rightly revere intellect, knowledge and enlightenment; however, that reverence comes with a responsibility. Like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker (Spiderman), “With great power comes great responsibility.” Our responsibility is to recognize false intellect and understand that, as Ralph Nader said about the Chevy Corvair in 1965, pseudo intellectuals are unsafe at any speed.
Glenn Reynolds, the Blogfather of Instapundit.com fame and a law professor at the University of Tennessee, captures this idea by positing that our intelligentsia is, while credentialed, not particularly educated. He states:
“The problem we have is that our “elites” — a reader keeps telling me that “gentry” is a better term, and he’s right — aren’t really elite. That is, they’re not actually especially smart or well-educated or competent. They’re just credentialed. That’s not the sort of elitism that commands respect, which is why it’s not getting so much anymore, as people catch on.”
Now that we are getting in the crunch of the election (November 2010 – ed.), the Democrats are assaulting the electorate from their assumed pedestal of intellectual superiority. They are expressing dismay that we “just don’t get” why Obama’s policies are good for us, anyone who disagrees with liberal orthodoxy has to be crazy or extreme, that as Katie Couric recently implied, we are “the great unwashed”. We are constantly assailed with attacks from “progressives” that, in the words of Rezwan Haq, a high school age Panama City News Herald contributor,
“Conservatives are racists. That’s all they are, and that’s all they will ever be. They are islamophobic (sic), homophobic, paranoid, schizaphronic (sic) freaks who drum the God card everytime (sic) they are not able to turn America into a Christian theocracy.”
Master Haq (and his Liberal fan club) concludes that we couldn’t possibly be smart enough to oppose such a Progressive Utopia, so we obviously must be inferior and responding only to the most primitive of stimuli. Opposition to Obama is seen as an animalistic, ignorant reflex action.
During the months long, post election Liberal orgasm, Don Imus interviewed historian Michael Beschloss. Beschloss made the claim that President-elect Obama’s IQ is off the charts and that he is the smartest president we have ever had -the meat of the conversation is here:
Historian Michael Beschloss: Yeah. Even aside from the fact of electing the first African American President and whatever one’s partisan views this is a guy whose IQ is off the charts — I mean you cannot say that he is anything but a very serious and capable leader and — you know — You and I have talked about this for years …
Imus: Well. What is his IQ?
Historian Michael Beschloss: … our system doesn’t allow those people to become President, those people meaning people THAT smart and THAT capable
Imus: What is his IQ?
Historian Michael Beschloss: Pardon?
Imus: What is his IQ?
Historian Michael Beschloss: Uh. I would say it’s probably – he’s probably the smartest guy ever to become President.
Obama is the smartest president evah!, so what else could be driving opposition but ignorant, primitive motives? John Kerry, failed Democratic presidential candidate, puts it thusly, “It’s absurd. We’ve lost our minds. We’re in a period of know-nothingism in the country, where truth and science and facts don’t weigh in. It’s all short-order, lowest common denominator, cheap-seat politics.” In short, we’re too stupid for our own good.
There is a reason for this cognitive disconnect.
Developed by psychologists and researchers Justin Kruger and David Dunning, the aptly named Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which an unskilled person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence is of such as scale that it eliminates the ability for them to realize their own mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from an illusion of superiority, rating their ability as above average, far higher than it actually is. It also explains why, in the face of clear evidence that their decisions are wrong, they plod ahead while proclaiming their superiority. A common statement when challenged is, “I can’t explain it to you because you just wouldn’t understand”, and the implication is that you just aren’t smart enough to challenge them. People exhibiting the Dunning-Kruger effect are often highly self-confident, some to the point of boorish behavior, and often exhibit an “absolutist” attitude toward their actions…even in the face of clear failure.
The converse action is that while the unskilled overrate their abilities, the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. In this illusion of inferiority, actual competence may weaken self-confidence. Even highly competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding and because of force of will or positions of power, they subjugate their correct choices to the incorrect. The error in calibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others. This cognitive error leads to thought processes that support elitism, i.e. “that guy went to Harvard Law, he must be smarter than I am”, when the actual case is just the opposite.
In 2000, Dunning and Kruger were awarded Nobel prizes in psychology in 2000 for their report, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments“. All of us have seen it and similar, less scientifically based notions have been expressed since time immemorial. Dunning and Kruger themselves quote Charles Darwin, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” and Bertrand Russell (a British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic best known for his work in mathematical logic and analytic philosophy), “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” W.B. Yeats put it concisely thus: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”
The Dunning–Kruger effect is not narrowly constrained to high-order cognitive skills, much less their application in the political realm during a particular era (what Russell was talking about), nor is it specifically limited to the observation that ignorance of a topic is conducive to overconfident assertions about it (which the Darwin quote implies). Dunning and Kruger cite a study where it was found that 94% of college professors rank their work as “above average” relative to their peers, underscoring that the highly intelligent and informed are hardly exempt. Anyone who understands how to take an average knows that there is no possibility that 94% of the numbers can be above the average.
Our government is full of self deluded, self important pseudo intellectuals. Credentialed, not educated. Starting with JFK, “progressives” have invested generations in infiltration of all layers of government with the “best and brightest”, the Ivy League theoretical pretenders who don’t have the basic real world knowledge that running a lemonade stand provides. The reason that the Democrats attempt to vilify a popular revolt, a revolt that the Tea Party movement represents, is the fear is that the average citizen will prove to be smarter and more effective in governing than their intelligentsia is. Once that happens, their illusory superiority will be broken. The Dunning-Kruger effect is neutralized.
We have the power to change the landscape, to focus on achievement, not just intent. Results matter. The Obama agenda is unsafe at any speed.