Friday, December 3, 2021

Avoiding "Stupid"


Absolute certainty is a characteristic of the Dunning-Kruger effect. As a general rule, avoid taking advice from people who still go by diminutive names like Boo-boo, Sissy and the like.

One of the best ways to avoid doing stupid things is to seek wise counsel.

It has never been harder to find "wise counsel".

The internet's echo-chamber effect creates the illusion of certainty when none is warranted. The internet is a positive-feedback device and systems with embedded positive-feedback loops are inherently unstable.

"Likes" beget more likes. Absolute certainty is rewarded with return visits or "helpful" votes.

The only reason the internet still exists is because of the unimaginably small amount of energy to transfer a single byte and to illuminate a single pixel.

Otherwise, the astronomical waste of time and bandwidth would have driven it from this galaxy.

I scraped together a short list to winnow the wannabes from those who probably can offer valuable advice.

A few warning signs to consider when seeking "wise counsel"

The person offering advice stands to benefit: Will the person offering advice benefit in any material way, either now or in the foreseeable future? That would include the shade-tree mechanic who finds something horribly wrong with your vehicle and then "generously" offers to buy it for 25% of its Blue-book value.

Absolutist: Many times the wisest course of action involves a portfolio of contingency plans. The future is murky. It is good to have a second torpedo locked in the launching tubes...just because.

Inappropriate certainty: As discussed in an earlier blog post, most people "round" 80% likelihood to "absolutely certain". A wise person will be cognizant of the fact that there will be context he is unaware of. For example, he might truly believe that the Ruger 10/22 is absolutely the single best choice for a one-firearm-battery in a survival scenario .AND. still be aware that there are environments where it is a horrible choice.

Intolerant of questions: The difference between a cult and a "legitimate" religion is how the leaders respond to questions. Cults vilify and "other" members who ask un-approved questions.

An example from the Covid drama: People were drummed out of organizations and access to the internet for asking about Ivermectin or anti-coagulant therapy or Vitamin D and zinc.

Demand urgency: It is the classic method of hard-sell. Buy it now or the other customer will buy it. Sale ends at midnight. Decisions made under time-pressure are rarely optimal decisions. Ask yourself, why does this person who claims to offer "wise counsel" want to push me into decisions that are unlikely to be optimal for ME?

Wing-of-bat, eye-of-newt explanations: While reality is often complicated, it is usually possible to capture the essence of something with a few simple sentences.

Explanations that are long, self-referential, circular and rely on jargon are not trustworthy.


  1. Very good points.
    Also, use multiple references or counselors. Be skeptical of someone who insists they are the only one who has the answer or who blocks you from checking other sources.

    1. I agree.

      I will even extend that observation to be leery of advisors who give you a short list of "acceptable" second opinions. They are likely to be echoes of the first guy and the likelihood of getting a true, fresh, second opinion is about nill.

  2. Well said, and yes, multiple plans are a necessity! The best plan never survives first contact with the enemy.

  3. If Yogi had listened to Boo-Boo, he would have gotten into a lot less trouble.

  4. Thanks for quantifying what my brain and gut have discerned from years of learning the hard way.

    Long long ago, Grampaw asked uncle Ted and Dad, "Boys, what is the best way to learn?"

    Ted instantly replies, "Experience is the best teacher!"

    "WRONG!", accompanied by a cuff to the head.

    Dad, quietly, but with certaintude, "Observation."

  5. markshere2, you are spot on. Observation is generally a lot less painful than experience.


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