Friday, November 21, 2008

The self-appointed expert on everything

Serendipitously, Alias Clio posted a great summation of something I have had to live in spades:

Of course, no one can be an expert in every field, but the trouble is that many highly intelligent people lack humility and think they can be. And thus is born a powerful mixture of brains, ignorance, and folly, leading to much greater stupidities than those of the merely dull-witted. - Alias Clio

In my profession, I just naturally encounter a LOT of these. This past couple years have been the worst in that regard.

TLD: My favorite episode involved a piece of code that was supposed to move information from one system to another. It was released and it never once worked. We spent 4 months saying that very thing in the status meetings. Finally, when it was generally accepted that it didn't work, someone actually asked me why we hadn't told anyone that it didn't work. To this day, the lead on the project maintains that it really did work, but then adds that it extracted the information from the source system perfectly, but the target system was a moving target - which is an admission that it didn't work, but laying the blame on the target system. For the record, the target system wasn't really an issue either. This lead is the poster child for Clio's coinage.

One particularly tragic aspect of this personality type is they think they understand people. They feel they've got every one sussed out. In my experience, they are the most clueless about human nature, but think their brilliance in one area (and I will allow that they do have one area in which they are gifted) extends to their people skills.

Almost to a person, these folks almost completely mitigate their contribution - the one related to their actual talent - with the nearly constant demonstration of how much of an asshole they are.

There's even a book about these creeps and how to deal with them. (Short version: don't. Fire their asses.)

I've discovered (this year) there's another personality type I abhor, but it's probably more just something that bugs me and not so much a universally hated type.

For lack of a better coinage, it's the "utterly lacking in cultural references clod" (or - to be more precise - the inability to "get" cultural references).

This is the person (say over 30 for this example) who would be puzzled if you asked them "Mary Ann or Ginger?" They'd have to go look it up on wikipedia.

I just wanna smack these people.

What's odd, is I haven't encountered many of them until the last couple years.

Yeah, like everyone, I had a few of those kids I graduated with whose parents didn't let them watch TV, or if they did it was only news or PBS. But, I'm not talking about those poor souls.

For example, this year for Halloween, I went as "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski. As the holiday approached, folks who'd seen the flick would comment on my hair and beard saying I looked like The Dude. But not ONE person who saw me that night (either handing out candy or out trick-or-treating with the kids) was able to guess who I was. Eventually it dawned on me that many adults were just assuming I was a very lazy dad who didn't shave and wore a bathrobe rather than a costume, so I ditched the robe. But before I did, I would tell folks who I was - especially if they looked at me in that worried manner that implied they were bugged that I was near their little sweethearts - and even then, all I got was, "Oh. Is that a movie?" or "I've never seen that." Maybe the election year brought these goons out. Who knows.

I also work with an inordinately large number of people who fit this profile. They would cause Dennis Miller to dive down a stairwell with their blank looks in response to, say, a Poseidon Adventure reference.

Gad, has anyone else run across this lately?

If so, we might have the premise for M. Night Shyamalan's next movie.


The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Right, well as a parent who doesn't let the kids watch TV (except the playoffs and world series; the toddler thinks the black box in the corner of the back room is called a "baseball"), I must turn this around. It's true that my unfortunate 12-year-old and 5-year-old miss many cultural references. But for Halloween, the elder dressed as Poseidon--a pretty great costume it was, too--and the younger as Polychrome, daughter of the rainbow, from the Oz series.

Unsurprisingly, nobody at all knew who Polychrome was, though she's a significant character in the Oz books after the first one, even after she announced clearly who she was. (Except my former English prof who oversaw my senior thesis and who lives in my neighborhood: she knew about Polychrome.)

More surprisingly, few could figure out Poseidon, with the blue robe, seaweedy beard, and trident: "Devil Moses?" was one popular guess. Maybe they would have been better with a Poseidon Adventure reference.

So the girls live in a different culture, one that's just not screen-oriented. They've got all of college to find out who Buffy and Mr. Big are.

P.S. The word verification sequence is "trollop." Hm.

yahmdallah said...

I know you know this, but "not watching TV" is an over-simplification.

From what I've read on your blog, you guys to see a lot of the current movies, and your kids read Harry Potter and such. The kids I'm talking about were specifically deprived of all current entertainments of the day because their parents thought that it was a distraction. From what, I don't know.

So, even though your kids may not get a Hannah Montana gag (which I actually consider a positive - we have an informal pool in our house as to when Ms. HM goes into rehab the first time - my eldest put her money on late 17, early 18), I sincerely doubt your kids are being raised in a cultural vacuum.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think Miley Cyrus has a very good chance of keeping her act together and having a long career. No, seriously. Her dad has achieved a lot with unexceptional talent. Read about him here:

I'm not a fan of country music, but I have to admit he has extended his fame way longer than the usual 15 minutes alloted to people of his talent level. He is a skilled marketer, if nothing else, and he seems to be managing his daughter's career extremely well.

Miley may grow up to be a vacuous bimbo, but I'm betting that under her dad's tutelage she will keep her head clean enough to make good business decisions, protect her image, and keep herself in the spotlight as long as possible.

The scandalette from a few months ago over her semi-nude picture is a case in point regarding her excellent career management. She gets to have the picture out there and prepare the public to think of her as a woman rather than a girl, but she and her dad also apologized and blamed the photographer for it afterward, thus protecting their own clean image. Brilliant. I think she'll be OK.

Sya said...

I would be one of those dolts who wouldn't understand any cultural references because I don't even have a TV and watch movies rarely. Except, despite being holed up in lab most of the time, I know I don't live in a cultural vacuum. There's still radio, newspapers, and general tooling around the internet...

Yahmdallah said...

This is one of those posts where I'm tempted to remove it, since it's coming off more vicious than I meant it - and because folks I would guess are actually pretty culturally savvy are putting themselves in the "not" category.

I won't delete it. But I'll be embarrassed by it for a while.