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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Now I get it...

I have long wondered how it is that we, as a nation, are where we are right now in terms of frustration of the seemingly obvious. I think it just became clearer to me. By way of an explaination, these stories:

In a recent court case, a man accused of robbery chose to act as his own attorney. He listened as the prosecutor asked a his partner, who had already confessed to her role in the same robbery, what her share of the loot was. She said $400. In cross examination, our legal eagle defendant told the court, "She ended up with more than I got. I only got $100. Verdict: Guilty!

Elsewhere, an armed assailant stopped his victim's car in the middle of a highway intersection and robbed him. Then, needing to get home, he asked his victim for a ride. The victim obliged... then told police where the assailant lived.

In Pittsburg, a man, with no visible attempt to disguise himself, robbed two banks in broad daylight. He was arrested within an hour after videotapes from the banks' cameras were shown on the evening news and he was recognized. When he was arrested and shown the tapes, he was astounded. "But I wore the juice," he mumbled. He was under the impression that rubbing one's face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to videotape cameras.

All of these stories are true. That last incident was taken from the lead paragraph of a study by Justin Kruger and David Dunning of Cornell University as reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study is titled, "Unskilled and Unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments."

The synopsis of the study reads: "People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of metacognitive ability to realize it. Across four studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their ablitites. "

Wow! Dumb and don't know it.

Now, let me take you to a paragraph in Peggy Noonan's (see post below) latest book, Patriotic Grace:

"I spoke about two years ago with a (television) network producer, an old warhorse who was trying to explain his frustration at the current ratings race. He wrestled around the subject, and I leaned in with blunt words.

" 'You meant it's gone from the dictatorship of a liberal elite to the dictatorship of the retarded,' I said.

" 'Yes,' he said."

So that's it. That's why we now have so much of our active world formed and dictated by the lowest common denominator. As 'we are all equal and entitled,' that's why the minority too often sets the rules and standards for the majority. That's why common sense often isn't universally accepted logic but an aggregate standard weighted to those who have less of it. (Do I hear 'No Child Left Behind?)

Well that sucks!

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