John Colson: Dunning-Kruger and the need for all to vote
Hit & Run
Ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
Neither had I until recently, but it’s being cited as one possible explanation for the ongoing and inexplicable popularity of President Donald Trump, at least among his blinded-by-bigotry Republican base.
As a socio-political theory, applied to our current political malaise, it strengthens the idea that Trumpism is a cult, not unlike the “reasoning” behind the Church of Scientology and other wickedly unhinged socio-religious organizations that rely on seeking out those who for various reasons are incapable of critical thinking in the classic sense of the term.
First formulated in 1999 by Cornell University psychologists David Dunning and Dustin Kruger, the concept last year was highlighted by Forbes Magazine as a “cognitive bias whereby people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their own incompetence.”
Not only do those suffering from this bias fail to recognize their own lack of ability in a particular area, they actually are convinced they are the best at whatever skill set is under consideration, particularly when they have been criticized for their incompetence.
If you have ever had a conversation with a Trump supporter — locked in a spiral of circuitous logic, with a shaky hold on the truth and a conviction that they know more than you or anyone else — well, you have just met someone in the grip of the D-K Effect.
And since they seem to understand very little about how the world really is put together, they tend to criticize just about everything that does not comport with their own internal biases.
Just as President Trump does, when he spouts his “alternative facts” and sprinkles them with cues and verbiage designed to ignite rage and appeal to a certain type of partisan identity, which then acts as a substitute for critical thinking and objective analysis.
Another way of describing the narrowly partisan outlook displayed by Trumpists, put into images and text recently by cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, is to label it the Stupidverse. It’s a place where supposed leaders such as Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a host of other players do their best to divert, dissemble and dispute anything aimed at divulging the truth about Trump, and where followers agree with any kind of palaver coming from these supposed leaders, simply because it dovetails with their pre-existing beliefs and biases.
I’ve often listened, while sitting at a bar, as one deluded drunk or another complains about how Mexicans, blacks, Asians or just about anybody else but him is responsible for the fact that he can’t keep a job, his marriage is in tatters and his kids despise him.
It cannot be, in this complainer’s view, that his misplaced sense of his own superiority and over-arching intelligence is somehow in error, that his preference for bullying and shouting his way to dominance in any conversation might not be the best way to win the confidence, understanding or support of an employer, a co-worker or even the guy sitting next to him on a bar stool.
This is exactly the sort of mindset that colors the thinking (pun intended) of white supremacists and right-wing absolutists, whose world view is founded in the unshakable belief that the so-called “mongrel races” are at fault for everything that has gone wrong with the world since the dawn of time.
On the flip side, in this severely crippled world view, it is the white race that has been behind any and all “progress,” if you count progress as inventing ever-better ways to kill people, to subjugate other races, practice genocide whenever it suits your world-conquering campaigns, and treat the natural world as something to be plundered and exploited at every turn, regardless of the negative impacts on everything from our global climate to the continued existence of a growing number of plant and animal species.
Dunning and Kruger, according to multiple sources, conducted four different studies that ended with the conclusion that “participants scoring in the bottom quartile (of tests of humor, grammar and logic) grossly overestimated their best performance and ability” in completing the tests.
In other words, those testing at the bottom were too stupid to realize how stupid they were.
And that, according to a number of political observers, is a prime reason why Trump got elected and remains popular with most of his “base.” Because for them to admit he is utterly unsuited to be president, they would need to admit that they were hoodwinked, that they were dumb, that they did not understand what they were doing when they pulled the lever in the 2016 presidential election.
It is one of the cornerstones of logic behind the D-K Effect that this kind of self-analysis and self-correction is veritably impossible for those caught in the effect, because in order to recognize how incompetent they were in making that political choice, they would need to have a much more comprehensive understanding of the world around them than they actually have.
It helps, of course, that the sufferers from the D-K Effect have been bullied and brainwashed into believing that the traditional, mainstream news media is peopled by liars and “enemies of the people.” This insulates Trumpeteers operating under D-K from having to consider the possibility that they may be wrong, they may have been duped, that the world needs for them to come out of the shadows and open their eyes and minds.
I remain convinced that a majority of the American electorate is not befuddled by the D-K Effect, that those voters who are in its grip will snap out of it eventually.
In the meantime, it is imperative that all of us, each and every voter, get out there and vote when election time rolls around. It is the only way we can change the course of our beleaguered nation and get it back on the right track.
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