April 04, 2014

America and the Dunning-Kruger effect

Per polls from Gallup and elsewhere, even with the Great Recession officially being over for a few years, income inequality continues to rise, and so, more and more Americans don't talk about themselves as middle class any more.

Maybe this is good. Maybe, per Thomas Piskotty's new book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," Americans are finally realizing that capitalism doesn't work, at least not for them. Maybe, with the Supreme Court ruling that capitalism should subvert politics earlier this week, they realize that politics isn't designed to work for the middle class, either.

Setting aside an oft-times sociological problem in such situations in general (and specific in America in the past, with "poor whites" sneering at blacks in the South for generations simply because they were lower on the social totem poll), maybe something else is coming into play — the Dunning-Kruger effect, or rather, the decline of its hold.

To partially oversimplify, but easily explain? The Dunning-Kruger effect is American exceptionalism on the level of individual persons.

Per Wiki, it's normally used just about cognitive and intelligence issues: 
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.
However, the idea certainly applies further than that. 

Instead, I would apply it more broadly sociologically, beyond the individual level. Namely, it's the idea that one's own group, culture, nation, etc. has special, exceptional attributes. 

With American exceptionalism, the bias for why America is so great:
  • Ignores that European diseases had killed off many American natives, yet not so long ago that their developed fields and parkland forests hadn't reverted to the wild
  • Ignores finding petrochemicals in abundance with the lucky timing of beginning industrialization at the same time 
  • Ignores that, in many, many ways, we're not No. 1 at all.
That's just some tip of the iceberg observations.

In other words, other countries can care for their citizens better than we do, have happier citizens, and have more realistic views about the world at large at the same time.


Simon said...

You won't get any disagreement there. I do wonder if it is a Anglo thing though I would argue Australia and the UK suffer badly from it as well. But at least in this the US is still number one.

Gadfly said...

Good point. Oz has a lot of developmental similarities to the US. Britain avoided the worst effects of the two World Wars and others in Europe by being an island, so partial parallel.

That said, how did Canada become such an outlier? Or does it just seem to be an outlier due to the soft bigotry of comparison with the US, or maybe a bit of Canadian myth-making?

Simon said...

Don't have enough info on Canada though it seems the current Australia government is trying to out do Harper and the US on neoliberalism and being an environmental vandal.

Regardless one can understand the Brits having a chip on their shoulder given their history of being an Empire where the sun never set.

I also see many similarities of covert racism in the US Australia and Canada due to their colonial past.

How do you steal land and wipe out the natives if you don't think the natives are less than human? Does this also mean you naturally think you are better than average because of this comparison?

Maybe its even worse for the US combining a colonial past plus its imperial manifest destiny thinking. Throw in the economic and military power that came with it and you get a double dose.