Confidence, Kissing, and Convicts

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May 5, 2019 by libroshombre

The ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu said we should feign inferiority to encourage our opponents’ unwarranted arrogance. That’s easy for most of us, according to “You Are Not as Good at Kissing as You Think You Are,” a recent NYTimes.com article by a mathematician, Spencer Greenberg, and an economist, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. Their research found that most of us are riddled with perceived insecurities and underestimate our capabilities.

For example, “men’s overconfidence is particularly noticeable in stereotypically male tasks,” such as considering themselves better than most men at playing poker, fixing broken things, and driving. In fact, “the average man thought he would be better than 63 percent of other men if he had to survive a zombie attack.” Meanwhile, “women are far less confident that they can out perform other women in these tasks.” Women do believe they’re better than most other women in understanding others’ feelings, cooking and child-rearing. Generally, we all overestimate our abilities at using computers, detecting fraud, cuddling, fist fighting, and kissing, while underestimating our capacities for unicycling, dancing, soccer, painting portraits, and coping with emotional loss.

Jack Black – the librarian-burglar-convict-hobo-author from around 1900, not the modern actor – grossly overestimated his criminal skills, according to his autobiographical “You Can’t Win,” a 1926 anti-crime book urging fellow criminals to reform. Carl Sandburg liked it: “Much of this book is about loneliness. Yet its pages are bracingly companionable. It is one of the friendliest books ever written. It is a superb piece of autobiography, testimony that cannot be impeached. While it is a statement of an American tragedy, it has laughter, brevity, style; as a book to pass the time away with, it is in a class with the best fiction.” It also inspired William S. Burroughs’ style and his first novel, “Junkie.” Burroughs said, “Confined by middle-class St. Louis mores, I was fascinated by this glimpse of an underworld of seedy rooming houses, pool parlors, cat houses, and opium dens, of bull pens and cat buglers and hobo jungles.”

“Jack Black” was probably his penname, but he certainly was a poor western boy who turned crooked in the late 1800s and hoboed, thieved, and burgled before winding up in, and breaking out of, prison. Black was eventually befriended by Fremont Older, the “crusading editor” of the San Francisco Call, who teamed Black up with another hardscrabble westerner and seasoned professional writer, Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder and “Little House on the Prairie” fame. Lane’s ghostwriting pulled Black’s uneducated narrative together into an American classic that’s gone on to inspire the writings of Beats, punks, and other disaffected authors. Black overestimated his fleeting fame, and when down on his luck at age 61, he’s believed to have committed suicide by drowning, as he’d often stated was his intention.

Today’s cyber-criminals often overestimate their abilities. Reading former Fairbanksan Jim Dewitt’s excellent Wickersham’s Conscience blog led me to his advice on thwarting these bad guys by sharing his Bestiary of Malware. Malware is the software designed to pry into and affect your computing activities. These include “adware” (“unwanted software designed to throw advertisements up on your screen”), “keylogger” (“malware that records all the user’s keystrokes on the keyboard” including passwords, bank accounts, etc.), and “spear-phishing” (“an email or electronic communications scam targeted towards a specific individual, organization, or business” to steal data or install malicious software on the targeted user’s computer).

Using open WiFi connections at places like coffee shops leaves Internetters vulnerable to these and other malwares because cheap, downloadable computer hacking software is readily available. That’s why the public library also offers Ethernet connections, where plugging directly into an Internet connection shields your use. It’s hard to overestimate our library’s qualities, even when looking for a 90-year-old autobiography of a petty thief. Our library doesn’t own a paper copy of “You Can’t Win,” but does have downloadable versions, and they’re borrowing the print version for me from another Alaskan library.

As for your personal confidence, I recommend following Neil Armstrong’s description of the Apollo astronauts’ approach to the moon landing: “Well, I think we tried very hard not to be overconfident, because when you get overconfident, that’s when something snaps up and bites you.”

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