The Dunning-Kruger Effect explores a question that has boggled the minds of poets and philosophers for centuries: Why aren’t idiots aware of their own stupidity? Or as Shakespeare put it, “The Foole doth thinke he is wise, but the wiseman knowes himselfe to be a Foole.”
Here are 10 fooles who didn’t let their lack of experience prevent them from achieving their goal. Well, at least not at first…
10. Madman Throws Blood, Sweat, and Dick into the Oxford Dictionary
It’s sad they don’t teach this in school, but one of the greatest contributors to the English Language is an old man who cut off his penis while living in an insane asylum. When the editors behind the Oxford English Dictionary sent out requests for contributors in the backs of popular books, many answered the call, but it was avid reader and lunatic William Chester Minor who maintained interest.
Minor would spend the next twenty years working to submit over 12,000 quotations from his cell in Broadmoor Asylum. His work, in the words of editor Dr. James Murray, would become “second only to the contributions of Dr. Fitzedward Hall.”
But the gifts of his madness came with serious consequences. Haunted by flashbacks of the Civil War, involving one particular incident in which he branded the letter “D” on the face of a deserter, Minor’s delusions spiraled out of control, eventually leading him to believe that he was sexually assaulting thousands of women and children in the night.
He would have to dismember his member.
Minor jettisoned his manhood using a small pen knife he was allowed for work in creating the dictionary.
He survived the amputation, but his mind and body were in clear deterioration. Even so, Minor continued his work up until his death in 1920. The final diagnosis: Dementia Praecox paired with Schizophrenia.
9. Failed Rice Salesman Declares Himself Emperor of United States
Some cool morning in September of 1859, failed rice businessman Joshua Edward Norton wandered onto the streets of San Francisco declaring himself “Emperor of these United States,” (later adding “Protector of Mexico” to the title.) Though at first humored only by local newspaper editors who printed his declaration in the paper, Norton’s sphere of influence would eventually grow to encompass the likes of Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the hearts of virtually every citizen of the city. In his 21 year self-appointed reign, Emperor Norton assumed “absolute control” over the country, and on October 2nd, 1859, formally decreed an abolishment of congress, stating “…fraud and corruption prevent a fair and proper expression of the public voice.”
His request of a military overthrow was ignored, as was his pitch to nullify the two-party system. Strangely though, the coins he created, himself, were accepted as a form of currency which he used to pay his debts without incident.
Still, in spite of his numerous bizarre “imperial acts”, Emperor Norton exhibited profound foresight in several arenas such as creating a set of instructions for implementing a League of Nations as well as the need for construction of a suspension bridge between Oakland and San Francisco.
In spite of his eccentricity, or perhaps as the result of it, The Emperor became a beloved town figure who spent his days inspecting the streets in full military dress (complete with beaver hat and peacock feather) donated to him by local officers at the army post, as well as dining for free with stray dogs at the finest restaurants.
So revered was he that no play or performance in the entire city would think to open without first reserving balcony seats for The Emperor.
When he was involuntarily committed to a sanitarium, outraged citizens sent seething editorials to the newspapers pressuring the chief of police to release him. Not only was The Emperor released, but he was also issued a formal apology on behalf of the police force and thereafter saluted by every police officer as he passed them on the street.
Upon his eventual death in 1880, newspaper headlines read “the king is dead.” An inspection of his property revealed him as penniless, with only several dollars and a collection of walking sticks to his name. It is believed that as many as 10,000 attended his funeral.
8) Detroit Elects Illiterate as School Board President
Detroit: Well… eh. It’s a dump, guys. What do you want me to say?
Still, we need dumps like Detroit. Because it’s dumps like these that breed true underdogs!
After all, where would we be without Eminem? Or Insane Clown Party? …Or Otis Mathis?
Mathis ran the city’s school board for years and did so with reading and writing skills deemed “functionally illiterate.” In case you’re wondering what it means to be functionally illiterate, here’s an email straight from the desk of Mr. Mathis, himself:
“Do DPS control the Foundation or outside group? If an outside group control the foundation, then what is DPS Board row with selection of is director? Our we mixing DPS and None DPS row’s, and who is the watch dog?”
But Mathis was open about his academic shortcomings and quickly became a source of inspiration to a city in desperate need of a hero.
Where it fell apart: He masturbated during a meeting with the Superintendent. Many, many times… and in spite of the local reverend’s attempts to defend Mathis’ actions with statements like “he probably felt that it was something she would probably like or she got humor out of it” and, “It happens to a lot of young men. They engage in behavior they feel is harmless, and it’s offensive to certain people,” the fact of the matter is- there’s a time to jerk and a time to work. The court recognized this and charged the fifty-five year old former president with two years’ probation.
