We all know someone whose favorite pastime seems to be knowing something about everything better than anyone.
The one who lamented to a friend, "I told my husband he should not have sold that stock!"
"Well," was the response, "Then maybe, you would like to invest some of your own money yourself?"
That was, apparently, not the right answer. Still, that sardonic exchange, labeled, "illusory superiority," and once confined to inconsequential conversation, has now seeped into our political world, harming the ability to voice opinions, destroying open campus debate, and creating an environment that despite the opinion of the voters, allows government staff to view itself as far smarter than the person elected to office.
Illusory superiority is defined by Wikipedia as:
"In the field of social psychology, illusory superiority is a condition of cognitive bias wherein a person overestimates their own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of other people."
It is a quality that now afflicts many in public policy who think they know most things better than the mayor, the governor, or the president. Back-seat-drivers; this is an army of professional "seldom right - but never in doubt" individuals who seem to be singularly unfazed by their ability to get so much so wrong.
The New York Times, for instance, as the famous defense attorney Alan Dershowitz pointed out in a meeting, recently "took the "op" out of "op-ed".
After the opinion-page editor James Bennet "resigned," and shortly thereafter one if its opinion writers, Bari Weiss, exposed how, at The New York Times, journalistic "sausages are made," it is now apparent to all that divergent opinions there are not allowed to range further than the opinions of The New York Times editors.
If the goal of the newspaper is brainwashing and indoctrination, like Russia's Pravda, its executives, of course, are perfectly right to harness thought; but that is a business decision about profits and market share. It should not be confused with journalism.
The same distortions often hold true for universities and some politicians. To push back against those who appear to have illusory superiority as the self-appointed "speech police" on many campuses, the University of Chicago's Dean John (Jay) Ellison still warns applicants that if "Fostering a free exchange of ideas is not what they are looking for, they might be in the wrong place:
"...[O]ne of the University of Chicago's defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. This is captured in the University's faculty report on freedom of expression. Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, without fear of censorship.... freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others.... At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.
"Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings,' we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."
Those in politics, whether staff or politicians, possessed of illusory superiority may well bring down the republic. Quite a few seem convinced that by losing the executive branch, the House and the Senate, they are somehow saving the country rather than actually pulling the grenade-pin that will bring about the collapse of the nation's economy, free-speech, and our very future.
Why the obliteration of the rights enshrined in the Constitution, the American Dream and freedom of opportunity-for-all, is a hill they want to die on, only they can tell. Perhaps a little less illusory superiority and a little more honest self-appraisal that asks how they can truly serve their country would be in order.
Lawrence Kadish is a real estate developer, entrepreneur, and founder and president of the Museum of American Armor.