Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Historical Dunning-Kruger effect

Another copy of the local paper has hit my doorstep and it too lacks a new article by Mr. Kline. I know, by visiting his website, that he has produced at least one new piece. Whether Mr. Kline’s newest writings have been shunned due to poor quality, or whether the local paper has bowed to censorship pressures, I do not know.

There was another letter strongly criticizing Mr. Kline. That brings the total to five against, zero in favor. I would write in but, even though I have been meaning to replace it with a outdoor CF bulb, I do not want my porchlight shot out. The latest letter came at a particularly interesting moment. I had just learned of the Dunning-Kruger effect (DKE) and the letter appeared to be a reasonable illustration of it.

Holly Pyne’s (of Tooele) letter was given a great title “Minority can’t rewrite history”. What was meant by this exactly? After reading the letter it became clear that rewriting history is the job of the purported majority and that the minority should stay home and be minor.

Holly asks: “why do we, as the majority, continue to close our eyes to this injustice.” ? What injustice? Apparently even mentioning the idea of keeping god out of anywhere, or as Holy Holly puts it: “Those who do not believe seem to think they have the right to dictate to the rest of us how, when and where we can worship God.”

When I read Kline’s piece, which is something I might have not done if not for these letters condemning it, I do not get the same message. Kline paints himself as a (at least) deist, not a non-believer. He does not mention worship, only schools and saying “god” in the pledge of allegiance. I wonder what kind of injustice the holy Ms. Pyne would feel if she suspected that people who were real reasoning atheists actually shopped at the same WalMart as her. People like me might interfere with the magic microwaves she receives from her invisible friend. She would probably have to break out the tinfoil hat.

What does this terrible injustice have to do with history? The purpose of the letter is to say who can rewrite history is it not? Ms. Holy seriously degrades the entertainment value of her letter by only mentioning actual historical events twice.

The first mention is my favorite. She rhetorically asks what the founding principle of the country was, and then answers this question with another rhetorical question: “Was it not based on the fact that those who were Christians came here so they could worship God freely?”. That is an actual Holly Pyne of Tooele quote, I did not make it up or add to it at all. Who’s religious intolerance does she believe the pilgrims were escaping…Buddhists? That the whole Christian vs Christian thing mixed with politics was an important motivator for the pilgrims appears to have been lost on her.

I can picture in my mind the idyllic scene that dominates Pyne’s take on American history. After being driven out of Europe by Atheist Satanists the pilgrims can finally relax beside the warmth of a fire made from books and witches. Maybe they can roast marshmallows? Smores?

The second is more pedestrian. Pyne asks (again with the rhetorical question, she likes this literary device a bit too much) “Was it not those same forefathers who also wrote the Pledge of Allegiance and put in it “one nation under God?”.” Well no, it was not the same folks Holly. The “One nation under god” was added in the 50s with support from tail-gunner Joe McCarthy commie hunters. Any surviving pilgrims would have been around 300 years old at the time.

Pyne caps her tirade off with a plea for perseverance “As long as there is a believer in any part of politics, God is there.”. Are we running out of believers in politics? I do not believe that ignorance is in danger of underrepresentation in American politics. With crusaders like Ms. Pyne I do not foresee a future where ignorance is in danger of eradication.

I ran across mention of the DKE in a blog I happened across. The idea was intriguing. The more ignorant or incompetent a person is the more competent or intelligent they see themselves. I was initially struck by the idea that the DKE explained my long winded - poorly edited writing style. After reading Ms. Pyne I believe the DKE is making history in the US.

I will most certainly be on the lookout for DKE in the future.

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”
— Bertrand Russell

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
-Charles Darwin

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