Because Mathis also can’t be around kids anymore, (or the former Superintendent for that matter) he now spends his days running “Citizens With Challenges,” an aptly named non-profit organization in the city he failed.
7. William McGonagall Charms Audiences with Complete Lack of Talent
Regarded as the worst poet in British history, weaver, poet, and actor William Topaz McGonagall spent his career as an unintentionally hilarious writer and actor, gaining fame only through his massive artistic failures.
Though a weaver by trade, McGonagall’s first interest was acting, but unfortunately, he was only given lead roles when he bribed the director with cash. And despite his ability to consistently draw a full house, the audience was mainly comprised of friends and co-workers who only came to laugh at his terrible performance.
In one such performance, McGonagall played the leading role in Macbeth, but refused to die at the end of the play as he believed the actor playing Macduff was trying to upstage him.
But an epiphany one night in 1877 would redeem these past failures. With work as a weaver becoming scarce, McGonagall suddenly felt compelled to write poetry. But he knew that if he were to succeed he would first need to win over a famous supporter.
Mcgonagall set his sights on Queen Victoria, though the samples he sent were politely rejected. Mcgonagall mistook these rejections for praise and walked 60 miles through mountainous terrain in a thunderstorm in a fit of excitement to perform a live reading for her majesty.
When he arrived at the palace a soaking, disheveled mess, declaring himself “the Queen’s poet”, the royal guards responded by informing him that Lord Tennyson was the Queen’s poet and told him to go home.
Nevertheless, the incident gained him notoriety and allowed him to survive on donations by performing in local pubs and circuses. However, these performances typically ended with his being pelted with stale bread, potatoes, herring, and whatever other rotten missiles happened to be laying around. With crowd participation becoming ever more violent, the city was ultimately forced to pass a ban on his poetry readings that were admittedly “so giftedly bad [they] backed unwittingly into genius.”
His poems were published by his friends in a series of compilations known as the “Poetic Gems” where, in one such book, can be found his most famous poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster”.
6. Chinese Zoo Replaces Beasts with House Pets
With the head Lion away at the local breeding center, zookeepers in China’s Louhe City Zoo opted to replace him with a Tibetan Mastiff, hoping no one would know the difference. While the large, maned canine admittedly resembles a small lion, visitors knew the jig was up when they heard the “lion” barking like a dog.
In an interview with newspaper outlet, Beijing Youth Daily, zoo patron Mrs. Liu says of the bait-and- switch, “The zoo is absolutely trying to cheat us. They are trying to disguise dogs as lions.”
But the lion exhibit wasn’t the only one with dogs in it. Reports indicate that there was also one in the wolf pen, as well as a small, white fox wandering around in the leopard sanctuary. Large rats scuttled about the snake cage.
The most likely explanation: the crumbling financial state of the park. In an interview with The Telegraph, zoo spokesman, Yu Hua says that the zoo had been run by a private business man for some time at an annual rent of $17,000 USD. And with the Chinese government discouraging animal shows, most non-profit animal parks in the country are suffering.
5. Pilot Lets Son Fly Airliner… Into Mountain
On March 23rd 1994, a Russian airbus carrying 75 souls nose-dove into a remote hillside in what would prove to be a case of “bring your child to work day” gone horribly, horribly wrong.
After recovering the black box, investigators were able to determine that the cause of the crash was the result of pilot Yaroslav Kudrinsky allowing his 12 year-old daughter and 16 year-old son to “fly the plane” with autopilot engaged.
When the son’s turn came to fly, the boy’s strength against the control column overpowered the autopilot function, forcing the plane into a steep right dive. Now realizing the gravity of the situation, the pilots resumed control of the instruments but were too panicked to level out. The three stooges spent their last minutes yelling at each other and overcorrecting the airbus in an absurd series of aerobatics.
Excerpt from audio transcript:
Kudrinsky: Eldar, get out! Get out, Eldar, get out … Get out, Eldar, get out, get out … get out … [gasping] get out … Get out, I say! …
Piskarev: What’s the speed?
Makarov (?): Look on the left, it’s three-forty
Kudrinsky: … Okay … [sobbing] Full power!
Piskarev: Speed is very high …
Piskarev: We’re coming out, coming out, coming out! Right! Foot to the right! Speed is high, reduce power! …
Piskarev: Gently! … Shit, not again
Kudrinsky: Don’t turn it right! The speed [unintelligible]
Kudrinsky: We’ll come out in a sec. Everything’s all right … Gently [unintelligible], gently … Pull up gently! [Sound of impact, end of recording]
4. Vigilante Psychopath Leads Disaster Relief
On the morning of May 26th 2002, Captain Joe Dedmon crashed his towboat into Oklahoma’s I-40 bridge, sending a 513 foot section of it plunging into the Arkansas River.
