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Tag: coronavirus

Donald Trump is an almost perfect living, breathing example of the Dunning-Kruger effect

When stupid people think they’re smart, they do maximum damage. That’s where we are with Trump and the pandemic

article by CHAUNCEY DEVEGA for Salon Magazine

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a term that describes a psychological phenomenon in which stupid people do not know that they are in fact stupid.

Writing at Pacific Standard, psychologist David Dunning — one of the social psychologists who first documented this type of cognitive bias — describes it in more detail:

In many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize  —  scratch that, cannot recognize  —  just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers  —  and we are all poor performers at some things  —  fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack. What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

The Dunning-Kruger effect manifests in the form of the drunk at the bar who weighs in on every conversation with unwanted advice, the online troll who monopolizes comment sections, or the person who reads one book (or perhaps the introduction) and then acts like an authority on the subject.

Visionary science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov signaled to the Dunning-Kruger effect with his famous observation in 1980: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”  

Donald Trump is the Dunning-Kruger president of the United States.

But he is also something much worse than that. Donald Trump is an almost perfect living, breathing example of the Dunning-Kruger effect: a president in a time of plague whose ignorance and stupidity are amplified through apparent and obvious mental illness as well as cruelty, compulsive lying, grand immorality, corruption and evil.

Americans have already died because of Trump’s false claims about the novel coronavirus pandemic. Many more will die in the weeks and months ahead.

At Tuesday’s coronavirus White House “briefing” (another version of Trump’s ego-stroking carnival political rallies) he made another “expert” suggestion about how to defeat the novel coronavirus pandemic: Wear scarves instead of masks for protection.

In fact, scarves offer no protection against the coronavirus.

Several weeks ago, Donald Trump visited the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control where he made this astonishing claim: 

You know, my uncle was a great person. He was at MIT. He taught at MIT for, I think, like a record number of years. He was a great super genius. Dr. John Trump. I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this? ‘ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.

Apparently, Trump believes he knows more than some of the best trained and experienced doctors and medical researchers in the world.

Trump also believes himself to be an expert on the types of medical equipment needed to fight the novel coronavirus. He has suggested that governors in New York, New Jersey, Michigan and elsewhere are intentionally exaggerating the number of ventilators needed in hospitals to care for victims of the pandemic.

On multiple occasions, Donald Trump has claimed that there is no ventilator shortage in New York. According to him, ventilators and other medical equipment being stolen by doctors, nurses and other medical staff who are selling them, bringing them home for personal use or perhaps even hoarding the equipment in private.

Donald Trump claims to have magical powers. He has repeatedly said that the novel coronavirus will disappear at some future date which only he can predict.

Trump has said he was the first person to label the novel coronavirus a “pandemic.” And because he believes himself to be an expert on all things, Trump can pivot without pause, apprehension or doubt from claiming that the novel coronavirus was a “hoax” to embracing the view that it is a dire threat that could kill hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans.

Trump is also an epidemiologist or virologist, at least in his mind. Last week he said, “You can call it a germ, you can call it a flu, you can call it a virus, you know you can call it many different names. I’m not sure anybody even knows what it is.”

Medical professionals know what the novel coronavirus is and have been warning the Trump administration about the threat for months.

Most likely for partisan reasons and also because of racism (Trump’s immense disdain for Barack Obama), Trump’s administration also ignored the step-by-step suggestions for fighting a pandemic outlined by the National Security Council in 2016.

Donald Trump has evidently made decisions about which Americans should live and which should die based on their perceived partisan loyalty.

The Dunning-Kruger president is an expert in so many things that it is difficult to keep track of them all. Writing at MSNBC, Steven Benen made a valiant effort at cataloguing Trump’s claims to preternatural expertise:

About a year ago, for example, Trump was reflecting on technology measures that have been deployed along the U.S./Mexico border, and he assured the public, “I’m a professional at technology.”

What kind of technology? He didn’t say, but we can probably assume he meant every possible kind.

As we discussed at the time, Trump has also claimed to be the world’s foremost authority on everything from terrorism to campaign finance, the judicial system to infrastructure, trade to renewable energy. NowThis prepared a video montage on the subject a while back, and it was amazing to see the many subjects on which the president considers himself a world-class expert.

A belief in their inherent intelligence and great skill in all things is a common trait among authoritarians and other demagogues such as Donald Trump. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, according to national legend, could shoot guns better than a trained sniper at age three. At age eight, he was a daredevil truck driver. Adolf Hitler and his acolytes also made claims to greatness and superhuman abilities.

Trump’s embrace of stupidity and ignorance reflects much deeper problems in the United States generally, and the Republican Party and the conservative movement in particular. 

Today’s Republican Party and conservative movement possess a deep disdain and hostility towards true experts and qualified, proven professionals. Such people are slurred as being “elitists” or not “real Americans,” and are suspected of being liberal Democrats who belong to a “deep state” cabal working against Donald Trump and his army of real Americans, with the goal of enslaving them to “political correctness.”

