The Wizard of Dom: All Confidence, No Competence

An imposing mask with a man's face on it. The eyes are cut out and appear to be glowing supernaturally. The background looks lush and green and elaborate, like Emerald City from the Oz books.
Image by Dax Dover / CC BY

Hi Page, my local kink scene has been dealing with a mess from this guy who exaggerated his background in kink but was actually a beginner and then went on to do a bunch of damage. What do you think of that? Why do you think that happens? Have you ever seen something like that happen before?

He shows up on the scene with a suspicious amount of experience. He says he was in the service, special forces. Part of some elite branch where he learned skills that make him a prime catch on the BDSM scene. He’s a self-professed expert in knots and knives. Not half bad-looking either. Predictably people around you start fawning over him.

And yet. Something doesn’t quite line up. You’re not sure exactly what it is, but your intuition tells you something is wrong here. Perhaps it’s that he seems to speak in cliches. Or maybe it’s how full of himself he seems.

But it doesn’t sit with you right. It’s like you’re watching an old style TV with vertical hold problems. It makes you ill at ease.

But to everyone else, the picture looks fine. They don’t see it when you point it out. So you keep your distance from him and hope they’re right. That there’s nothing amiss.

He becomes popular. Busy. You start to wonder if you were wrong.

But later there’s a series of unfortunate events. Accidents, mostly. Peculiar ones that you’ve never seen before. His ties don’t hold. He hits too hard and in the wrong places.

Oh, and he also violated someone’s consent.

Once this happens, people finally start looking into his background. It turns out that he dropped out during basic training. And everything he says about the military came from watching war movies. And what little he does know about BDSM, he learned online — only it seems he didn’t read very carefully or retain it.

It’s Easy to Confuse Confidence with Competence

Regardless of where you look — the BDSM scene, the workplace, politics — it’s all too easy for an incompetent person to become elevated to a position of power.

The trouble is this: People have a hard time distinguishing between confidence and competence.

As researchers Dunning and Kruger have demonstrated, the least skilled among us often believe that they’re the most competent and consistently inflate their own self-assessments. As Dunning has stated, “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task—and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task.”

In other words, people don’t know what they don’t know. And in that not knowing, they can come off as mighty confident.

This reality poses quite a conundrum when we’re trying to size up someone new. We can usually get a good sense of whether someone believes that they are capable — but not if they actually are. Not by listening to their words anyway. Or by spending time with them in isolation.

For that, you usually have to look to their record. Their past deeds. And yet, references aren’t infallible. It’s all a matter of who they’re coming from and whether that person is being honest. But with enough data points, you can usually get a decent idea of a person’s reputation.

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Unfortunately, however, many don’t do this. Instead, they become intoxicated by a person’s good looks, their impressive backstory — and yes, their delicious confidence. And often it isn’t until after something bad has happened that they think to look into such things and discover the unpleasant truths that were there the entire time.

That’s when they learn that their Wizard of Dom isn’t a magician but a guy throwing some levers behind the scenes.

One who will tell you there’s nothing to see here. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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