The Dunning-Kruger effect, which seems to explain so much of our current moment, is paraphrased here by John Cleese: “The problem,” he says, with some people, “is that they are so stupid that they have no idea how stupid they are.”
You see, if you’re very, very stupid, how can you possibly realize that you’re very, very stupid? You’d have to be relatively intelligent to realize how stupid you are…. [Knowing] how good you are at something requires exactly the same skills as it does to be good at that thing in the first place. Which means—and this is terribly funny—that if you’re absolutely no good at something at all, then you lack exactly the skills that you need to know that you’re absolutely no good at it.
Or, here’s Charles Darwin, almost 150 years ago, in The Descent of Man:
[I]gnorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
The terrifying thing is that we live in a world in which the most confident—confident, as in con(fidence) man—often weasel their way to the top. I’m not sure that this hasn’t always been the case for at least the past thousand years, some of my evidence coming from the Chinese poet Su Shi, aka Su Tung-Po (1037-1101) in one of my favorite poems, “On The Birth of a Son”:
Families when a child is born
Hope it will turn out intelligent.
I, through intelligence
Having wrecked my whole life,
Only hope that the baby will prove
Ignorant and stupid.
Then he’ll be happy all his days
And grow into a cabinet minister.
Hence, the above prayer, which was part of last summer’s art show: “Let them be smart, but not smart enough to know how dumb they are because then they are really screwed.” (At least when it comes to worldly suck-cess.)
Then again, here’s another prayer, one for decent human beings, who can be humble enough to learn and improve themselves, and just maybe, the world:
See also: You probably don’t deserve it