Blissfully Incompetent – The Dunning Kruger Effect

Dunning-Kruger EffectWhile at work today we had a short network outage which gave the Web and Software Development team a little time to talk about our favorite subject. How stupid everyone else is.

One of our younger coders mentioned something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I immediately headed out to Wiki and read the article. There is nothing earth-shattering in the article. Even Dunning and Kruger mention in their original study that philosophers from the earliest times have noted stupid people are blissfully unaware of their idiocy while the intelligent are filled with doubt.

What was interesting was the scientific method was used to prove this effect, at least among those raised in Western cultures. A few studies on those from Eastern backgrounds did not show the same thing.

The studies also showed that competent and intelligent people tended to underestimate their own ability much as the less competent overestimate theirs. The idea being that competent people find particular tasks easy and assume that such jobs are, in fact, easy. That anyone should be able to do them without much of a problem.

The studies are interesting to be certain why the blog?

This study, this Dunning-Kruger effect is a tremendous impediment to the Libertarian Ideal. If the incompetent don’t know they are miserable at their jobs and the competent can’t recognize how well they do their job; we are left in a bad place.

What do we do about it? The study itself shows the way. Those people who are incompetent at their jobs recognize their previous inability after they are trained to do the job better! That’s really good news. It means when we see someone doing their job badly, our course is to spend the time and effort teaching them to do it better. It’s a good idea to pat the high-performers on the back as well.

Now that I’ve read the article on the Dunning-Kruger effect it makes much more sense to me. Those who find a task difficult assume it is difficult and everyone has a hard time doing it. Likewise those who find it easy figure that everyone can do it. Now that I at least partially understand the psychology of the effect I’m better prepared to deal with it.

I can’t wait to start roaming the office and telling everyone how to do their jobs … or maybe not!

Still, it’s an interesting piece of psychology and while I don’t suggest telling everyone how to do their job. I do think if you are a supervisor it’s a great idea to spend time with the low-performers and give them a hand. Maybe you’ll have a better understanding of why they struggle to improve.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Coming Soon: The Broken Throne

Why Writing Posthumous Notes to your Children is Selfish

posthumous lettersI’m not going to win any friends with this post but there’s a trend I’ve noted of late that I find unhealthy. I just read yet another story in which a soon to be deceased person plans to write a long series of messages to their child.

This trend apparently took its cue from the movie P.S. I Love You.

I don’t doubt for a moment that Garth Callaghan has only the best intentions as he pens a note a day to his young daughter. He wants to express that he loves her and offer her advice as she moves on in life. He knows that he might die in the near future and wants to let his daughter know he loves and cares about her.

As well-intentioned as these notes are, I think they are ultimately selfish. They are about him and not his daughter. They are about his unwillingness to accept the fact that death might be imminent. He wants to remain alive and imagines he is doing so by writing these notes. I’ve not see P.S. I Love You but the premise, from what I can tell, is the same. That the dead husband has only the interests of his widow at heart. That he wants to help her move on with life. I’m certain this was exactly the result of his letters in the make-believe world of movies.

It’s my opinion a series of posthumous letters from a dead relative cannot possibly ease the loss but only exacerbate them. Constant reminders of your dead father, husband, wife, or dog cannot be good for a person’s mental well-being. Yes, it’s good to have memories, loving memories. I’m not even saying a long-farewell letter shouldn’t be written. I’m suggesting this constant barrage of letters telling a loved one how to act or how much you still love them, even after death, is purely selfish and not in the interest of your loved one.

I’m not questioning the motivation, just the action. If we want to tell someone we love them we should do it, now. If we want to give someone some advice, we should do so. This idea that I have all the answers and will continue to do so even from beyond the grave is delusional and selfish.

I know my opinion on this isn’t going to be popular. I don’t think Callaghan is intentionally doing harm.

Some people might argue that this very blog is all about Tom Liberman and not about the reader. They’d be right! It is about me. It’s my opinions. I’m expressing them because I think they should be heard. But have no doubt, this blog is selfish and it’s largely about me, me, me. I want you to read the blog, click the links to my books, and purchase them.

Before you lay into me about how wrong I am, I would like you to honestly answer one question. After that, do as you will.

