Suffering leaders

Mar 1st, 2013 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

Being an ignoramus, I am happy to declare that I know nothing about art, but know what I like. I like Dutch 17th Century and French Impressionist paintings – Vermeer and Monet. Dull, predictable, clichéd, but who cares? Clergy are rarely asked their opinion on such matters, so it safe to stay in the realms of student posters and coffee table books.

Without the vocabulary to comprehend artistic debate and too old to learn new stuff, there was the temptation to change the channel when the radio programme had a feature on the subject of ‘bad art’. Wouldn’t this be someone complaining about how unrefined were people who liked paintings of water lilies and house interiors? In fact, it was about work that was bad in the absolute sense, bad in that it had been executed by people who simply had very little talent.

It was intriguing to hear how some singularly ungifted people had made a name for themselves through work that was truly bad – the feature included a singer and a film maker whose work had received massive attention. In both cases, the artists seriously believed that they had come to public notice because they really were talented. People would go along to the film maker’s movie with the intention of mocking it, yet it all served only to convince him of his genius.

The presenter described such artists as suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect, an attitude defined as:

a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.

Or, in terms that are more readily understood:

The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when incompetent people not only fail to realise their incompetence, but consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. Basically, they’re too stupid to know that they’re stupid.

It was a startling thought that explained a lot, not just about bad songs and bad films, but about many other spheres of human activity, particularly the church.

It has long been a mystery as to how people who have shown little professional competence, and little sign of intellectual substance in their thinking, can bluff and bluster their way into senior church positions, where their lack of ability is evident to everyone but themselves. Next time there is the temptation to feel exasperation at the utterances of certain clergy, there will be the consoling thought that it is not their fault, they are suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.




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