After “sixth sensing” the disaster, convicted felon William James Clark arrived on scene clad in army surplus fatigues with claims of being a Green Beret Captain in charge of the rescue effort.
But even more ridiculous than his story was the fact that people believed it! With no one questioning his credentials in spite of numerous uniform infractions, erratic mannerisms, and a massive, undisciplined gut, Clark would go on to lead emergency responders for two days.
When his cover was finally blown, Clark fled to Canada in a “commandeered” truck. Not surprisingly, Toronto mounties were able to track him down within days and ship him back to the U.S. where he would receive a prison sentence of roughly six years.
Fast-forward to two months after his release and we again find the overweight officer straying from the path of righteousness. This time by calling the Russian Embassy with claims of involvement in an international plot to assassinate Vladimir Putin.
After further crimes involving illegal gun possession and forging checks, some now believe that Clark is part of a major conspiracy where and a victim of government brainwashing so that he’ll play the role of professional fall guy and act as a diversion in “hot areas.”
3. Teacher of 17 Years Masks Illiteracy by Bringing in Guest Speakers
John Corcoran is a college-educated high school teacher, real-estate developer, author, and president-appointed member of the National Institute for Literacy, who until age 48, skated by with the reading skills of a second-grader.
Mr. Corcoran spent the majority of his career as a teacher, devoting 17 years of his life teaching reading skills to students while circumventing the written word, himself, with clever tactics such as bringing in guest speakers, and calling on “volunteers” to read. As for his college degree, Corcoran admits it was earned only through an unparalleled amount of cheating. Though he only committed himself to learning his ABC’s with no other options and in the wake of a failed business venture, Mr. Corcoran now reads at a twelfth-grade level and is open about what was once his closest-kept secret.
When questioned about post-illiterate life, Corcoran cites reading as a necessity for personal growth.
“No matter how smart or clever a person is, there’s no way to maximize his or her fullest potential without knowing how to read. We learn to read so that we can read to learn. ”
He goes on to say that adults who cannot read are developmentally stunted:
“Adults who cannot read are suspended in the 3rd grade to some degree, emotionally, academically, spiritually, and psychologically. […] learning how to read filled a big hole in my soul and invited me home. ”
Mr. Corcoran has since devoted his life to making up for lost time by promoting literacy through the eponymous “John Corcoran Foundation”, writing two books, and speaking through major outlets such as Oprah, Larry King Live, and National Public Radio.
His favorite book: “The Catcher in the Rye”.
2. Obese Alcoholic Dodges IRS With Recklessly Frugal Diet Plan
After graduating from Yale, pill-popping alcoholic Sam Macdonald wasn’t met with the post-grad opportunities that his Playboy writing, real-estate investing friends were. He was up to his second chin in debt, refused to hold a job, and spent most of his time at the bar. But when the IRS began showing up to his house unannounced, Macdonald knew he had to pony up the cash. But how many corners could he cut? He hadn’t even taken in his nearly brakeless car in God knows how long, let alone initiated a refinance plan.
However, he did have one major advantage: his beer gut.
Like a bear prepared for hibernation, Macdonald would live off of his own fat for an entire year, allotting himself a mere $8 of food per day, with a cap of 800 calories. He called it “The Urban Hermit Diet”, a title that would later double as the name of his memoir. And his plan worked!
Now able to fend off the debt collectors with bar tab and grocery money, Macdonald was free to spent the year traveling the world as a reporter, meeting his wife, and losing 160 pounds.
Even so, Macdonald discourages anyone from attempting the dangerous diet.
1. Boris the Lampholder
Here to redeem the aforementioned idiots is a man fully aware of his lack of technical knowledge, but willing to offer what little he could anyway.
In the midst of the Chernobyl Disaster, a pool of water used for cooling steam pipes became flooded with radioactive runoff and was in jeopardy of causing a thermonuclear explosion. Should that explosion occur, fallout would contaminate the water supply of 30 million, rendering Northern Ukraine uninhabitable for over a century.
The solution: send a team of divers into the lethal quagmire to release the drain valves manually.
In spite of certain death, engineers Valeri Bezpalov and Alexie Ananenko volunteered, along with ordinary plant worker Boris Baranov who simply offered to light their way with a lamp.
Though the lamp shorted-out during the descent, the men pressed on and were eventually able to locate the valves and successfully drain 20,000 tons of water.
Upon returning to base, reports indicate that emergency responders standing by literally jumped for joy at the sight of the men. Nevertheless, their heroism came at a steep price. All died within three weeks of the incident and were so radiated that their bodies had to be buried in lead coffins.