Many of Trump’s strongest supporters are Christian nationalists who aim to overturn the Constitution and destroy secular, science-based, empirical reality and society. Such people believe in magic, and are the most stalwart, influential and loyal members of Trump’s political death cult.

Historian and political scientist Richard Hofstadter famously warned that Republicans and other conservatives had succumbed to the allure and power of anti-intellectualism. Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” was written in 1963.

Writing in 1947, Albert Camus reflected on Nazism and authoritarianism through the metaphor of misery and suffering caused by a plague:

The evil in the world comes almost always from ignorance, and goodwill can cause as much damage as ill-will if it is not enlightened. People are more often good than bad, though in fact that is not the question. But they are more or less ignorant and this is what one calls vice or virtue, the most appalling vice being the ignorance that thinks it knows everything and which consequently authorizes itself to kill. The murderer’s soul is blind, and there is no true goodness or fine love without the greatest possible degree of clear-sightedness.

Some 70 years later, Camus’ warnings resonate in the age of Donald Trump.

People such as Donald Trump are all too common among humanity. Unfortunately, some of them rise to great prominence during the most dangerous and troubled times — times when their ignorance and hubris has the power to kill hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. Such a time is now.

Coronavirus should be a wake-up call to our treatment of the animal world

By Cyril Christo via The Hill
https://thehill.com/changing-america/opinion/488295-coronavirus-should-be-a-wake-up-call-to-our-treatment-of-the-animal

“One day the absurdity of the almost universal human belief in the slavery of other animals will be palpable. We shall then have discovered our souls and become worthier of sharing this planet with them.”        

Martin Luther King

“To think that we can have a viable human economy by destroying the Earth’s economy is absurd. Indigenous people still live in a universe, but we don’t- we live in an economic system.”

Thomas Berry, “The Mystique of the Earth

The coronavirus did not manifest from nowhere. Our sadistic treatment and manipulation of animals for centuries has come back to haunt us. It is time for humanity to absorb the lessons of the animal world.

From the Orient the world has inherited a civilization upending event, this coronavirus feeding on the human strain. It is perhaps not a coincidence that it has manifested at the very time the UN is trying to form a Convention on Biological Diversity to protect what remains of the organic world. The contagion is the karmic result of our own ignorance and disregard of other species that began in China and that has visited us before. As Erin Sorrell, a microbiologist at Georgetown, exclaims, 70 percent of zoonotic diseases come from wildlife.

As the 2003 SARS virus already proved. Then the culprit may have been Asian palm civets. Today’s pandemic may have been caused by pangolins. The scale-covered mammals are kept in caged conditions in markets in Asia in criminally appalling realities, reserved for dinner menus. Most animals in these markets are dying and thirsty and kept in squalid containers moved and shipped around as if they were simple commodities. The conditions are a nightmare and have even prompted many Chinese to close the animal trade. How we treat animals affects entire ecosystems and habitats, the only real wealth we as a species have. China’s ban on wild animal markets may well be the one silver lining in this ensuing global tragedy, but it should become a permanent ban, not a temporary palliative because other viruses may well ensue in the not distant future given climate change is upon us.

Major conservation groups have also pleaded for Vietnam to take stringent measures to close its wildlife markets. Vietnam’s prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered the ministry of agriculture and rural development to ban the consumption of wildlife. We can only hope these initiatives manifest quickly and foster a new relationship to what remains of the Mekong basin’s wildlife. Vietnam’s actions will hopefully prevent not only new outbreaks in the future but also keep even more potentially virulent viruses from overwhelming the globe.

Wall Street has had the jitters, tens of millions in China have been as impacted as when the Mongol Golden Horde swept into the Middle Kingdom in the 13th century. But whatever deaths have overtaken our species in the last few months, deaths that number in the thousands, we should not forget the root source of this scourge, humanity’s revolting disregard, manipulation, and outright slaughter of our fellow beings, the animals of the earth.

The deafening silence of absent species marks our time as singular. What extinctions are happening will become more impactful than WWI, WWII or the Great Depression combined because now we have an enormous, almost unfathomable ecological tab to reckon with, and not just the folly of an economic system run amuck. The entire spectrum of nature’s syllabus is being played out. Our relationship with the sentient world will have to reverse or we perish. The coronavirus is the tip of the iceberg.

Animals were always considered cardinal spiritual, sentient and even intellectual beings in the lives of indigenous peoples and many civilizations past. But as colonial and technological powers overran the world, indigenous peoples were treated no better than the buffalo, or whale or pangolin or bat. And now our disregard of the others bears a karmic component we cannot ignore.

The criminal neglect and dismantling of Nature over the last century have led us to a point where globalization itself will have to be rapidly reappraised. Wall Street may have lost some ground, but the mounting possible extinction toll is many magnitudes more vital than the arbitrary machinations of the Dow. The death toll on millions of acres of rainforests lost, coral reefs bleached and species eradicated the world over has brought us to this point. It is the invisible aura of loss we have inherited. It is the karma our species is inheriting. The locust invasion of East Africa is a Biblical cohort to the virus of East Asia. Now our entire immune system as a species and that of the planet is under siege.

