Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Meg's Journal Club: Unskilled and Unaware of it

Here's a scientific article that is interesting even to lay people. Unskilled and Unaware of it (PDF link) by J. Kruger and D. Dunning of Cornell University puts forth the theory that people who are dumb don't know they're dumb. They are therefore doubly handicapped, since they are not cognizant of the fact that they are dumb, they fail to realize when their dumbness affects them, and also do not seek to improve themselves since they do not think there is anything wrong with them. Studies have also shown that most people believe their intelligence is "above average", which simply, cannot be true.

If this article is right, contrary to what Objectivism preaches, we should not judge people too harshly for being dumb, because it is usually not their fault, and they are unaware of it. Furthermore, it also implies that we should examine our own hubris, because as the ancient saying goes "Pride goeth before a fall." Unshakeable faith in our own abilities and judgement, aside from being based primarily on faith and emotion and not on reason and reality, only serves to impair us from seeing our mistakes and correcting them.


Michael Prescott said...

Interesting story. Long ago I noticed that the least competent people, as a rule, tend to be the most sure of themselves - dogmatically, stubbornly, righteously sure. Meanwhile, highly competent people are often more tentative and self-effacing, aware of how much they don't know.

One of the ironies of our society is that we reward "self-confidence" by promoting people who are highly sure of themselves, even when they are incompetent. This is why so many incompetent (but proudly oblivious) people end up in positions of authority in business, government, academia, and even the sciences.

Meanwhile the more competent (but modest) folks remain unrecognized.

From what I understand, some societies (e.g., Japan) encourage modesty, humility, and deference in their leaders. It would be interesting to see if, on average, those societies end up with more competent people in leadership positions.

Meg's Marginalia said...

Bertrand Russell said "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt." Michael H mentioned earlier in a comment on my blog that "truth is accessible to anyone in direct proportion to their humility." I'm not sure if 100% agree with him, but if that's true, then I guess we're doomed, because in order to know more, you have to admit how much you don't know, which may cause others to also doubt you and thus have less of an influence in the world.

I guess it's kind of like the Punnett square of the 4 options that (1) you don't know that you don't know [which would be like the people in that article], (2) you know that you don't know [those "intelligent people plagued with doubt"] (3) you don't know that you know [ie, you are too humble] and (4) you know that you know [which is probably impossible to fully attain this state of Nirvana, because I don't think any one person can know everything fully, not yet at least.

I have to disagree with you that Asian countries have it better. Putting a high value on self effacement and modesty usually just encourages a facade of false humility and obsequiousness. People will just become trained and conditioned to put on an outward show of humility but in reality they are every bit as arrogant and cocksure of their abilities as their American counterparts. Also, don't forget that Asian society is highly influenced by Confucian principles that value intelligence, diligence, book learning, and meritocracy at the expense of emotional and social fulfillment (sound familiar? *cough* Objectivism)

Although I guess I can agree that maybe Asian societies are more efficient and have more technically competent and intelligent people in leadership positions because they value intelligence and abilities more than self confidence and extroversion. And that's not such a bad thing either.

Neil Parille said...

There was a famous public opinion poll in Sweden in the 80s, in which something like 75% of the people said they were above average in driving ability.

I realize that Objectivists say they believe only in "reality based" self esteem, but humility does seem something of a virtue.

Jay said...


Reality based self-esteem encompasses what most people think of as humility. If you do not know or have not done something, you will cease blustering and own up.

For example, my best friend is a psychology major. I'm an armchair theorizer on the subject but obviously not as smart as him, since he takes formal instruction from actual psychologists. Therefore, when we talk about it, I sometimes interject with "Can you explain that a little more, I'm pretty ignorant of that disorder/condition/etc."

No big deal, just an honest recognition of limitations. Humility, on the other hand, comes from a Latin word which literally means "low." I see no need for people to think that of themselves. Just be honest and strive to expand your abilities, when you can.

Renee Katz said...

That's funny, I don't remember reading any Objectivism literature that said you should judge people for being dumb if it's not your choice.

Meg's Marginalia said...

Ayn Rand said that passing judgement is a moral imperative "Judge and prepare to be judged". She also thought dumb people can and should raise their IQs.

In her book Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A, she says
"I'd prefer that people raise their IQ from 110 to 150. It can be done."

JayCross said...

Moral judgment inst a judgment of intelligence. It's a judgment of integrity/convictions.

