It’s time to address an epidemic in the United States. It’s one that could be deadly, particularly to liberty.
It’s an epidemic of Dunning-Kruger. It’s why ignorant people are so certain that they’re right.
What’s that, you ask?
The Dunning Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which individuals, who are unskilled at a particular task, believe themselves to possess above-average ability in performing the task. On the other hand, as individuals become more skilled in a particular task, they may mistakenly believe that they possess below-average ability in performing those tasks because they may assume that all others possess equal or greater ability. In other words, “the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.” (source)
And haven’t we all seen that lately? Let’s look at a recent example right here in the good ole USA.
Those who haven’t lived like the rest of us are the ones shouting the loudest.
Let’s start with the current gun control debate.
We have high school kids who think they are experts on policy, firearms, and the Constitution, smugly telling us how clueless they believe we are.
We have movie stars who make millions from movies where they shoot people and who are protected by armed security guards, telling us that we, law-abiding citizens who have guns, are vicariously responsible for every school shooting that has ever happened.
We have wealthy city dwellers who live in buildings with doormen telling the rest of us that we’re nuts for wanting to protect ourselves.
And all of these people who want to loudly tell the rest of us how to live our lives have one thing in common: they are completely out of touch with the real world.
When you live in your guarded castles, you don’t have to worry about defending yourself from a rapist who might break in through your bedroom window. When you’re a kid, you can’t fathom the vast responsibility one feels as a parent to protect one’s children from home invaders or kidnappers. When you haven’t yet gone out there and lived your life with jobs and crime and financial instability, you have no idea what it’s really like for the average American.
And yet, these out-of-touch people are the ones screaming the loudest that only they know what is right for America.
And that’s where the Dunning-Kruger effect comes into play.
Back in 1999, social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University performed tests on some subjects and discovered that in many cases, the lower the performance of a subject, the higher their confidence was that they had done well. They published their findings in a paper entitled “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”
In an article by David Dunning called “We Are All Confident Idiots,” he wrote of his studies:
In 1999, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my then graduate student Justin Kruger and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers—and we are all poor performers at some things—fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack.
What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.
This isn’t just an armchair theory. A whole battery of studies conducted by myself and others have confirmed that people who don’t know much about a given set of cognitive, technical, or social skills tend to grossly overestimate their prowess and performance, whether it’s grammar, emotional intelligence, logical reasoning, firearm care and safety, debating, or financial knowledge. College students who hand in exams that will earn them Ds and Fs tend to think their efforts will be worthy of far higher grades; low-performing chess players, bridge players, and medical students, and elderly people applying for a renewed driver’s license, similarly overestimate their competence by a long shot. (source)
Hmmm….that sounds familiar.
And the way Dunning applies this to politics vividly demonstrates why we have the polarization we’re currently experiencing in the US….