If you’re like me, you hear the words coming out of the mouths of Tea Partiers, and you think, “you seem like a decent human being, so how on earth can you believe those things?” Of course, I don’t want to tar all self-identified tea partiers with the same brush–Gallup reports that in some basic respects they are demographically typical of the population. I’m just talking about the crazy conspiracy theory types.
Errol Morris, in the NYT, has written about the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is the notion that people who are incompetent lack the competence to realize that they are incompetent. According to Wikipedia:
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which “people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.” The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to the perverse situation in which less competent people rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence: because competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. “Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”
Morris’s example was a hapless bank robber who robbed a series of banks in broad daylight with no attempt at disguise. The police aired the surveillance video on television and the robber was quickly apprehended. But he was genuinely surprised to have been caught, since he firmly believed–and claimed to have tested his belief beforehand–that by rubbing lemon juice all over his face, he would render himself invisible to cameras. “But I wore the juice,” he kept saying after his arrest.
Now, think about the “constitutional scholars” out there explaining in great detail why President Obama is ineligible to be President, or the “patriots” holding their “keep your government off my Medicare” signs, or the enraged constituents shouting down their representatives at town hall meetings last year. Doesn’t the Dunning-Kruger effect seem to describe them to a T?