Dunning-Kruger Club

The first rule of Dunning-Kruger Club is: you’ll never know you’re a member of Dunning-Kruger Club

I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you don’t need me to tell you what the Dunning-Kruger Effect is. (If you don’t, click on the words.) And while much has been made of it as an explanation of why so many people vote against their own interests based on gut feelings and such, less attention has been paid to its effect within politics, and particularly, within political parties.

There are many ways that the Dunning-Kruger Effect can manifest within a political party, quite aside from the behaviour of individual politicians. (If the words ‘Captain’s Call’ or ‘Pig Fucker’ make you shudder, you know what I mean.) But increasingly, the most common is an insistence on ideological purity over competence to govern.

For decades, this insistence was considered the dividing line between professional and amateur politicians: it was the extremists at each end of the political spectrum who made that error, whether it was the ever-schisming-over-arcane-points-of-doctrine Left or the holier-than-thou Right. If you were too hung up on being pure (however it was you defined ‘pure’), you were never going to make it as a serious politician. But over the last few decades, as the definition of a professional politician has become ‘a politician who’s never had a job outside of politics’, this mode of thought has migrated to the centre of poltitics. I don’t believe for a second that this is merely coincidence.

When ideological purity is substituted for intellectual rigour and practical competence, you wind up with the kinds of situations that are currently rife in the democracies of the West. The Tea Party Movement of the United States is among the more prominent exemplars, and indeed, the problem often seems worse on the Right than on the Left, but it’s hardly the only example. (If the problem is more widespread on the Right – and this appearance may be simply confirmation bias – it is likely because the Right has a more authoritarian style than the Left, making it even harder to question the arrant stupidity that so many politicians display.) In Australian politics, the imprudence of Tony Abbott and the intransigence of Cory Bernardi on the Right are matched on the Left by the occasionally baffling decisions of the Greens about when it is and isn’t alright to compromise. Its defining feature is a preference for absolutism over incrementalism.

It’s not hard to find examples: every time someone decries the solution of whatever problem for not being a perfect solution, it’s there. Every time a single incident or utterance is held to be representative of the entire person, it’s there. Every time bullying is used instead of reasoned argument, it’s there.

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