Thursday, May 24, 2007

Curse of competence

I came across an article online about the findings of a psychological study. The research of a professor at Cornell (back in 2000) concluded this: "Most incompetent people do not know they are incompetent."

It's encouraging to know that academia was confirming what I figured out on my own long before 2000.

The gist of the article is that a correlation was found where people who scored lower on tests tended to overestimate how well they actually did; conversely, people who scored better on the tests tended to underestimate how well they did.

Now, we'll not dwell on whether that's really "incompetence" or merely "arrogant denial of one's own stupidity" but instead jump on to a line in the article that struck me as egregiously wrong.

After noting how "the ignorant tend to be blissfully self-assured" and explaining "the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence," it then asserts, "the incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly" because "they reach erroneous conclusions… but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it."

That, friends, is not suffering. That is paradise.

If Sisyphus was "incompetent" and didn't realize that he was pushing the same rock up the hill over and over, he would not be suffering; if he was blissfully unaware of the futility of his actions, he would not be suffering. If he simply believed it was a different rock each time, he might think himself overworked, but he would not be suffering.

I'm not even quibbling semantics here: suffering requires awareness; that is an intrinsic component of the plight. The idea in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was the removal of hurtful memories—of the awareness of the cause of the suffering—would alleviate the pain. And while there's problems with the notion of surgically extricating specific memories, given the interconnectedness of everything presumably stored in the brain, the theme of lack of awareness alleviating—nay, not facilitating in the first place—the suffering is ridiculously obvious.

The incompetent do not suffer, not doubly, not once. The competent people who have to deal with the incompetent suffer, but the oblivion of the incompetent spares them from grasping any of that.

I am so freakin' envious of the incompetent.


"To perceive is to suffer."
- Aristotle
(he knew it millennia ago)

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