It is an old, old truism that we see what we want to see. Beau Lotto gets into this issue from a scientific perspective. He concludes that we see what we learn is useful to see, not really what is there.
So it is with our perceptions of expertise. Doctors seem to be wise because we need to believe it is so, especially when we are in their hands. Moreover, they have such fun high tech toys to play with. Surely these make them smarter, right? Think again. And generals? When we lose confidence in a general, his tenure is finished. Patraeus knows this. And he is clever. So he took extra care of his image of being the toughest guy around. The kind that chews nails for breakfast. But as Lucian Truscott IV writes for NYT, Patraeus never won any battles in Iraq or Afghanistan. He managed situations in those places without producing military victories. Truscott calls him out for this as a “phony hero” and a strutting peacock. Here is a quote
The genius of General Petraeus was to recognize early on that the war he had been sent to fight in Iraq wasn’t a real war at all. This is what the public and the news media — lamenting the fall of the brilliant hero undone by a tawdry affair — have failed to see. He wasn’t the military magician portrayed in the press; he was a self-constructed hologram, emitting an aura of preening heroism for the ever eager cameras.
It is a serious charge that is intended to change our perception of the man as well as our reliance on generals to solve political and diplomatic problems. Oops.
So how do we then find the truth when our perceptions are skewed? Good question. The first step is to realize our limitations. To realize what we don’t know before we start deciding what we see. That my friend, is a subject of life long learning. When I think back on my life long learning curve, I see more clearly now how I created my own learning barriers based on things that I thought I knew but really didn’t. Ooops. And Ooops again. That is the path we all take to wisdom.