If you were to write a bunch of letters or emails or whatever to a loved one to be delivered after your death; are you doing it for your loved one or are you doing it for you?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

The Public Perception of Being Overweight

Hating Fat PeoplePerhaps I’m not the best person in the world to be talking about overweight people and the public perception they face in the United States. I’m 5′ 7″ and about 165 pounds. I work out five days a week and come from a family of relatively thin people. Still, the pure mean-spirited nastiness I see directed towards overweight people sometimes stuns me.

I just finished reading a story about a Frenchman who was denied a flight back to France because he weighs over 500 pounds. The airline couldn’t accommodate him because of his weight. In the article it was mentioned that he was in the United States receiving medical treatment for a hormone disorder at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. This is in all likelihood at least partially responsible for his weight gain while in the U.S.

The family made alternate plans and will now take a train to the coast and liner to Europe. I understand the airline and their policy and certainly the family itself does not seem to have an issue with happened, or at least nothing of that sort was mentioned in the article.

What prompted me to write this blog was the avalanche of horrible comments below the article itself. I’ve a number of friends who battle weight problems and, even though I’m relatively thin, I’m trying to get a little more fit and drop some weight.

The thing about losing weight that is so difficult is that eating is something we do every day. Eating can be an incredible joyful and sensual experience. I love to eat good food. I’ve been accused by dining mates of having sex with a particular good order of oysters. Drool … oysters on the half-shell.

If you are a drug addict, or a cigarette smoker, or an alcoholic the best method of removing the addiction from your life is to completely end the habit, cold-turkey as they call it. That’s just not possible with food. We must eat and it is generally healthy to eat multiple times each day. There is temptation at every turn. To lose weight and keep it off you must be strong for not a week or a month but for the rest of your life.

In addition it is not just eating better but you must exercise. You must find time in an already busy day to get to the gym and do cardiovascular and weight work. That is the only true path to fitness and anyone who tells you it’s easy is lying.

I’m single, I have no pets, I work at most 40 hours a week so it’s not that hard for me to get to the gym almost every day, but even then it’s not easy. I have to make myself do it. I shop only for myself so if I refrain from buying fatty foods at the grocery store then I’m not tempted by having them nearby.

Losing weight and keeping it off is one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do. It’s not easy, it requires effort every day, multiple times a day.

What bothers me the most is all the hate towards overweight people. It’s not like I’m covering exciting new ground here. The vast majority of people know that it is difficult to keep off weight. The diet industry is huge. The exercise industry is huge. Food is cheap and abundant. It is designed to be tasty so that we overeat. Human nature is to eat while the eating is good.

So, why all the hate? Why the nasty comments? If almost everyone realizes how difficult it is to lose weight and get fit why do we see so many spiteful comments?

When my overweight friends take steps to solve the problem I encourage them. I help in any way I can. I don’t make nasty comments about them to their face or behind their back. What’s the difference between me and the people making those nasty comments?

I’m at a point in my life where I’m increasingly less inclined to be cruel to other people in order to feel better about myself. In fact, being cruel makes me feel worse about myself. If you’ll forgive my smug self-satisfaction, I’m simply the better person.

Are you?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Journeys Employees Quit – Important Lessons

Journeys ApparelThere’s an instructive news story making the rounds about some employees for an apparel and footwear store named Journeys. They quit in the middle of the day leaving an expressive note on the storefront.

This story screams to both my high-brow Libertarian ideology and to my deeply guttural personal life. This story is about the human experience, about capitalism, about self-loathing, and about self-respect. It’s got it all and I aim to tell you why.

First the facts. Three employees at a Journeys store left in the middle of the day without notice. The store manager, co-manager, and one worker simply closed the front door, pinned a note to it, and left.

We don’t know if the injustices that caused the employees to take such drastic action were real or imagined. We can hear stories from all sides and still not know for certain. The fact is, it’s unimportant to my discussion.

I once worked in an environment where the boss was intentionally unfair. Cruel for the joy of cruelty. I arrived early in the morning and was looking at the clock hoping for the end of the day within an hour. I lay awake at night my mind and stomach churning. I hated it. For nearly nine months I lived it. But, that’s not important either.

