Thursday, September 2, 2010

When Stupid People don't Know that They are Stupid: Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor Rally and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

The masses are asses. We know this. But the level of ignorance displayed by the attendees at the "Restoring Honor" rally is shocking even by contemporary standards.

It is quite clear that Glenn Beck is a master propagandist with a chilling and Svengali-like power over the lemmings of the New Right. Beck-watching is compelling (to me at least) because his popularity is a barometer of the toxins in our political atmosphere. Moreover, I wonder if Beck's followers would be so slavish as to follow him off a cliff, and to what extremes would the tea party brigands go in their devotion to his cult of personality.

To point, here is a little armchair sociology to help put Beck and the New Right's devotees into a broader context:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which an unskilled person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to the situation in which less competent people rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence: because competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. "Thus, 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."

The Dunning–Kruger effect was put forward by Justin Kruger and David Dunning. Similar notions have been expressed–albeit less scientifically–for some time. Dunning and Kruger themselves quote Charles Darwin ("Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge") and Bertrand Russell ("One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision."

The Dunning–Kruger effect is not, however, concerned narrowly with high-order cognitive skills (much less their application in the political realm during a particular era, which is what Russell was talking about.Nor is it specifically limited to the observation that ignorance of a topic is conducive to overconfident assertions about it, which is what Darwin was saying. Indeed, Dunning et al. cite a study saying that 94% of college professors rank their work as "above average" (relative to their peers), to underscore that the highly intelligent and informed are hardly exempt. Rather, the effect is about paradoxical defects in perception of skill, in oneself and others, regardless of the particular skill and its intellectual demands, whether it is chess, playing golf or driving a car.

The hypothesized phenomenon was tested in a series of experiments performed by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, then both of Cornell University. Kruger and Dunning noted earlier studies suggesting that ignorance of standards of performance is behind a great deal of incompetence. This pattern was seen in studies of skills as diverse as reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing chess or tennis.

Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.


Cobb said...

Yeah. How long have we had a Tea Party? Oh about two years probably. But whose ideology is behind the nutcase who tried to terrorize Discovery?

It's just hard to let those boogie men go ain't it? I bet you're just sitting there WISHING you could have found one racist picket sign on the Mall.

Oh well.

chaunceydevega said...

How are you great and mighty Cobb, I kneel before you.

Actually, the tea partiers were told not to bring signs to the "apolitical" Beck rally. There is much evidence of their general bigotry and racial resentment on t-shirts, in interviews, and the like. As well as from first hand accounts. You must be masturbating to the wapo's account of Beck's rally as a group of nice good people.

Never forget Cobb, these people and their grandparents and parents down the line were hanging good negroes like you from trees, throwing rocks and buses, and protesting integration and the Dr. King as "socialists."

Mrs. Chili said...

That these are my countrymen shames me.

Anonymous said...

Again... I rode my bike alongside the Sharpton march from the time the group turned on Pennsylvania Ave until they reached the Tidal Basin. There was only friendly greetings exchanged between both groups.

(Last year on September 12th, some people carried signs that could be interpreted as racist and ignorant. But it was the extreme minority. To say that 5 percent of the signs carried were questionable would be generous)

Fuck this smug know-it-all college boy AND his condescending interviews. I can smell Georgetown/GWU on a bitch from a mile away and this kid STINKS. I'm sure him and his buddies had themselves one hell of a time conducting these interviews. They probably went back to their townhouse in one of the countless trendy gentrified neighborhoods in Washington DC and laughed their asses off over a dinner of Peruvian food and wine from Whole Foods.

"AHAHAHAHAHA!! Look at the plebes! Look at them struggle to string together a sentence! I'm sure none of them have a college degree. They're so racist! AHAHAHAHA!!"

In conclusion: there's alot of fancy crackers out here in Washington DC but I'm the mother fucking Ritz. I've seen damn near every large protest/rally since 2003 and there's retards in every crowd. And by the way, the anti-war protests are LILY WHITE. But you don't hear the constant snide comments about the racial makeup of those crowds, do you?

divide, conquer, divide, conquer, divide......


Constructive Feedback said...

My Dear Friends at "Respectable"

If I told you that I just finished going through all of the links of "Progressive who are Black" blog sites as listed on my blog:

and there was a 100% hit rate on GLENN BECK at web sites PURPORTING to represent the interests of the Black community - you'd say WHAT?

I yield that Glenn Beck is a threat to the PROGRESSIVE

If you all would be so kind as to detail how Glenn Beck is a threat to the Black community I would be eternally grateful. Thank you.

Leslie M-B said...

That is one of the most disturbing videos I've seen in a long time. The Islamophobia and blindness to racism is appalling. Thanks for sharing it, though.

Paul Sunstone said...

I'm not sure I understand the Dunning-Kruger effect. Does it imply that less cognitively skilled people will be more resistant to trying to improve on their skills?