The Over-Under Estimation

by dalanon

In all my discussions with people, one of the aspects I see in how we all self-assess ourselves is the presence of cognitive bias we all use. This is probably the most prevalent in two types of people– those who regularly fail and blame others, as well as those who regularly get lucky and claim responsibility– but it’s an aspect of psychology that is important for everyone to be able to recognize. Specifically, it’s important that we recognize it in ourselves, but it’s also a good idea to recognize when it’s being used by others when the time comes for us to work with them. More importantly, though, it’s something that helps us to understand why the 1% is so insistent on using terms like “job creators” or arguing that they deserve to pay little or no taxes while they take in the vast majority of wealth throughout the world. Knowing about cognitive bias, also called the Dunning-Kruger Effect or the Lake Wobegone Effect, helps those of us in the 99% to recognize and avoid the same failures in ethics prevalent throughout the 1%.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect, put very simply, is the result where an incompetent person who self-assesses themselves as having greater than average competence, even in the face of failure. One perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect within the 1% would be Donald Trump, who has filed bankruptcy for many of his endeavors and yet still manages to carry himself and present himself as successful and savvy because of his vast reserves of wealth. Another great example would be the number of banking executives who ran the massive lenders that caused the financial crisis in 2007-2008, yet walked away from the crisis with huge bonuses and no criminal charges filed. These were corporate leaders who ushered in not only one of the worst financial crises in the country, but cost the companies they ran billions (sometimes hundreds of billions) of dollars through poor management and negligence (some of which was demonstrably criminal). These are people who have failed, and failed spectacularly, yet were you or I to ask them what they think of their financial and business skills the answers would range from “above average” to “extremely high”.

Why do these people think like this? Some people guess that it’s a result of success, and there’s a kernel of truth to that thinking. The reality is that we all have this capacity for cognitive bias. If it helps, think of cognitive bias like the thinking equivalent to what your eyes experience when looking at an optical illusion. Take the photo below, for example: the image listed below is one of the floors of St. John’s Basilica, where the tiles are arranged in a pattern to give the appearance of rectangular blocks and to make the two-dimensional floor seem like it has three-dimensional texture.

There are more extreme examples of optical illusions that you can view on Wikipedia’s website, but just like with optical illusions there are different degrees of cognitive bias available. This one, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, tends to occur among the top 1% in larger numbers than in the rest of the population. However, it also affects many who aren’t in the 1% as well, since the myths that the very rich somehow create jobs is popular among supporters of the 1% (myths that are explained in detail here). Other examples of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the whole population would be in examples like how most people believe they are above-average in good driving, yet the amount of people who believe it is statistically impossible (and often quite different from reality). There are examples that have made their way into humor, like the proverbial boss who “fails upward” in the corporate environment or the parents who are convinced that their children are exceptionally cuter, smarter, more talented, and so on (the “special snowflake”) when the child is the epitome of average (which is actually a good thing in most cases).

If you haven’t yet asked “ok, well how does this help the 99%?” then you should (so I can answer, naturally). This is helpful to the 99% because understanding how your opponent thinks and knowing why they believe what they do helps to avoid those same mistakes, as well as better equip us in asking why the nation (as in the government and its regulators) have allowed these mindsets to warp our economy and destroy any level playing field that should allow for the 99% to have a say in how this country is run.

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