When we allow ourselves to be treated that way we undermine our own lives, we undermine the business for which we work, and we undermine the entire capitalistic system.

We excuse ourselves because we “need” the job. We don’t. You don’t; as much as you think you do, you don’t. I know it seems like you need that job but every day you spend there is a day of you life lost. A day you’re not out there finding work with people you respect, who respect you, who respect their business. It’s one more day that you turn into a bitter, self-loathing person who sneaks out when no one is looking hoping to hurt other people. The kind of person who pins nasty notes on walls because you’re too cowardly to stand face-to-face with those who hurt you.

The first time someone treats you like that stop right there and tell them you will not take it. There’s no need to yell, to scream, to whine about the unfairness of life. Explain, calmly and rationally, that you don’t like being treated that way and that you won’t accept being treated that way. If they fire you, you’re better off.

Here’s an excerpt from my book, The Sword of Water.

****************

Jon nodded his head and smiled narrowly at the girl, “Exactly. I say that there is much to fear. Sorus suggests we must use caution because of those dangers. He is not far wrong, but we must never succumb to fear. Fear is the tool of evil. Fear is the tool of the despot. The first time you hid from your siblings you did so because of fear. Did that help you?”

“No,” said Silenia, blinking back tears as the memories flooded into her mind with such vividness that she suddenly felt back in that place, hiding, always hiding. “Eventually I had to come out and they used the flat of the knife on me,” she sniffled.

“Yet was it ever easier to hide the next time and the time after, wasn’t it?”

Silenia nodded her head, pursed her lips together, and stifled another sob, “It got easier each time.”

****************

Not only does an employee who refuses to stand up to a bully hurt themselves but they hurt every employee who follows them, they hurt the business, and they hurt capitalism. If everyone refused to work for nasty people but instead flocked to jobs where good people treated employees with respect and with fairness; the whole system works.

Don’t get me wrong, fairness doesn’t mean you get paid for lazing around. Fairness means you work hard, next to other people working hard, and you make good money doing it. That’s American! Or it used to be. If the job needs you to work an extra three hours that night, you work it but the boss gives you the morning off. If the boss can’t give you the morning off then you get a bonus. That’s what I mean by fair. That’s what works, for business, for people, for our country.

Leaving in the middle of the day when there’s work to be done isn’t fair, it’s not right, and it’s a sign of having no self-respect. I can’t excuse it. I won’t. The boss treating an employee like garbage because they can get away with it? That’s just as cowardly, just as sick, just as filled with self-loathing.

This story? It’s a lesson all right, a lesson in everything that’s wrong.

Respect yourself. Respect your co-workers. Respect your employees.

Start right now.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 and worth all 299 pennies!)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Rush Limbaugh’s Death Party

HateAs a Libertarian I often find myself in the middle of the political spectrum depending upon the issue in question. When I argue that Abortion is a State’s right issue I get some grief from my Democrat friends. When I argue that Gay Marriage is a State’s Right issue I get grief from my Republican friends. The thing that I find strangest in my most strident friends on the Democratic and Republican side of issues is their real hatred for those on the other side.

Their wishes of harm and death seem to be more than words. They want President Obama to be killed. They hope Senator Kerry’s wife dies because she married Senator Kerry. They plan to throw parties when Rush Limbaugh dies. I just don’t get it. I remember when President Nixon died and I sat around the table listening to people talk about how glad they were. I’ve heard people speak in unbridled terms about how they want to kill Hillary Clinton. I once watched in horror as a man told a little girl named Hillary that she had an awful name and she should change it. A little girl!

These friends of mine are convinced that only evil people who want to destroy the United States would vote for someone of the other party. I realize that the Democrats and Republicans together foster this attitude to ensure that voters do not consider third or fourth-party alternatives, but the reality is people make up their own minds to hate.

When you are filled with hate for a dying woman who happens to married to a Democrat or a radio host who spews increasingly erratic proclamations in the mad dash for ratings then it’s you who has the problem. Not the woman, not the radio host.

When you speak ill of a man immediately after his death it tells me all I need to know about you.

