There was some interesting research a while back which I refer to here almost daily. It compared how expert people thought they were in various fields versus how expert they actually were.
They found that actual experts realized they were knowledgeable on the topic but admitted gaps, those in the middle recognized themselves as such and those who knew absolutely nothing thought they knew everything.
I experience this phenomenon at work. People who know a bit about my field or who have high intelligence and good general knowledge see me as I am: a fair to middling practitioner who is diligent and tries to get the job done. Those who are stupid or know nothing at all about what I do think that they know precisely what I should be doing and are not afraid to explain it all to me in precise detail.
I’ve recently suffered an absurd argument with a doddery old man who, in his criticism of my work, made three simple mathematical errors. In another case there is an extremely stupid woman thinks that I’m the biggest idiot she’s ever met. She probably imagines she could step into my shoes and instantly bring all affairs presently before me to a state of shining perfection. I very much hope that she one day has such an opportunity, and that I’m there to enjoy the show.
The same goes for people in general here in Shitholistan. They often think that foreigners are stupid and have no idea how to run anything properly. This is bemusing for us foreigners because the way they do things here makes India look like a well-oiled operation. See pretty much any of my previous or future posts for details.
A lady was telling me the imminently sensible way the government deals with discontent. You see, there was a protest at a university. I don’t know the cause. The army rounded everyone up, put them on buses and drove them out to the desert. They made them kneel on the ground in an area infamous as one of the hottest places on Earth, a place that has held up whole armies by melting the soles of their shoes.
After some time the soldiers told them they had been very naughty in daring to suggest that the government was anything other that doubleplusgood, and informed them that if they apologized profusely they might be forgiven.
Most students eventually gave up, apologized, and were allowed to go home. A handful refused to capitulate. They knelt out there in the sun until they died.
So you see, when someone protests about something, that’s how you sort it out. Anyone who has some different or more complex ideas on the topic of civil unrest is just stupid and probably a foreigner to boot.
I’ve noticed the same phenomenon when conversation turns towards economics. If you gently put forward a simple economic fact that pretty much all economists would agree on, a person who has never read a word about economics aside from a few Marxist Guardian articles will immediately assume you are stupid or evil or probably both. Here are a few plain facts that, if spoken aloud, will make people declare you a fool:
- If unions win higher wages for workers, the company will hire fewer employees than they otherwise would, effectively benefiting those on the inside while disadvantaging those on the outside
- Higher minimum wages make it harder for younger, less skilled and experienced worker to get a job
- Price ceilings cause shortages
- Price floors cause oversupply
- Bankruptcies are normal in a free market and job losses in one area (i.e. closed car factories) are not necessarily indicative of overall economic problems
- If scarce resources are used to subsidize an industry, those resources must be taken away from some other, more efficient industry
- Goods and services are always more expensive or difficult to get than people are happy with because they use scarce resources that have alternative uses. There is no magical economic system that could make them all as abundant as we would like them to be
And so on.
A corollary to this observation is that extremely devout people tend to be quite ignorant of religion – even of their own. Old Catholic ladies who go to church three times a week plus twice on Sundays are unlikely to have ever heard of the First Council of Nicaea, the details of the Schism or of the dodgy Renaissance popes (who are my favourites). Buddhists who pray for business success and rub the jolly fat man’s head have probably never read a Buddhist text or studied its relationship with Hinduism. Whenever a Japanese friend stopped to pray at a Shinto shrine I made a point of asking them the name of the resident god, or any detail about him, and the answer was always the same: ‘I don’t know.’ People who study comparative religion or the history and philosophy of religion tend to come out of it less certain than they were going in. I know one fine Catholic who piously studied the history of the church and thereby became an atheist. And it is well known that few of the Anglican clergy have an ounce of faith in their bones, and that those who do (i.e. the Africans) are viewed as primitive zealots by their colleagues. Though they’re far too nice to say so.
If you think you’re an expert in any area, ask yourself: what is the source of your expertise? Have you completed any formal study in the area, or have you read books about it? Do you have much relevant experience in the field? Or is there some other reason why you think you’re a super-dooper brainiac when it comes to this thing?
Very few non-experts claim expertise in fields such as quantum computing or Korean grammar. I conclude with a list of the areas where I have most commonly heard non-experts foolishly assert expertise, especially in blogs, and especially among some of you who I know drop by here.
Be especially cautious of your self-assessed knowledge of these fields:
- health policy
- police and justice
- Aboriginal affairs (for us Aussies)
- foreign cultures
What did I miss?