FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail