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The Politics of Dunning-Kruger

[1]2,062 words

DSM V is the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The book first appeared in 1952, and the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes DSM, calls it “an authoritative volume that defines and classifies mental disorders in order to improve diagnoses, treatment and research.” The glib might call DSM V the psychiatrists’ bible. The cynical might view it as a retail catalogue for the big pharmaceutical companies.

Debates continue about the idea of a standardizing volume used consensually by all bodies, agencies, and companies involved in the field of mental health disorders and their treatment. Who decides what normativity is? Is there cultural bias? Are lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies pressuring the publishers to include disorders they have fabricated for treatment by drugs they just so happen to have patented?

Much as one might be tempted to go through DSM listing the mental conditions clearly blighting the Western political classes, it might be instructive to look at a recognized condition which has not yet been granted access to the hallowed pantheon of DSM.

David Dunning and Justin Kruger are social psychologists whose 1999 study, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments [2],” led to the formulation of what has become known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This broadly describes a condition in which those who are incompetent in a particular skill set will tend to overestimate their level of skill and competence, and fail to recognize even extremities of this tendency. They will also fail to recognize other people’s competence in the relevant skill set.

Many mental health professionals do not wish to grant credibility to Dunning-Kruger, possibly for the same reason short men don’t credit the Napoleon complex, not because they don’t believe there is such a thing, but because they don’t consider themselves short. But I suspect the diagnosis will sound familiar to many of you, particularly when applied to the managerial class, as that may have impacted on your employment, past or present. I will give one example from my own dealings with management, although, as we shall see, all is not as it may at first appear.

Four years ago I was employed in a lucrative job as the building manager of a large block of expensive apartments by the River Thames in London, a post with came with its own small apartment – actually a glorified rabbit-hutch. My battles with my line manager and her company began almost immediately, and I was soon operating without consulting her. I believed her to be utterly incompetent, beset by the voodoo language favored by management, and unable to think in anything but an utterly coded and orthodox way – or even an orthographic way, which will chime with anyone who has ever read a memo from management. They read like the instructions to a plastic airplane kit written by a neurotic lawyer’s clerk.

My co-workers all echoed my opinion, with many colorful stories of Laurel-and-Hardyesque behavior. The actual tenants – and these apartments began, in 2015, at a million pounds ($1.3 million) – were beginning to come to me with problems rather than the management company because they knew they would get results, and they themselves were sorely disappointed with a company that cost them a fortune in service charges. I was efficient, personable, and liked.

But not by management. I began to get extra paperwork and pointless reports to write, much of which duplicated information I had already given, and I was required to wade through and complete inane 54-page staff assessment documents. In addition to this, the spreadsheets and documents I received began to be beset by strange glitches, and would not function properly, leading to much wasted time. When I described this to my brother, an IT wizard, he said these glitches and apparent bugs were almost certainly intentionally introduced. Then came the event which convinced me that my manager was sabotaging my best efforts.

The block was big, sixty-nine apartments and a penthouse suite valued at five million pounds. I set myself a project to find out exactly how the building lived, breathed, and, as it were, had its being. One key part of the project was learning about the dry-riser.

For those of you unfamiliar with this essential part of a high-rise block, a dry-riser is a large, cast-metal pipe which passes up through the building, and is accessible via inspection ports. At each level, the pipe has a fitting compatible with the huge hoses used by the London Fire Brigade. If there is a fire on the fourteenth floor, these incredibly heavy hoses can’t be unfurled up the stairs, but are carried up and connected to the dry-riser on that floor.

I was excited when I got a call from the company which carried out the annual inspection, and the gentleman booked a date and time a couple of days hence. I arranged for a colleague able to do so to cover the front desk. Then I told my line manager, betraying my keenness in wishing to shadow the inspector for the half-day necessary. “Oh,” she said crisply. “Yes, that should be fine.” Two hours later, I got the call.

“Sorry, Mark. My fault. You’re actually booked on a training course on that day.”

“That’s okay. I’ll do the training another day. The dry-riser is more important.”

“Well, the trouble is these courses are expensive. We can’t really waste the money.”

Firstly, I found out on inquiry that there was a flat rate for this particular course, and it made no difference to the cost whether I was there or not. I told a couple of the board members – elected tenants who liaised between the residents and the management company – of this ridiculous decision. They regretted that I would have to go. All six members of the residential board, it bears pointing out, were management consultants. As I informed them all when I was finally fired, management consultancy is not a job. It is an impediment to others doing their job.

