Chapter 2 of Tom Nichols’ book, The Death of Expertise (2017) is “How Conversation Became Exhausting”. It’s an incisive explanation of how our culture arrived at extreme dysfunction in how we interact with one another. Although a relatively new concept in the field of psychology, the Dunning-Kruger Effect explains an awful lot about human behavior. People with low cognitive ability and knowledge have an illusory sense of superiority, mistakenly believing that they are smarter and more skilled than they really are. And the dumber they are, the more confident that they are brilliant.
Here’s an amusing graphic illustrating the idea:
It’s foundational to the argument Nichols builds in subsequent chapters on how higher education, the internet, media bias and experts run amok all exacerbate this fundamental aspect of the human mind. He uses 6 subsections in this chapter to parse through the concept:
I’d Like and Argument, Please – public debate on any subject quickly becomes mean-spirited.
Maybe We’re All Just Dumb – maybe, but it’s not true – society is smarter now than at any prior age by any measure.
Confirmation Bias: Because You Knew This Already – a psychological bias that affects both experts and laypeople and leads to frustration.
Wives’ Tales, Superstition, and Conspiracy Theories – classic confirmation bias and nonfalsifiable arguments get us nowhere.
Stereotypes and Generalizations – prejudicial conclusions do not help us clarify anything.
I’m OK, You’re OK – Sort Of – we protect ourselves from the evil “Other”.
Next week, the War Chest moves on to problems in higher education (I hope both of my kids, who are now in college, read that).