Academics have notoriously diagnosed themselves with impostor syndrome (IS). An idea so good that it has basically ascended to the level of clichéd truism, IS is the phenomenon of seemingly smart and accomplished people believing that they are phonies, who somehow sweet-talked their way into achieving some kind of social status or distinction despite being secretly unqualified. As impostors, they fear constantly that the mask will slip and they will be exposed as the inadequate people that they really are.
This disorder is particularly prevalent in institutions that are highly invested in both meritocracy and ritual self-abnegation — performing arts high schools on TV shows, graduate school, Communist parties and other left-wing movements, various religious orders and cults. (“Everybody thinks they don’t belong here, but the difference is I really don’t.”) The TV series The Good Place was, at least initially, a brilliant meta-joke about impostor syndrome.
Like any process that promotes conspicuous self-evaluation, IS is vulnerable to cooptation by impure motives. Everyone has to have impostor syndrome now, because if you don’t, you must be an arrogant douchebag; if you do have IS, then you are compelled to performatively self-denigrate while fishing for compliments or, worse, humble-bragging. (“I know someone like me could never get into this program… [wink wink…]”) The universal epidemic of impostor syndrome masks an even more horrible truth: maybe we are secretly confident but too ashamed to admit it.
The public health crisis of IS is, though, not quite universal, as anyone who has dated a business major knows. It’s a fairly well-established fact that men are more likely to overestimate their performance (in, ahem, many arenas) while women are prone to more realistically assess or, most often, underestimate their abilities. And human life on earth itself is currently in an abusive relationship with a sociopathic business major, on the most epic scale imaginable.
Indeed, the President of the United States is the world’s most noteworthy sufferer of the Dunning-Kruger effect (DKE), which is basically the opposite of impostor syndrome. Those who are afflicted with DKE think they are smarter or better than they actually are — in large part because, lacking intelligence and morality, they have no reliable metric to judge what smarts and goodness actually are. Somehow, the world is divided between neurotic smart people who think they are stupid and sociopathic stupid people who think they are geniuses. Friend-of-the-blog Jeffrey Epstein certainly never doubted that he was one of the world’s great minds, even if he was merely a pedophile pimp on the speed dial of the least decent people who have ever lived. Clarence Thomas almost definitely believes he is better at Supreme Court Justiceing than anyone since Roger B. Taney.
So it goes. Here is this week’s round-up of the best of the web:
- A brief history of climate change (BBC)
- Keith Gessen on How I missed the Ukraine story (CJR)
- Aarti Shahani’s ‘Here We Are’ Recounts Struggle At The Heart Of Immigrant Family’s Story (NPR)
- Henrik Kleven’s eye-opening take on The EITC and the Extensive Margin: A Reappraisal
- Saving the Planet Without Self-Loathing (Jacobin)
- Winnipeg General Strike inspires a movie musical love story Stand (The Star)
- How Jewish Academia Created A #MeToo Disaster (Forward)
- How Superman singlehandedly thwarted the Ku Klux Klan (Dangerous Minds)
- Unix at 50: How the OS that powered smartphones started from failure (Ars Technica)
- Sandy Hook Promise’s ‘Back to School’ PSA Gives Graphic Tour of School Shooting In-Progress (Pop Culture)
- My father was IBM’s first black software engineer. The racism he fought persists in the high-tech world today (LA Times)
- The Phony Liberalism of Bill Maher (FAIR)
- Man attacked by bison sees date undergo same fate (BBC)
- Sheila Liming on our shared baleful fate: My University Is Dying (Chronicle)
- Chistopher Shaw’s new book on banks, Money, Power, and the People (U Chicago Press)
- SF Man Behind Viral ‘Blinking Guy’ GIF Backs Multiple Sclerosis Fundraiser (KPIX)
- A Hypnotic but Contextless Portrait of Stalin’s Death and Its Aftermath (New Yorker)
- Jack the Ripper, H.G. Wells and, Nearly, Mick Jagger: ‘Time After Time’ Stars on a Curious Film, 40 Years Later (Hollywood Reporter)
- Episcopal leaders condemn Trump administration’s moves to ‘further dismantle’ refugee program (Episcopal News Service)
- A man took LSD and fell in a lake at Disneyland Paris. He was found naked and confused hours later. (WaPo)
- Auckland adman hires professional clown for redundancy meeting (NZ Herald)
- Can I Ruin My Wedding By Playing The Wrong Song? (All Songs Considered)