Paul Shepard, the eloquent ecologist who wrote triumphantly about the importance of animals, wrote in “The Others: How Animals Made Us Human,” “People are asked to rely on faith in the invisible and intangible, repudiating the beasts on which primal peoples depend as intermediaries, embodying spirits, affirming death, giving form to the mystery of the multiple truths of mortal existence, and acting as a vehicle to other realms.” It is not coincidental that this “Christian-” based society has so neglected its first teachers, the animals, for several thousand years and put so much faith in invisible gods and the afterlife, intangibles that have divorced us from life and the very soil on which we depend for our survival.

We have in Henry Heston’s words become “cosmic outlaws.” If we lose the animals, we will become inconsolable orphans. This most minute but insidious of beings, the coronavirus is a wake-up call to our unconscious selves. We have wrapped ourselves in a cocoon of technological, synthetic and decorative cultural achievement burdened with pride that strains and depletes our full values as sentient beings. In the process, we have ignored the suffering and sentience of others. The physiologist Rene Dubos once wrote that humans could adapt “to starless skies, treeless avenues, shapeless buildings, tasteless bread, joyless celebrations, spiritless pleasures — to a life without reverence for the past, love for the present, or poetical anticipations of the future, but it is questionable that man can retain his physical and mental health if he loses contact with the natural forces that have shaped his biological and mental nature.”

How we converse and conduct ourselves in the next year or two will morph into a different realm of relating, and hopefully into a more respectful species. We may need to grow roots under our feet once again and cultivate what Levi Strauss called an “ecological civicism.” We may need more than a pause from the pace of globalization that began to convulse the world two generations ago. Will we return to the same numbers game of outlandish growth, and greed when already much of the pollution from northern China seems to have dissipated from the map? Is not our entire fixation on profit a psychic numbing that has divorced us from ecological coherence?

Maybe the coronavirus is a warning sign, the first real test of our global community that has emerged from the Pandora’s box of an increasingly incorrigible species. Amazon-size ecosystems are in jeopardy. This insidious half live, half un-live being called corona has taken over our sleep and waking life like an alien invasion. Let us be grateful the next time we see a flock of birds flying miraculously overhead, or the next time we see a koala holding on to a branch for dear life, or the next time we see a dolphin dancing over the waves. And know these beings did not have to die a merciless, hapless, sick death in some market of central China where this virus originated.

The virus has given us a fever, yes, just as we have imposed a fever on the climate of the earth. Milan Kundera in the “Unbearable Lightness of Being” reminds us in one of the most poignant lines ever written, “Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test, which is deeply buried from view, consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect humankind has suffered a fundamental debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.”

And it is possible that the coronavirus may be just another contagion in a long line of lessons we will have to inherit from our fellow creatures. Recently a wolf’s head was discovered by mammoth tusk hunters in Siberia dating from 30,000 years ago. What viruses are embedded in their flesh? What strains will invade our civilization like ghosts from a forgotten Pleistocene seeping out from under the crying and collapsing torrent of glaciers up north, seeping slowly onto our shores? Will we learn the lesson that the pangolin, one of the most trafficked and severely abused mammals on earth, the one that has filled so many markets in Asia, is teaching us now across the time zones of the world? Will we make sure now that it does not go extinct? Even its exquisite plates, the only armored mammal on Earth, could not protect itself from the diabolic hunger of our species. Will the coronavirus humble us to the reality that humans make up just .01 percent of life on Earth? Will we have to absorb a virus so virulent, so complete in its ability to create havoc from the melting permafrost in the Arctic that humanity will become irreparably crippled?

The coronavirus in its all-pervasive pandemonium is a wake-up call, not just to our well-being and souls but also how we had better conduct ourselves towards the other species of this Earth, they who enable life as we know it. The coronavirus is a karmic test that we need to pass so that we as a species can transcend our conduct on this planet we have maligned and mistreated for far too long.

One immensely vital and fragile bioregion that promises potentially lethal pathogens is the Arctic. The great thaw at the top of the world, with ice melting at an extraordinary rate, with polar bears, whales and many other beings having to survive the immune breakdown of the region, is the main reason Shell and other mining and fossil fuel industries should stay clear from the region. Five years ago French scientists discovered a “giant virus” in a 30,000- year-old sample of permafrost in Siberia that had retained its infectivity. If we industrialize these areas and ride roughshod over the roof of the world we risk waking up pathogens we thought we had eradicated or helped foster the spread of things even worse than smallpox, said researcher Jean Michel Claverie.

Jean Malaurie, the remarkable French geologist and explorer of the Arctic who fought for the preservation of the Inuit from the contrivances and pollution of Western man, once expounded, “Men of science, like men of the state, have a duty imposed by ethics. The Earth is living: it can and will avenge itself: already there are portents. The Earth has no time left for man’s ignorance, arrogance, sophistry, and madness.”

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