Renee Katz said...

Meg, you, like all critics of Objectivism, don't know what the fuck you're talking about. Neither Ayn Rand nor any Objectivist thinks you should harshly judge "dumb" people, and the fact that she says she PREFERS that people raise their IQ and she thinks it can be done does not equal morally condemning unskilled people. And you won't be able to prove what you said, because you fucking MADE IT UP in effort to vilify Objectivism, and no Objectivist has ever said or implied that.

Stop writing about Objectivism, you don't know jack shit about it. All you know about is cutting of the heads of its spokesmen and sticking them on the cover of Babysitters Club books. Everything you write about Objectivism is BS. Stop blogging.

Meg's Marginalia said...

Thanks for proving my point that all Objectivists are ugly stupid raging fucks. It's a free internet, I can blog as much as I like thank you. If you don't like it you can GTFO my blog. Or better yet, don't, so everyone can see what a fucker you are.

Renee Katz said...

And thank you for proving my point that you have no valid criticism of Objectivism, just a bunch of grade-school tactics.

Good thing you didn't try to defend that bs claim about dumb people. Hopefully you'll think twice next time you feel like you have to make shit up about Rand or Objectivism.

And I know you are free to blog all you want, but you shouldn't.

meg said...

Thanks for your opinion that I shouldn't blog, because I totally care so much about what you think. I'm going to keep blogging, because the vast majority of my readers love my blog, and I enjoy writing not just about Objectivism but other topics too, and I have a OMG SENSE OF HUMOR which you sadly lack.

I didn't reply to your point about dumb people (such as yourself) because I don't like arguing with people who obviously hate me and don't care for what I have to say. I'm not a missionary or an Objectivist so I don't care about converting recalcitrants.

But for the record, I agree there is a difference between judging someone for being dumb and judging someone for being immoral. The best response I can come up with now s there are quotes and pieces written about how Rand placed a high value on intelligence, especially book smarts or mathematical intelligence, to the exclusion of everything else, and regarded intelligence almost like a virtue in itself. She also had little regard for people of mediocre ability. Maybe someone else has more to say on this, because it's been a while since I've read any of Rand's works and can't really be bothered to get into the technicalities.

The point that moral judgement and intellectual judgement is different is taken, and I didn't mention that nuance in my original post.

I'm usually content to let it stand when the comment thread has come to a logical endpoint, and I have nothing more to say. Because, unlike you, I don't mind being wrong or partially wrong sometimes. I never pretended to be 100% consistent, and I don't think anyone is, yourself included.

Have a good day!

Favela Cranshaw said...

I don't read your blog.

JayCross said...

Meg, you, like all critics of Objectivism, don't know what the fuck you're talking about.

This is a ridiculous statement. As an Objectivist I have heard plenty of criticism for my beliefs. Most of it, I agree, is wrong-headed. But I have also heard very intelligent and thoughtful criticisms. The guys at ARCHN provide some of it, though we obviously don't always agree. Meg is definitely a smart person. It just makes you look ignorant and belligerent to unequivocally condemn anyone who criticizes Objectivism. Ever hear of debate, and learning from opposing points of view?

Renee Katz said...

Yeah, there's like, one or two people out of all the critics that manage to raise a good objection. It's an astronomically small number. The other 99.99% percent are either just people who hate Rand or straw man arguments. And I'm glad you thought it was so important to mention that.

I don't condemn people who criticize Objectivism. I am not an Objectivist because there are some things in Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology that I don't totally agree with. But in all honesty, there are so little real "arguments" out there.

And I never said that Meg wasn't smart, I said she doesn't know what she's talking about. Have you actually READ the blog?! I don't know how anyone who knows anything about Objectivism can read through it and feel like their intelligence hasn't been insulted.

Behemoth said...

Hang in there, Meg, there are plenty of people who appreciate your efforts! (Some of us even miss the old pink theme!) You do have to be aware that when you poke fun at ideas that are the core beliefs of some people, those folks may respond with great anger and defensiveness. When that group consists of Rand fans, the venom can get truly bitter. But there's an ever larger group of us ex-Objectivists who enjoy some good-natured poking fun at the zealots' excesses; even many current Objectivists have to admit to Rand's more egregious personal faults.

Let me put it a little more succinctly: you rock, keep it up!

Wells said...

I wouldn't give up blogging because of Renee Katz. That person isn't worth it, because that person is worthless.

Keep up the good work.