From the Annals of Psychology


Do conspicuously gifted people—people who are prodigiously and undeniably skilled—go around boasting of their abilities? I can understand them occasionally “showing off” just to confirm or re-establish their creds, but I can’t see them needing to brag about stuff. In other words, it’s hard to imagine Albert Einstein going around telling people that he was “fiercely intelligent.”

There is a phenomenon in psychology called the “Dunning–Kruger Effect.” It’s a theory that was developed, in 1999, by Dr. David Dunning and Dr. Justin Kruger, two Cornell University psychology professors.

Broadly speaking, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is defined as “a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability to recognize their [own] ineptitude.”

To be clear, this not to say we don’t need strong, resilient egos, or that a healthy sense of self-esteem isn’t essential to performing our most productive work. Indeed, most would agree that low self-esteem can be a real hindrance. I’m reminded of the Woody Allen joke about the guy who had such low self-esteem, that when he was drowning, another person’s life flashed before his eyes.

But when you read Dunning-Kruger, and consider its implications, you instantly think of Sarah Palin and Herman Cain. Palin was the short-term governor of Alaska, who ran for vice-president on the platform of getting the government out of our lives, even though Alaska had the highest per capita rate of government subsidy in the nation, and Herman Cain was a successful businessman who believed that by virtue of having been a former pizza maker, he was entitled to be president.

In Barbara Walters’ interview with Palin, she delicately mentioned the fact that people were “concerned” about Ms. Palin being put in a position where she could accede to the presidency. Palin’s face lit up with utter astonishment. “But why would they think that?!” she asked plaintively, without so much as a sliver of self-doubt. How could anyone think I wouldn’t make a great president? Her certitude was scary.

More weirdness: In 2012, when a goofy reporter asked Donald Trump if he planned to run for president in 2012, didn’t Trump answer him by saying, solemnly, “I don’t want to, but I may have to.” What a preposterous statement. To paraphrase the late Christopher Hitchens, if Donald Trump were given an enema before his funeral, they could bury him in a match box.

Think of any lightweight Republican politician, and imagine him or her as president. Take John Boehner, for example, the gutless, mealy-mouthed Speaker of the House, who can’t read the telephone book without being reduced to tears. Say what you will about Boehner—call him a clumsy, bumbling second-rate political hack—but compared to the likes of Palin, Cain and Trump, he’s Venerable Bede.

The next time we assume it’s simply a combination of inflated ego and wild-assed ambition that drives certain people to want to become president, we may want to reconsider. These people could actually be suffering from a metacognitive inability to recognize their own ineptitude. In which case, there’s an epidemic of it.

David Macaray is a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”).  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving