Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You're stuck in a ditch and you don't even know it

Now here's a humdinger of a title: "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments."

That there is a paper that gets name-checked in this Salon piece on... well... er... let's just call it poor judgment in the context of politics.

Hey, it's scary stuff:

People who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact. That is, the same incompetence that leads them to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence, be it their own or anyone else's.


* Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
* Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
* Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.

This seems to confirm the suspicion that there are folks with whom you just cannot have a reasoned argument (cue YouTube video of unhinged McCain supporters). Except (these folks would point out, if only they were smart enough) we could be the ones who are overestimating our ability to understand the situation rationally. (As if!) And so on, infinity, forever and ever, the end.

Ain't the human psyche a weird and wacky thing? Sort of puts the burden of proof on the religious folks, doesn't it?

Via. Photo by davitydave.


Maria's Music said...

I remember when I first taught piano lessons I couldn't understand why the kids needed to figure out where Middle C was, and why they didn't know how to read music well. I taught it to them, but then I just figured it would stick. I didn't realize what a skill teaching really is. You have to understand what mind set the learner is in, which is really hard to do. I think that is the root of your problem. If McCain supporters understood the philosophy of Obama supporters, or vise versa, they could, in a way, "teach" better. Of course I don't mean there is a sort of teacher/pupil relationship.

I don't think it helps that politics seem to be a matter of belief for some, where as they should be a matter of reason for all. You should be able to say "Barak's socialist economic plans are excellent for this country because of... (insert sound, reasonable proof here)" rather than saying "I think Barak's socialist economic plans are good. But that's just my view". People seem to forget that reason is a much higher faculty than your easily swayed sentiments. Plenty of people voted for Hitler that did not agree with his ideas, but he promised what they wanted at that time and he was a charismatic guy.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks for the comment, Maria, but if you're going to advocate for a more reasoned political discourse you'll have to stop using weasel words like "socialist" without a little more explanation.

From Wikipedia:

"Socialism refers to a broad set of economic theories of social organization [...}


"Socialism is not a discrete philosophy of fixed doctrine and program; its branches advocate a degree of social interventionism and economic rationalization, sometimes opposing each other."

In other words, socialism is not a monolithic philosophy. When you use the term casually, you are generalizing.

One of the logical problems with generalizing is that it encourages readers to fill in the blanks with whatever horrific fantasy they want. In this case the implication is that Obama is promoting totalitarian communism -- an idea that is not only irrational, but patently absurd.

As for Hitler, since you bring him up -- you're exactly right that he came to power at least in part by appealing to people's emotions. And he did that by scapegoating -- blaming Jews, gay people, Poles, and, yes, communists for the economic problems of Germany.

I'm not going to compare McCain to Hitler, but again, since you bring it up -- it's pretty clear to me that in this election one campaign is using scapegoating techniques much more forcefully than the other.

Maria's Music said...

I agree that socialism is a general term, but remember that democracy is a general term, and theocracy is a general term, and timocracy, aristocracy and whatever other -ocracys you can come up with are all general terms. I think defining socialism as an economic theory advocating wealth distribution is both well accepted and accurate. I agree that you can implement it in different ways, and that those different ways can tend to have more than simply economic consequences.

And remember, the jump from socialism to communism is a large one and an incorrect one. But there is little doubt that Obama is an advocate of socialism (wealth distribution), however he plans to take from the rich and give to the poor. I make no judgment about that, by the way. Fans of socialism should plainly support Obama. Fans of the free market are out of luck, so the socialists of America should consider themselves lucky.

Remember that Hitler was also a very charismatic individual. He was jailed for high treason 10 years before his excessively fast rise to power. Think of what it would take for a Bill Ayers (I don't know that we have much better example of a traitor in America today. I'd rather use a less politically pertinent example) to get elected! He'd have to be terribly convincing.

I think that this trait more than using scapegoats led to his rise. Which leads us back to the problem with placing politics in the control of sentiments and not reason.

You'd be hard pressed to find a politician who didn't blame problems on something. In fact I think you'd be hard pressed to find any problem that didn't have an accompanied cause, and of course something that is unjustly blamed for the cause. McCain is going to say the problem is caused by such and such, and Obama is going to say it was caused by so and so. And they are probobly both right! But there is no way any candidate can change without identifying a previous flaw, and if that is a scapegoat, then so be it.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Hey Maria -- thanks for following up.

I agree that socialism is a general term, but remember that democracy is a general term, and theocracy is a general term, and timocracy, aristocracy and whatever other -ocracys you can come up with are all general terms.

I'm not sure "socialism" is quite as specific as some of these other terms, but the real point is that a word like "socialism," and a phrase like "wealth distribution" -- as undefined terms tossed out during a heated political campaign -- have a long history of being used as shorthand for a totalitarian, "big brother" concept of government.

These are "weasel words" because they carry baggage -- associations that are released into the discourse to create fear -- even if, later on, those associations are disowned by the person who uttered them in the first place. (I'm sure if you pressed them, the McCain-Palin campaign would deny that they were trying to paint Obama as a Soviet-style leader. But I'm equally sure that they are willing to put those associations out there in the hopes that they develop a life of their own -- as they have.)

And though you and I can agree that "the jump from socialism to communism is a large one," let's not kid ourselves -- there are plenty of people who won't perceive it that way without the benefit of an economics class or two.

Anonymous said...

"How Hitler Became a Dictator"


The Internet can be useful!

Andrew Durkin... said...

Hey "Anonymous" (if that really is your name):

Thanks for the links. But can you please clarify what your point is?

Sure, the internet can be useful. But its endless, easy linkability can also be a trap, and a hindrance to meaningful discourse.

Anonymous said...

The point about socialism is that it isn't redistribution through progressive taxation, as you've already pointed out in a new post. We've had progressive taxation to some extent, under every president since Roosevelt.

The point about Hitler was, although my eyes tend to glaze over when I try to suss out how he came to power, that it had little resemblance to even the dirtiest elections we had in America. He was not very popular at the time he was "elected," and the process was distorted by the use of violence against his political opponents (He did eventually become popular, as did any leader who managed to get their country out of the depression. Hitler like Roosevelt a few years later, stumbled upon the Keynesian solution of deficit spending in preparation for war, and he then went on to loot all of Europe, allowing one of history's most generous social welfare programs. Brecht and Weill wrote a beautiful song about this called "The Ballad of the Soldier's Wife," which Marianne Faithfull recorded, but I digress).

My basic point here was that raising the spectre of either Hitler or socialism in regards to Obama is silly at best.

Anonymous said...

...and I suppose that it would have been clearer if my main point about Hitler's "election" hadn't been followed by tangential stuff that I thought was interesting, but which I suppose might feed into the idea of "parallels between Hitler and Obama." Some of that was actually stuff that occurred to me in response to a point Andrew made a long time ago about racism being the ultimate form of selfishness, so I just typed them in here. But anyway you can probably find parallels between any two world leaders if you want to, but I think in this case they're about as significant as the parallels between my ass and a hole in the ground.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Ahhh, I see now. Thanks much for taking the time to explain!

Anonymous said...

What a weak, pathetic, and hypocrytical individual I am. I'm afraid I can't resist just one volley from the other side of the "parallels with Hitler" court, but let me first just emphasize how strong I disapprove of me doing this. Anyways, "In the summer of 1933, shortly after Roosevelt's "First 100 Days," America's richest businessmen were in a panic. It was clear that Roosevelt intended to conduct a massive redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. Roosevelt had to be stopped at all costs.

The answer was a military coup. It was to be secretly financed and organized by leading officers of the Morgan and Du Pont empires. This included some of America's richest and most famous names of the time..." From here. Happy Halloween.

Andrew Durkin... said...

I'm afraid I can't resist just one volley

No need to be ashamed! Far be it from me to begrudge anyone their right to a healthy conspiracy theory or two! Thanks for the info...