Whenever I have this discussion people always ask me if I would have celebrated Hitler’s death. It’s an interesting and fair question. Was Hitler himself Nazi Germany? Am I happy to see one Boston Bomber captured and the other killed?

Certainly Hitler was an evil man. As were the terrorists who flew the plans on September 11th. Osama bin Laden orchestrated the attacks that ended in the death of almost 3,000 of my countrymen. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. So, I think I can honestly tell you my answer to that question. No.

The reason is twofold. The things these men represented are not dead. There are other deranged people out there willing to hurt innocents to further their ends. The ideas are not dead, just one promulgator of them. Secondly, celebrating the death of another person just isn’t in me. I didn’t cheer at the death of bin Laden. I am certainly happy that he isn’t around to hurt anyone else but the death itself just leaves me empty. Not hate, not joy. It’s just sad. A man, a driven man, a man who could have done so much good if his energies, if his mind, were not poisoned with hate.

So many of my friends are similarly poisoned. Not to that extent, of course. They talk of murdering. They spew hateful words but they do not act on them. Still, I find it sad that there is that much hate inside of people I know, people I like.

The end of a life, anyone’s life, is a time to reflect upon that life. The good, the bad, what could have been. It’s not the time to throw a party.

I think a lot of people won’t like what I’ve written here today. They had friends killed by bin Laden or someone equally evil. They truly believe President Obama is trying to destroy the United States.

I understand their hated but that passion does not fill me. I want people to work together, to realize we’re all in this together. We all want to make a decent living, have a few fun times with friends, accomplish something at work, at home. Live a pleasant life surrounded by those we love.

Hate always takes us further from these things. Even when it’s evil we hate.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a many hours of reading pleasure)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Shark Attacks vs Deer Attacks

DeerDo you fear sharks?

Do you fear deer?

The concept of fear is one of the main themes in my upcoming novel The Sword of Water. I’ll be talking about fear in a number of blogs from now until it is released.

I’ve spoken to a number of people who fear shark attacks. I’ve never spoken to anyone who feared deer.

The number of shark attacks in the world reached an all-time reported high of 75 in 2011. Does that number make you pause before entering the ocean? Does it make you want to spend public money to make beaches safer with shark netting and other safety precautions? I wouldn’t think that you’re alone if it does.

Were you aware that over 200 United States citizens die every year in accidents caused by deer darting in front of their car? The chances of dying from a deer in the United States are significantly higher than those of being attacked by a shark. Remember, the numbers listed in the link are shark attacks worldwide. Attacks and deaths in the United States are much lower than the 75 listed in the article.

Sharks are scary looking. Deer are not. Sharks have nasty bitey teeth. They are top-level predators. They are scary. But, the reality is that deer are far more dangerous. Let’s be honest, last year more than 32,000 people died while driving and this represents a decrease! In 2009 some 37,000 people died from drug related incidents. These are largely not criminal drugs but prescription medication.

My point here isn’t to be an alarmist. Life is dangerous. You can be killed by a shark, you can die when a deer causes you to drive off the road, you can be killed in a non-deer related traffic accident, your prescription medication can kill you, you can be hit by lightning, or die in a fire.

The question to ask is if we want to live in a world with no deer, with no sharks, with no cars, with no pain medication? Do we want to trade the experience of life for safety?

The old saying goes that freedom isn’t free. That might be true but more pertinent to the world of today is the idea that freedom isn’t safe. Our politicians promise us safety in exchange for freedom. It’s a bad bargain. Anyone who offers you safety for freedom is up to no good. We live in an ever-growing police state where the government has the ability to watch us at all times, to arrest us without cause, to hold us without charge, and to torture us because we might have useful information.

I guess I’m saying don’t let our fear of deer stop you from driving to the park. Just know they could be on the road and be prepared in case one jumps out in front of you (run it over, don’t swerve).

I’ll be talking more about fear in the coming weeks and months. I think it’s an important topic for all of us to think about.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water

Princess Scientist and Girl’s Self Image

Science PrincessI read a fascinating article at Yahoo yesterday about a woman named Erica Ebbel Angle who has a television show aimed at promoting science to Middle School students. Oh yeah, she’s also a graduate of MIT, has a Ph.D in Biochemistry, and has entered a few beauty pageants.

