Wednesday, April 17, 2019

"Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence."

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity" (the heading above was Napoleon's version) is a maxim I have heard variations of before but I didn't know it was called "Hanlon's Razor." This article uses a somewhat kinder formulation: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect." It's a good thing to remember.
.... Hanlon’s razor can provide insights when we deal with people, institutions, or entities which we dislike. The more we dislike someone or something, the more likely we are to attribute their actions to malice. When someone we dislike makes a mistake, reacting with empathy and understanding tends to be the last response. Acting in an emotional way is natural, yet immature. It can only worsen the situation. The smartest solution is, no matter how much we dislike someone, to assume neglect or incompetence. ....

Modern media treats outrage as a profitable commodity. This often takes the form of articles which attribute malice to that which could be explained by incompetence or ignorance. We see examples of this play out in the media multiple times a day. People rush to take offense at anything which contradicts their worldview or which they imagine to do so. Media outlets are becoming increasingly skilled at generating assumptions of malicious intent. When looking at newspapers, websites, and social media, it can be beneficial to apply Hanlon’s razor to what we see. .... (more)

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