You may not have heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect. However if you’re like most Ring of Fire followers, you’ve encountered it frequently. It may have been at family gatherings where your dull Uncle Fred starts pontificating on right-wing talking points, using references from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity to make his point – or around the water cooler at work, when a fellow employee starts spouting off about how brilliant a leader George W. Bush was, or how President Obama is a “secret Muslim.”

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is named for the two Cornell University researchers who were the first to conduct formal studies and publish a paper on the condition. However, it has long been recognized by philosophers, scientists and almost anyone else with half a brain. Fans of the 1970s sitcom, All In The Family, have seen it on display in the character of Archie Bunker. William Shakespeare noted it over four centuries ago, when he wrote, “The Fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a Fool” (As You Like It, Act V, Scene 1). Even the Rabbi of Nazareth commented on it in the Gospel of Matthew: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

In basic terms, people with low levels of intelligence, skill, judgment and ability greatly overestimate their own competency – and sorely underestimate that of virtually everyone around them. You can listen to Mike Papantonio and Ed Schultz discussing this topic right here. These low-skilled, low-information people are not necessarily mentally challenged due to a congenital condition. Rather, they are mentally lazy; these are the slackers who always sat at the back of the class, chewing gum and wasting their time (as well as that of their teachers). They never read a book or even looked at a newspaper, never bothered to learn anything about world events, important social issues or how their government works – but chances are good that they were up on the latest celebrity gossip and pop culture trends.

Back then, the rest of us might have found this annoying, pitiable and even amusing. Today, however, this kind of willful ignorance is posing a serious danger to the country – and even the world. The reason is that too many of these idiots have managed to worm their way into positions of  influence – and are thus able to exert that influence over others like them.

For example, consider the politicians, corporate CEOs and the “biostitutes” (so-called “scientists,” bought and paid for by aforementioned CEOs) who are in complete denial over the clear and present dangers of global climate change. They have allowed their greed and lust for power and control to guide all of their decisions. The CEOs cannot and will not see beyond next quarter’s profit and loss statement or this weeks stock prices. The “scientists” think only of those generous paychecks, while the politicians are completely focused on campaign contributions for the next election cycle. The thought that their greed and short-sightedness is destroying the planet for their children and grandchildren  does not even cross their minds.

Then, there are the theocrats and religious fundamentalist fanatics, seeking to “immanentize the eschaton,” a fancy term describing their efforts to bring about the “End Times.” These people may or may not recognize the threat of global climate change. It doesn’t matter, because they don’t care. These psychopaths actually want to see the planet burn up, whether due to a buildup of greenhouse gases or global nuclear war. After all, It Is Written in the Scriptures that a Great, Supernatural Cloud Being will either take them up to Paradise, or return to Earth and make All Things New – but only after great Tribulation and massive human suffering. If they and their leaders can bring about these events sooner, so much the better.

Finally, there are the masses of virtually brain-dead zombies who haven’t a clue about important world events and how these events affect their own lives. Nonetheless, they’re experts on what Kim Kardashian is wearing, or Paris Hilton’s latest exploits, or what’s going on with Brad and Jen. Tragically, this is exactly what the mainstream corporate media feeds them, constantly. If it even touches on real issues, coverage of those issues is done in such a superficial and shallow manner that it is virtually meaningless. To these folks, “climate change” is some vague concept that politicians and hippie environmentalists have their panties in a knot over. As long as they can sit on their asses, watching  American Idol and Duck Dynasty while chowing on glitzy-packaged snack foods made from sawdust, GMOs, salt and sugar, washing it all down with  quart-sized bottles of high-fructose corn syrup-laced soda, they aren’t too concerned one way or another.

It’s an ugly picture, and it’s not getting any better. The worst part of it: we may all wind up paying the price because of willfully stupid and ignorant people who suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect – and  are incapable of realizing it.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues.