The Dunning Kruger Effect Meets…The Donald

Me teaching Science Fiction

Okay, first off this is NOT a post to bash conservatives or the GOP. Full disclosure, I am a liberal Democrat. However, I strongly believe America needs a smart and thriving conservative party to keep our nation balanced. Also, to my fellow lefties, know this is a warning. Please don’t feel smug…it could happen to us too.

So, just what is the “Dunning/Kruger effect and what does it have to do with Donald Trump?”

Basically, Dunning/Kruger is a term psychologist use to describe how people who know very little about a subject believe they know a lot, and how people who know a lot about a subject think they know very little.

Immagine an ancient shepherd watching the heavens as he herds his sheep. He sees the sun rises in the east and set in the west every day with never a miscommunication. To him, it is obvious that the sun revolves around the Earth, and he may scoff at anyone who says differently. This guy would be at one end of the Dunning/Kruger spectrum.

At the other end is a modern astrophysicist. She spends her life studying the mountain of data that has been learned since ancient times and the large hills of data that continue to arrive in her lab daily. In fact, she often stands in awe at how big the universe is and how small her understanding is in comparison. She could explain to our ancient shepherd the true relationship between Earth and its star quite easily. After all, she knows a lot and is still learning more every day.

Now, she could explain to our ancient shepherd the true relationship between Earth and its star quite easily. After all, she knows a lot about it, but suppose he challenges her?

Suppose he argues with her assertion about this whole Earth/sun thing?

The shepherd asks her question after question until the astrophysicist has to give him an honest answer like, “I don’t know why gravity exists, I can only explain how it works.” At this point, the shepherd declares victory. His Earth-centered sun theory is obviously superior to hers because, to him, it explains everything, and her ideas still have a few holes in them.

Throughout this allegorical debate, we learn the astrophysicist was arguing with a crippling disadvantage from the very start. That’s right, the ignorant hold the advantage over the knowledgeable in an argument–every time.

You see, the knowledgeable have to work hard to describe the nuances and technicalities that are often hard to explain to the laymen. The ignorant, however, need only give glib responses that appeal to “common sense” and are unburdened with those pesky facts that need explaining or rules that have exceptions.When was the last time I saw the Dunning/Kruger effect in action? It was the last time I listened to a Republican debate.

Keep in mind, the GOP fielded some bright folks this year. Although I often disagree with the likes of Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Marco Rubio, I will admit these are sharp guys who have thought long and hard about their positions as they relate to American policy. The Donald, however…not so much.

Using glib phrases, insults, and sheer bravado, Donald Trump became the GOP’s 2016 presidential nominee. In debates, he made mince meat out of his opponents and the crowd loved him for it. This despite the fact that Trump has no political experience, is not a war hero, lacks a basic understanding of international affairs, and can only stand on a questionable business career as any kind of qualification to be the leader of the free world. The educated among the GOP are aghast that this ignoramus is leading their party and form the core of the “Never Trump” movement (and I respect them). Who supports the Donald? Well, mostly the poorly educated, yet enthusiastic conservative voters who never think to ask what he means when he says he’s out to “make America great again.”

Could this have happened on the Democratic side of our nation? You bet your butt. History is full of leaders on the left and right who have galvanized the uneducated masses, assumed power, and then run their respective countries into the ground. And only a liberal who is ignorant of history would say differently.

I once published a short story called Time Travel is Impossible, about a Nazi time machine project. In the introduction, I paraphrase the famous line, “those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it,” by saying, “those who study history are doomed to watch other’s repeat it.”

Folks, I am as certain as a well informed and educated man can be that Trump is about to repeat some history…and I do not wish to stand by and watch. We, the knowledgeable (hampered as we may be by the Dunning/Kruger effect), must, never the less, try to explain to our fellow Americans where this ignorance is leading us. I am not just talking to my fellow liberals either. Conservatives of intellect must oppose Trump, for you righties that have studied history also know what happens when it repeats.To liberals, I have to say, don’t get cocky. Get educated! Do not let the glib leader with the easy answers ever have sway over our side or we will fall into the same trap. Remember, we are all human folks, and equally subject to the laws of nature, Dunning/Kruger included.

What does all this have to do with writing science fiction books with titles like, “The Adventures of Crazy Liddy” and “Beer Today Gone Tomorrow?” Well, gentle reader, I have to admit, not much. You see I like to write stories of an entertaining nature, with lots of quirky characters and good jokes…you know, happy, fun reading. That dystopian stuff just ain’t my bag, man. I don’t want to write it…and I sure as hell don’t want to live it.



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