Less than four months into 2020, it’s become dramatically clear that world has gone insane, and lunatics have taken over to lead us into what history will no doubt speak of as ‘The Age of Dunning-Kruger.’
In the technologically developed world over the past decade, sufferers of this challenging psychological condition have presented in ever greater numbers, in all walks of life, and at various levels of delusion. Anecdotally, it also appears that a more potent strain of Dunning-Kruger has developed since mid-2016 that now threatens to reach pandemic status in its effects on the rest of the planet.
Discovered in 1999 by two switched-on social psychologists, David and Justin respectively, Dunning-Kruger effect is “a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are.”
According to VeryWellMind.com: “Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their own capabilities. The term lends a scientific name and explanation to a problem that many people immediately recognise — that fools are blind to their own foolishness.”
Basically, you’re too stupid to recognise that you’re stupid, which at some twisted level of logic is a happy mindset to inhabit, maybe even the very essence of zen. The problem arises when stupid becomes the rule rather than the exception, which is, I suggest, what we’re now witnessing now, twenty years since the definition of this very 21st century condition was coined.
Nationalised Dunning-Kruger effect can be observed in the recent evolution of several of the world’s former geopolitical superpowers, sometimes to the point of sufferers attaining high status in government by debunking the very real scientific achievements of their own practitioners and institutions of the past hundred years.
Forget the seemingly vast impact of social media on the virulent spread of Dunning-Kruger in the last decade: The root of this particular disease of the mind goes back to the 1970s with the dawn of comprehensive secondary schools and mass media.
The proliferation of the disease started with the “dumbing down” of society via eroded public education systems, and the proliferation of television, like an unrelenting tsunami, becoming the social centre of every household. If you saw it on TV it had to be true, right? Forget school-learning, when would you ever use Algebra or Trig or USA Politics in your foreseeable future?
Dunning-Kruger continued its virulent spread with the genericising of populations by insistent, corner-officed Mad Men flogging uniforms to consumers in segmented demographics, generation after generation: Dayglo spandex and big hair; sherbert tracksuits and big sneakers; grunge chic and big sweaters; skinny jeans and big asses.
Another year, another season, another trend to make you spend.
This psychological virus was an equal opportunity disease, and throughout the 2000s, Dunning-Kruger climbed the social ladder to big business, led by aspirational brand marketing. Everything was logoed and labelled – real or fake – to create an illusion of keeping up with the celebrity Joneses. Even when it broke people financially and spiritually. The Beemer outside the shack was a reality on my patch.
When the market value of teenagers was discovered in the 50s – along with their gullibility – selling to the herd became the marketing strategy of choice. Creating a worldwide trend became the grail for every executive in search of a profit and before ‘going viral’ was a marketer’s aspiration, there were other ways of selling.
As a late boomer/early Gen-x type, I’d characterise the contribution of mass media to the ascent of Dunning-Kruger thus: In our grandparents day and when our parents were growing up, radio was the go-to media method of getting messages into the public domain. In the 1960s and 70s, network television developed with maybe three or four options to fill eighteen hours a day.
By the Eighties, cables were being laid across the planet and the number of channels proliferated exponentially, as did their availability in every corner of the globe. Unimaginable quantities of marketing time became available during an economic boom decade and the real fight was on for every consumer dollar.
Kids programming became peppered with long neon-coloured chunks of loud-hard-selling slapped between a few minutes of cheap animation. Daily soap operas flogged household products and arthritis medication breaking up the loosest of storylines. Sleepless night times were filled with fascinating infomercials that could fool even the most canny of us into believing that melon extract would make us look like a supermodel, or some air-dry-radiowave-with-knobs contraption would cook your turkey in half an hour.
Every ten years since then, newly-monikered generations of people have been bombarded with not-too-subtle sales pitching, memorable cinemascope-worthy theme tunes, non-perfect-everything-shaming and style-or-die propaganda designed to lead them like lambs to the slaughter of regimentation. And corporations to uber-profitability.
No Playstation/X-Box/Gameboy? No friends, my yoot.
No Louis Vuitton handbag? No class, my girl.
No Nike tracksuit? No hope you’ll ever win, my boy.
No BMW? No thanks, I’ll walk in my designer sneakers.
Social media helped marketing evolve as the nerds knew it would, amplifying messaging in ways we could never have imagined, with knowledge freely available to all who had the will to learn. I remember when the internet came to my little rock in the mid-90s, and how we were gasping at how easy life and business would become. Fast forward to 2020 and experts will tell you just how much has changed since we all logged into the world wide web and never logged out.
In terms of the stupidity virus, if the 2000s was the decade in which symptoms started to present, the Teens were the years when social media took Dunning-Kruger’s biggest carriers under its wings and encouraged them to sweep the infection across platform after platform until it seemed much of the world population was suffering from early symptoms.
Now these monumentally dense wannabees were called ‘influencers’, and some of the most clueless, least educated, most narcissistic, least knowledgeable, most self-involved, least empathetic characters ever spawned by the human race were left to run rampant across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, selling snake oil, half-truths and plain old steaming piles of bullshit to an avidly following public.
