by Mike Meyer
Most people realize their own ignorance. Even if they don’t fully understand the true extent of what they don’t know and can’t do they give it the benefit of the doubt to be safe. This is the proverbial situation of saying, “I probably don’t know what I am talking about but that does not seem like a good idea.”
In that situation it might be better to simply say, “I don’t know shit about that”, but we are social animals and communication is our only unique skill. We usually feel somewhat reassured in that we are not being given the final word and it is safe to ignore whatever is said in those situations.
It’s also important to note that the major qualification on knowledge in the topic under discussion is a mildly negative statement. We are, after all, professing a lack of knowledge and a lack of certainty. The point is that we are usually more comfortable with that level of professed self awareness.
The problems start with someone who is an absolute but totally self professed authority on something. In most cases this produces an immediate level of discomfort unless you happen to be talking about molecular biology with a noted Nobel prize authority on that. It is definitely not comfortable if your neighbor, who does little beyond drink beer behind his garage, is holding forth on genetic engineering. We know who to take with a large grain of salt.
We may listen out of politeness or because we know he makes outlandish claims as a form of humor. In either case we are not at all likely to take what is said as valuable or even worth remembering.
All of this, of course, leads us to the Dunning Kruger effect. And that leads us to Donald Trump. It would be hard to find a better example of that effect as someone so ignorant as to not know they are ignorant than Trump. He has never, as far as I know, ever admitted ignorance on anything even if he didn’t know what it was let alone how to spell it.
The question is how do people ever come to believe someone like that? Almost instinctively we know bullshitters when we see or hear them. A great deal of our humor is based on these unfortunates who insist on making fools of themselves. Trump hold true to form as he does it almost daily.
Almost every comic tradition is based on or includes a Ralph Kramden from the classic Jackie Gleason and Art Carney skits of the Honeymooners still available online. Of course a Ralph Kramden requires an Ed Norton. Some sucker needs to buy the bullshit for the comedy to work. Oliver Hardy needs a Stan Laurel. American humor would not exist without Dunning Kruger.
Perhaps this explains the election of Donald Trump as president. A significant percentage of the American electorate has decided to become Ed Norton. The punch drunk half of an ignorant pair.
The nature of those roles require absolute ignorance with no doubt of complete knowledge. This makes it almost humorous to hear that Trump was thankful for himself on Thanksgiving. “Norton, you know I’m going to make us rich. Here is how we’ll do it . . .”
Everyone laughs knowing what will happen. But we’re not laughing.
Trump is incredibly intelligent so he knows more than all the scientific experts on the planet. Right. But he can say it with a straight face because we know such people have no clue.
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