I first learn about Florence Foster Jenkins in the book “Weird Pennsylvania: Your Travel Guide to Pennsylvania’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets”. Florence was a wealthy woman who thought she could sing.
She could sing. Horribly.
But she was wealthy, too, and no one had the courage to tell her that her singing was bad. How bad? Had Mozart been alive to hear her sing, he undoubtedly would have abandoned music and joined an order of monks who speak only once a year.
The 2016 film “Florence Foster Jenkins”, with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, describes Florence’s delusion and how so many people lied to her, allowing her to maintain her self-deception. The Wikipedia entry for the film says when she finally learns what a terrible singer she is, she “is so upset she collapses and becomes severely ill. As she is dying in bed, Florence imagines herself singing beautiful opera.”
Killed by her own delusion, her own wrong thinking.
What brings Florence to mind is the unbearably smug expressions on the faces of Covidiots, the 100% certainty, the unbounded confidence that, for instance, a malaria medication or a horse dewormer—a horse dewormer!!!—or some other hairbrained remedy they read about on the internet will prevent or cure Covid. Or maybe they should try that stuff that someone told their crazy Uncle Don about? Forget what those “sciece-y” physicians and epidemiologists say, those people who have those degrees and have spent their lives studying diseases, I KNOW BETTER.
Megalomania: a delusional mental illness that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur. Trump: I know better than the generals. Trump-ettes: I know better than the scientists.
Look at the smiles of the women in the picture, on the right and in the middle. They are proudly telling us all “the truth” and evidently enjoying every minute of it. And the poor woman holding the sign; she understands “sciece” a lot better than all those ivory-tower “sciecists”. For sure. You betcha.
It’s like no one ever told them they might be stupid, gullible fools.
Even when some of them are dying in the ICU from Covid, they refuse to believe it’s Covid. In an ICU. On a ventilator. Doctors and nurses, but what do they know? I know Covid ain’t real. Or maybe it’s real but it’s no worse than the flu. Fox News told me so. Trump told me so. And I—I, the great and glorious I, who cannot be wrong—believe them. So that’s it. They said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me. Ain’t no such thing as Covid. It’s just a microchipped, sign of the beast, dirty commie, big-pharma plot.
And, sure, my wife died of “Covid” but that’s no reason for me to get the vaccine. And no reason, cough!, for me to avoid large, maskless gatherings.
Since we’re talking about intelligence, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say this about myself. On an intelligence scale of 0 to 10, I’d place myself at a 5 or 6. I went to college, worked in I.T., and know how to tie my own shoelaces. But I never made any contribution to relativity theory or founded a billion- dollar company.
So, I’m smart enough to know that I’m sometimes not smart enough. If I need to do some work around my home, I watch a few YouTube clips first and sometimes decide to have a professional do the work.
Also, intelligence is not a be-all-and-end-all. A person may possess kindness or consideration for others, or many other important qualities that makes them a better human being that someone with a high IQ.
With all that being said, the unbounded confidence, the smug arrogance, of the ignorant still amazes me. From whence does it derive?
One obvious explanation is the Dunning-Kruger effect: “The Dunning–Kruger effect is a hypothetical cognitive bias stating that people with low ability at a task overestimate their own ability, and that people with high ability at a task underestimate their own ability.” Or, as Bertrand Russell put it, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”
And maybe the self-esteem movement contributes to the problem? Yes, have confidence in yourself. You are special. But know your limitations, know what you don’t know. And admit that people who have made a career of studying the subject may have more accurate knowledge that your crazy Uncle Don.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.