As the latter part of the Teens unfolded, the power of the internet was fully behind the exponential spread of Dunning-Kruger in ways perhaps only the keenest of conspiracy theorists would have considered possible. Millions of church-goers handed off billions of their income to fake preachers with their own channel to the Big Man. Fat people spent bajillions on weightloss inventions only to end up obese and diabetic. Aging women ploughed credit-card loads of cash and bagfuls of silicon into their bodies only to end up looking like ancient clones.
Elections were interfered with by auto-didactic hackers now earning big bucks for using millions of data points against voters who had the attention span of less than the average goldfish, and less desire to seek the truth than have their thoughts delivered by private message by a far off bot.
Perhaps in future, historians of public health will identify November 8, 2016, as an auspicious date in the spread of Dunning-Kruger, offering unshakable evidence that the virus of stupidity had spread so far and wide there was nothing holding back its most crushingly imbecilic carriers from holding the highest public office in the land. In several functioning democracies, legions of undiagnosed sufferers came out to show off their thick-headedness by voting for the rich candidate that did the best job of influencing them by spreading a bunch of lies and hatred.
So started a three year period during which it became increasingly more difficult to tell what was real, what was fake, what was news and what the feck was going on. Watching it unfold from afar, day after day, one’s compulsive reaction was to yell at the [TV/laptop/phone] screen “are you underestimating my intelligence?” in my mother’s most annoyed voice. The national vocabulary shrank with every passing month, as did the size of the national media’s cohones for calling out Dunning-Kruger fuckery going on at the highest levels of government every day.
For the media themselves were showing a range of D-K symptoms, regardless of what the colour of their political leanings. Liberals spent twenty-four-seven asking if the spreader-in-chief was a liar, was lying, was telling lies, was not speaking the truth, was untruthing. It was more than their advertisers were worth to actually answer the burning question and besides, keeping an ever growing cadre of talking heads discussing it filled the twenty-four-seven cycle. Not answering that one question was also a sign of the underpinning stupidity that was bringing the credibility of many news agencies into sharp focus.
On another side were the official channels of nitwittedness, for whom the Dunning-Kruger virus had become an editorial standard and way of life. Their viewers were treated to an-all-you-can-eat buffet of ignorance, idiocy and ineptitude wrapped up in a bland, blonde bundle of bigotry, creating a new news reality that a certain strain of D-K sufferers could really get their teeth into. They perched smiling on couches, spewed their own facts, spat on science and sucked up every stupid word spouted by their king as he unleashed his lack of knowledge on a baffled political world.
Three long years of being governed by leaders with “poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability lead[ing] them to overestimate their own capabilities” seems like a lifetime. Hundreds of steps backward in terms of legislation for the environment; slicing and dicing of social programs and arts funding; institutionalised racism that was always there; hiring and firing of key staff over and over until every seat is empty or filled by a related-by-family Dunning-Kruger sufferer.
The nationalisation of stupidity looked to be almost complete when a majority of government decided to ignore all the evidence and find their D-K King not guilty of impeachable charges that Hollywood would have declined as way-too-obvious a plotline.
As Charles Darwin wrote in his book The Descent of Man in 1871, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” What could possibly stop the relentless march of Dunning-Kruger into the 2020 decade, before more lunatics succeeded in taking over the asylum.
It seemed there was no end to the pandemic of stupidity sweeping across Mother Earth.
But just as she decided to complain vociferously about the treatment levelled at her for the past few hundred years, by throwing back all that garbage we’d been hurling indiscriminately around her blue seas, the planet awoke to protect herself. Just as she took back precious species that man had ceased to care about and threatened others with similar extinction, Mother Earth conspired with The Universe to create a diversion from the politics of Dunning-Kruger.
At the end of 2019, in Wuhan, China, a pneumonia-type flu cluster was reported and started to be monitored by the world Health Organisation.
The novel coronavirus was named Covid-19 on Monday, February 17, 2020.
WHO declared Covid-19 “the first Coronavirus pandemic” on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
As of today, April 21, 2020, the numbers are staggering.
So what to do? Well, Dunning-Kruger is just a type of cognitive bias, even if it has grown into a global pandemic. According to Intelligent Speculation, there are a number of ways to minimise the effects of this bias on yourself and the wider population.
“For this particular bias, it is important to stop and try to gain a more holistic perspective of the situation, wrote Jonathan Maloney just about a year ago to the day. “That is, you’re going to want to seek out as much information as possible about the particular topic of concern in an attempt to understand the bigger picture.”
In what seems now like a prophetic “how to fight Covid-19” advisory, Maloney continues: “What is more, it is important to seek out the science if it exists and seek out multiple, credible scientific authority figures who are informed about this particular topic. These scientific authority figures act as a conduit for the information coming from the community and will be able to tell you the conclusion(s) reached from all of the scientific evidence gathered to date on the topic. Instead of relying on first impressions or doing what your ‘gut’ is telling you, it is important to take these steps before making any decisions.”
Now who’s going to tell that to the Dunning-Kruger Dunderhead before they all die of a different pandemic altogether?