Thank you to Beth over at A Mile In My Shoes for nominating me for this challenge. I always look forward to reading Beth’s posts. She writes about a variety of subjects and always with the kind of intelligence and honesty we can all learn from.
- Three quotes for three days.
- Three nominees each day (no repetition).
- Thank the person who nominated you.
- Inform the nominees.
Today’s quote is about wisdom (or rather the lack of it).
‘The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.’
– Bertrand Russell
This is attributed to British philosopher Bertrand Russell who, in his 1933 essay The Triumph of Stupidity, expressed concern over the rise of Nazism in Germany.
In this essay he feared that Germany’s great and progressive society that had produced influential thinkers and artists such as Kant, Goethe, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche would soon be plunged back into the time of Goths. Russell was dismayed that collective brutality and stupidity could soon oppress common sense and intelligence and lead to a downfall in society. And unfortunately he was right.
So what have we learned in the 80 years since Russell’s essay? Not much it seems. We still live in a society where stupidity, ignorance, and brashness triumph over intelligence.
These are the kind of negative attributes that lead people to vote for people like Trump in America; the kind of attributes that allowed people to be misled by people like Farage in the Brexit referendum (after all we didn’t need “experts” right?). And after Brexit, the kind of negative qualities that led to a rise in racial hate crime when stupidity and brutality suddenly felt vindicated.
We see it all the time in the world of corporate politics where uninformed and egotistical employees are rewarded while the less confident and more knowledgable ones are left behind.
Everywhere, everyday we see examples of ignorance ranting and raving above the silence of wisdom. And this is why.
What Russell was describing is now called the Dunning-Kruger Effect or Cognitive Bias. Based on findings by David Dunning and Justin Kruger during their psychological research at Cornell University in 1999, the Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the correlation between a person’s self-belief of their knowledge and their actual knowledge.
In other words: it explains why some people think they know more than they do, while those who do know more think they know less.
Our self-confidence in a subject grows as we gain more knowledge about it. But soon, some people will realise they actually know very little and as a consequence, their self-belief will drop. And it will continue to drop as they continue to learn, until such a time they become knowledgable enough that they regain some self-belief.
However, while this is happening, the other group are blissfully happy stuck at the top believing they know everything when they actually know nothing, and they want the world to know about it. They will rant and rave above the silence of those who continue to learn. And those who continue to learn will fear speaking up because they believe they know nothing compared to the raving “expert”.
Russell wasn’t quite sure what we do about it. He was quite disparaging about his generation of intellectuals who had grown too vain to work together with others. The intellectuals of the past, he says, had real political influence whereas modern intellectuals had been reduced to impotent spectators.
So what can we do? Well, my suggestion is to keep on learning, never feel content that we know everything about anything, and never be afraid to speak up over the din of stupidity for fear of looking stupid.
I’ll end with a few more wise quotes about the subject of wisdom:
‘Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge’
– Charles Darwin
‘The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.’
– William Shakespeare
‘Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.’
– Martin Luther King Jr.
© 2016 Occasional Dreams