Hanlon’s Razor

Hanlon’s Razor, as a term, is a bit of a spoof on Ockham’s razor (see previous post), but this light-hearted presentation conceals an insidious tendency. Hanlon’s Razor states:

It is unwise to attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

It is common to jump to an explanation of events by attributing bad faith, malice or conspiracy explanations that, when examined, are spurious. It is more often the case that events are likely to be down to “cock-up” than conspiracy.

Government mistakes are often attributed to some great master-plan to degrade the citizen, but more often than not are caused by the incompetence of the bureaucrats. In this case the bureaucrats cannot admit they are incompetent, nor will their political masters, so they cannot provide any meaningful explanation and the malicious explanation is not seriously challenged.

The assumption of malice can also be seen when reputable facts are denigrated, simply because of their source or other association.

For example: a University publishes detailed research showing how effective a drug is. Then it is denigrated and vilified because the research costs were paid for by the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug. If the research is properly undertaken and the University is reputable, then just because a commercial entity funded the costs, this does not alter the result. All reputable information is worth having. The source may be a consideration, but not a reason to dismiss it out of hand.

Phrases such as “they would say that, wouldn’t they” should also be suspect, especially if that is the only reason advanced to challenge a position.

Most conspiracy theories fail Hanlon’s razor as they typically have little basis in evidence, but more are usually rooted in supposition, association and suspicion.

We often perceive malice to be insightful or makes the observer seem “cool”. However, it is often simply the result of lazy thinking and a susceptible mind.

Not that there are no conspiracies, there are too many evidenced examples to make such a claim: Watergate, cartels, recent financial scandals and government cover-ups to name but a few. However, we should demand more evidence than just the lazy assumption of malice to determine the truth.

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