Wouldn’t you know it? Just when you think that you’ve finally found the information that will set the world free, you learn that the idiots have already been there.
A few years ago there was an anonymous Internet posting that went like this:
The Dilbert Principle
A Cornell University study has shown that incompetent people tend to be blissfully ignorant of their incompetence. In fact, the research revealed that these people tend to have more confidence in their competence than people who know what they’re doing. The report by Professor David Dunning, Ph.D. and Justin Kruger, Ph.D., published in the December, 1999 “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” came to the brilliant conclusion that incompetent people lack the cognitive skills to recognize incompetence – or the competence of others.
Just our luck.
Ok, as demoralizing as that may be, it’s understandable enough. It’s like an echo of the “aged” thought on teenagers. Don’t we all remember knowing everything there was to know – with a determined surety – in the declining years of our second decade? How many years later was it before we realized that every moment that goes by reveals our ignorance to be exponentially increasing? That for everything we learn, we discover along with it that there are a few dozen other things that we know nothing about?
Well, now we have this: a recent study discussed by Joe Keohane in the Boston Globe has shown that “Facts Backfire.” That’s right, for some people, the more they learn the less they know – about what they’re learning. The focus is mostly on people with strong emotional attachments to their knowledge, as for instance in the case of religious beliefs or opinions adopted with religious fervor. In such cases, confronting people with real, provable, clear and concise information unambiguously disproving their beliefs or opinions does not produce a change in their beliefs or opinions. Rather, it retrenches them. Truth drives some people even deeper into their delusions.
According to the study, the effect seems to be more pronounced with populations like American conservatives than American liberals. Perhaps that’s because being a liberal in America also means not just being open to ongoing education and its surprises, but actually having an education to work with in the first place. We’re obviously not talking about Fox (Faux) News viewers here, and especially not Glenn Beck’s share of them.
The study points out that its results have an ominous implication for democracy. The oxygen of democracy is information. Real, provable information circulated widely, without encumbrance or political qualification. However, if typically vocal, fanatical and sometimes substantial segments of the population are only driven deeper into determined, reactionary ignorance by it, what hope is there of making the kinds of changes needed to survive in a world that does not evolve along pre-established lines of dogma, superstition, and beliefs that may date back millennia?
To paraphrase an old adage, “Never try to reason with a pig. It’s a waste of your time and just annoys the pig.” But does that mean the pig is suitable only for making bacon? Think that over carefully. How many times have each of us been the pig.