Image credit: Russian Schoolroom by Norman Rockwell
You may have heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect: those who are most ignorant on a subject stupidly think themselves the most expert.
For example, someone who works as an administrator in the prison system might say, “I know quite a lot about the problems in our corrective institutions, although I recently read some new research that made me question some of my long-help assumptions.” The average layman who’s read about prisons in the paper might say, “I’ve heard the gangs run the place and drugs are everywhere. I shudder to think what else goes on in there.” Someone who has never read about or even considered the issue before at all will say:
If there is one fault common to all bloggers and their commenters (except you and I), it is that they think they are experts on everything. Too rarely does somebody say, “I don’t really know much about that.” But no one can be expert on everything.
[An exception would be Slate Star Codex, yet he manages to come across as more arrogant than anybody. Why is that?]
We get around the psychological discomfort of uncertainty by adopting our team’s view of the world.
For example, in medieval Europe everyone knew that God made the world in six days, the Catholic Church is his institution on Earth, and that everything in our world is the way it is because God made it that way. For us.
On the left, everyone knows that Trump is a fascist, public healthcare is the most efficient, and all differences in outcomes between races, sexes, religions and sexualities (etc.) is due to discrimination.
On the traditional right, everyone is sure that Western societies were much better in the 1950s and have been weakened by promiscuity, abortion, divorce and atheism.
And so on.
But you and me – we’re different. We’re brave enough to point out some areas where we are utterly ignorant, even though our ‘team’ has firm views on them.
Here are a couple of mine:
My experience is limited to having lived in various countries and using their systems.
This is what I know: The public health care system in Australia has largely covered some very expensive, life-saving treatments for many people close to me. The Japanese public system is okay but the doctors sell the medication themselves so they have an obvious incentive to over-prescribe, which they consistently do (especially antibiotics). The doctors are often arrogant and don’t listen properly to what you say. Privacy is limited – you don’t always get to close the door before pulling your pants down. The nurses are tasty. I have also had broadly positive experiences of other Asian health systems – you can get what you need but have to wade through some baffling bureaucracy.
This is what I don’t know: Are privatized systems really more efficient? I’ve heard that Singapore and Thailand have pretty sweet set-ups but I don’t know anything about them. I’ve heard that the US government spends about the same as other developed countries but gets much poorer coverage. I’ve also heard that the US system incentivizes expensive research into new treatments. I don’t know the veracity of any of these claims.
Australia’s defense policy
What I know: the main part of our policy is the alliance with the US, which means we slavishly follow their foreign policy no matter how stupid we secretly think it is, in the hope that China and Indonesia will assume the US would back us in a conflict. Whether the US would actually help would depend on various practical considerations at the time. A lot of our defense policy focuses on protecting the air-sea gap between us and the rest of the world. I read an interesting story about how the government found it hard to find a use for Australian forces in the Second Gulf War – most non-SAS ground forces were not equipped for taking on the Iraqis.
What I don’t know: I read that there is no plausible threat to Australia, and that if someone did attack Australia we would not be equipped to defend ourselves independently. Written in the same sentence by the same author. If not contradictory, these two facts at least seem to sit uncomfortably next to each other, like two white office workers who don’t know each other finding themselves seated together on the Tokyo subway.
I don’t know whether Australia should have more independent foreign and defense policies, or how much that would cost. I heard somewhere that it might involve raising spending from around 2% to 4% of GDP. I don’t know if this figure is accurate.
I have no idea what we ought to spend the money on if we went down that path. Someone said submarines for asymmetrical warfare against the much larger Chinese military. Someone said cheaper and more effective Russian planes to replace the apparently useless Joint Strike Fighter, which looks and fights like origami. Why don’t we just train a local militia with AK-47s and IEDs? This seems to be the totality of technology possessed by our enemies in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and is quite sufficient to bog down even the mightiest, well-armed forces in an endless dunny-flush of hard-taxed treasure. I have no idea about any of these things. If I were appointed Field Marshal today we’d be speaking Chinese by Thursday afternoon.
What about you? Anyone out there man enough to admit where your areas of ignorance lurk? Let us know in the comments.