I have been moderating the International Politics discussion forum on couchsurfing.com. I began asking myself, why is it so hard to put aside our assumptions that we have the corner on the truth and the other guy is dead wrong. (besides ego of course.)
I just read an essay in the NY Times by Erroll Morris, the filmmaker who made “Fog of War” (interview of Robert McNamara after the war in Viet Nam) and “The Thin Blue Line” and some other great films. His thoughts are precipitated by a ludicrously botched bank robbery where a thief was told by someone he believed that by rubbing lemon on his face it would be hidden by the video cameras. It leads to the question, “Can you be too incompetent to understand just how incompetent you are?”
From NY Times
By Erroll Morris
June 20, 2010, 9:00 pm
The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Part 1)
David Dunning, a Cornell professor of social psychology, was perusing the 1996 World Almanac. In a section called Offbeat News Stories he found a tantalizingly brief account of a series of bank robberies committed in Pittsburgh the previous year.
As Dunning read through the article, a thought washed over him, an epiphany. If Wheeler was too stupid to be a bank robber, perhaps he was also too stupid to know that he was too stupid to be a bank robber — that is, his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.
Dunning wondered whether it was possible to measure one’s self-assessed level of competence against something a little more objective — say, actual competence. Within weeks, he and his graduate student, Justin Kruger, had organized a program of research. Their paper, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments,” was published in 1999.
Dunning and Kruger argued in their paper, “When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.”
It doesn’t speak to the healthy optimism that we are all familiar with but blind optimism (magical thinking?) When people are incompetent they may not know that they are incompetent.