So it was that, instead of absorbing knowledge from an expert about the building of which I was in charge, I wasted half a day with a few other caretakers, porters, and building managers at a “bonding and cooperation workshop.” As British comedian Alexei Sayle once quipped, if you go to a workshop and there are no tools, leave. At one point, we were divided into teams and were swapping pieces of plastic toy cars, trading for the pieces we needed to complete our vehicles while helping other teams complete theirs. I made my contempt very clear, and that certainly got back to my line manager.

I gave the whole experience much thought. At that time, I had only just come across Dunning-Kruger, but I wanted to examine its possible applicability to my line manager and the tale of the dry-riser and the workshop.

Keeping me away from the building on this crucial day certainly seemed to exhibit the first two elements of Dunning-Kruger: she had shown both incompetence in not allowing me to learn more about the building for which I was responsible, and she had failed to recognize my competence by wasting my time with a childish training exercise. But what if her ultimate aims were not what I thought them to be?

I had been working on the assumption that a property management company would want to work at optimum efficiency, and that a component of the aim would be to allow their employees full rein in terms of their abilities. The two best managers I had ever worked under prior to this job – both women – had done just that, allowing and encouraging the best abilities of the people they managed. This was something different.

Once the realization came that she, and her company, were actively trying to hamper and restrict me, everything fell into place. I stayed in the job for fourteen months before a major disciplinary meeting led to my being dismissed. I had attempted to organize a vote to replace the company at an Annual General Meeting, but my coup was detected and ultimately foiled. I could have fought my dismissal on the grounds of what in Britain is called “constructive dismissal,” but by then a chance meeting with an American woman on a train to Paris, along with a bass ukulele, had conspired to take me to Central America, where I have remained for the last three years. But that is a tale for another day.

So, who was the likelier to be suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect: the management company and my absurd line manager, who appeared incompetent, or myself for thinking I had the measure of them? As time passed, I began to see a parallel between management and government, and this same conundrum existed on the macro level as well as the micro. Let us move, then, from London town to criticism of British government on the battlefield of online political commentary and comment.

There is a common theme, a common stance taken by both commentators and commenters alike when it comes to governmental performance; politicians are incompetent idiots. An Iranian is denied British asylum because his religion is deemed to be violent. About time, we might chorus, except that he is an Iranian convert to Christianity. “Madness!” shriek dissident commentators and their commentariat alike. An NHS doctor with twenty-six years’ priceless experience is dismissed from his post for “misgendering” someone with body dysmorphia. “Insanity!” squeal the keyboard righteous. The carnival procession of Brexit talks inspires the chatterers to ask, “When will this government realize . . .” Foreign aid pours into countries with space programs, and the bristling orcs beneath the line chant, “When will this government wake up?”

But what if Western governments are neither mad nor insane, what if they do realize, what if they are awake, and it is you who is asleep?

It took me some time to realize that European governments are doing exactly what they set out to do, which is to destroy the fabric of Europe, reduce the IQ of its populations, gradually replace their white populations, Islamize the parts of it which they can no longer police themselves, neuter the Internet, dismantle nation-states and erase their cultural memory, and ultimately consign to history one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever been privileged to host. These are not incompetent oafs. They are breathtakingly competent. Not so the commenters and dissident journalists who think they know better.

So, do we really believe Western governments form a confederacy of dunces? These people spend untold millions in tax revenue on special advisers, media fixers, reality shapers, professional deceivers, and focus-group fanatics. Are they really likely to get governance so spectacularly wrong after having hired that caliber of expertise? No. Their rule is not insane; it represents a particular type of malevolent sanity. Evil, as Milton’s Satan said, be thou my good.

Their methods revolve around what I have elsewhere called “disruptors”: legislative and legal procedures and impositions designed to prevent societies from functioning in the natural, organic way that has brought them so far. These disruptors include the encouragement and protection of Islam; hate speech; transgenderism; the aggressive promotion of homosexuality; mass immigration; the stigmatization of straight white men in the media and advertising; feminism; politically biased, big-tech censorship of social media; academic control via “safe spaces”; deplatforming; micro-aggressions; the “decolonization” of the academic, canon-based syllabus; racism; and others on a list which has doubtless grown in the time it has taken me to write this sentence. These disruptors are intentional components of a strategy designed to destroy the West in its present form and replace it with a malleable flock which will prove easier to control and coerce than the likely products of high-IQ Europeans the elites fear so much. As an unnamed secretary of Hitler’s henchman Rosenberg remarked, every educated person is a future enemy. The elites wish to prevent the populace from having access to education, among other cultural necessities, and the elites are succeeding and in fact winning – and they are really bloody good at what they do.

So, then. The political elites of Europe. Incompetent? Fools? Asleep at the wheel? Ignorant? Out of touch? Think again. Perhaps it is not our leaders who suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect, but we ourselves who are a suitable case for treatment.