The reason this seems to be causing an issue is that she is calling herself the Princess Scientist and some people think that this is a bad message for young girls. That being pretty is of equal importance to being smart. I don’t think that’s the message at all but some people are up-in-arms.

The first thing I’d like to look at is the general pairing of pretty or athletic with stupid. Like most stereotypes it’s not completely unfair as many very athletic or very attractive people are not motivate to spend time on their education. Likewise it is completely unfair to associate stupidity either with athleticism or beauty in the individual. We had a player here for our local St. Louis Cardinals baseball club who was both an outfielder and graduated college with a degree in aerospace engineering.

There are plenty of intelligent athletes and beauty queens and many unintelligent, less athletic, unattractive people. There are a great number of people who fit into all combinations of both groups. It’s not correct to associate or disassociate one attribute with the other.

I think this is the root cause of the issue. People are unhappy with Dr. Erica because she is saying it’s fine to want to be attractive. There is an intellectual backlash against putting beauty in front of intelligence in this country and I’m not opposed to that idea but if you want to promote being attractive and intelligent then I see no issue. Not only is there not a problem but it’s a good thing.

Life isn’t just about being smart. A brilliant scientist who takes no time for personal hygiene is largely unwelcome in social situation and cannot use that intelligence to its best advantage. Why not encourage young women to pursue the sciences and be attractive at the same time?

The argument goes that time spent primping on beauty takes away from schoolwork. I not an expert on primping for beauty but the time I spent playing sports was good for me. My time at the gym working on my physical body helps me mentally. Life is a combination of attributes and we do well to work on many fronts. Would we tell a husband and father to ignore his kids to perfect his work? Time being a good father makes for a better worker.

All you girls and boys out there. Play sports, look good, but study in school. It’s not that hard to study and I regret not being a better student myself. I was too concerned with other things and that has limited me. Broaden yourself in every respect. Obsessing your focus on a single topic eventually tends to makes you a strange, unhappy person.

And for you adults who want to limit your children to one thing or another, shame on you. Encourage your children in all their endeavors.

You go Science Princess!

P.S. While there is an intellectual backlash against putting superficiality over intelligence the reality is our society largely promotes that idea. We worship the beautiful and athletic while ignoring the scientific achievers. That’s wrong and dangerous to society. Perhaps fodder for another blog.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Paul Ryan and the Marathon – The Little Lie versus the Big Lie

Compulsive LiarThe recent lie by Congressman Paul Ryan about his marathon time sort of struck me in an unusual way. I’m pretty accustomed to politicians lying about their record, their accomplishments, who they slept or didn’t sleep with, and things of this nature but this ridiculous little lie really bothers me. Certainly President Obama, Mr. Romney, Vice President Biden, and Congressman Ryan have had Fact Checker reveal many of their falsehoods in virtually every speech they give.

President Clinton lied about having an affair which I can understand in a way. That’s an important thing when it comes to the wife and family. When running for office the politicians lie about their own records and their opponent’s record on a daily basis in order to sway votes. Certainly deplorable but with a relatively important goal in mind. But, to lie about the time it took  you to run a marathon? That seems … egregious. I know several runners and the best time they achieved in races are ingrained in their minds. They know them literally to the second.

To lie about a personal accomplishment that has no bearing on anything? I mean, really, what won’t a person who tells that whopper, lie about? Then to lie in such a completely unrealistic way? That seems like self-destruction to me. I want you to know that I’m a liar so I’ll lie really, really badly about something that is easily checked. Either that or he is a compulsive liar. I knew a pathological liar once. He was incapable of telling the truth, he believed his lies when they were easily and demonstrably refutable. He was a strange, strange bird. He lived in a weird sort of fantasy world. I would not vote for him. Frankly, I’d vote for his opponent in any election if he ever chose to run for office.

I wasn’t going to vote for Mr. Romney and Congressman Ryan in any case, go Gary Johnson.

I just have to say that I wouldn’t want Congressman Ryan as a friend. Someone that lies that easily about something so silly is not a person I’d trust in any situation.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire