There’s a frequently used “razor” for deciding what direction to take when evaluating the reason for a person’s obtuse behaviours. It goes something like:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity
The Wiki say’s it is Hanlon’s Razor and has some history on it.
Origins and etymology
The adage was popularized in this form and under this name by the Jargon File, a glossary of computer programmer slang. In 1990, it appeared in the Jargon File described as a “‘murphyism’ parallel to Occam’s Razor”. The name was inspired by Occam’s razor. Later that same year, the Jargon File editors noted lack of knowledge about the term’s derivation and the existence of a similar epigram by William James. In 1996, the Jargon File entry on Hanlon’s Razor noted the existence of a similar quotation in Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “Logic of Empire” (1941), with speculation that Hanlon’s Razor might be a corruption of “Heinlein’s Razor”. (Heinlein termed it ‘the devil’ theory of sociology, and wrote, “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity”.)
In 2001, Quentin Stafford-Fraser published two blog entries citing e-mails from one Joseph E. Bigler about how the quotation originally came from Robert J. Hanlon of Scranton, Pennsylvania, as a submission for a book compilation of various jokes related to Murphy’s law published in Arthur Bloch’s Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong! (1980). Subsequently, in 2002, the Jargon File entry noted the same, though not definitively.
Now, by my reckoning, 1941 and Heinlein comes before 1980 and Murphy’s Law Book Two. So I’d attribute it first to Heinlein… but they go on from there…
Another similar quotation appears in Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774):
…misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Similarly, Jane West’s The Loyalists (1812) includes:
Let us not attribute to malice and cruelty what may be referred to less criminal motives. Do we not often afflict others undesignedly, and, from mere carelessness, neglect to relieve distress?
A common (and more laconic) British English variation, coined by Bernard Ingham, is the saying “cock-up before conspiracy”, deriving from this 1985 quotation:
Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.
Another similar instance from politics is the attribution by First Minister of Scotland, Henry McLeish, of financial irregularities that led to his resignation in 2001, to “a muddle not a fiddle”.
“Heinlein’s Razor” has since been defined as variations on Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice. This quotation is attributed to Albert Einstein in Peter W. Singer’s book Wired for War (2009).
I’m also rather fond of the version at the end attributed to Albert Einstein. “don’t rule out malice”…
My Contribution / Muse
There’s a competing pressure in human behaviour. Noble Cause Corruption. This is when someone acts in a malicious way (when seen from other’s POV) when they, themselves, see it as acting acting morally. Now if they KNOW they are doing something wrong, but for a good cause, we can sort of stuff that under “stupidity”. It wasn’t malice as they were working from a noble POV; and it was ‘wrong’. Yet I find that pigeon hole inadequate. Is it not a little bit of malice and a little bit of wrong?
But what does one do when they believe that what they are doing is correct, but perhaps just not fully elaborated enough for those who are not “with it” enough to understand? From their POV they are not malicious, nor are they ‘wrong’ and thus stupid. They are the “useful idiots” of Socialism. Those who truly believe they are right, and acting from a moral POV; but where demonstrating their stupidity is lacking (at least to their satisfaction and perhaps the satisfaction of others…)
Malice vs Stupidity vs Noble-wrong vs Noble-naive.
Yes, I need some catchy phrases to have this easier to remember and catch on… but for now it’s an analysis.
I think this distinction matters, if for no other reason than that the “noble-naive” case person will NEVER accept that they are being evil or malicious, and few will accept they are being stupid. In order to reach the “useful idiot” herd, we need to recognize them as a unique group, and consider a better way to communicate to them where they have gone off the rails. As they were “mislead” rather than stupid. Until the “calling them stupid and / or malicious” is off the table, hurling invective causes less persuasion, not more. (Not that “mislead / under informed” is all that helpful).
IMHO we have this 4 way split and we need to come to terms with it. There are the truly malicious, like, IMHO, Maurice Strong, who set out to take over the global economy via the UN and has made great strides to that end. There are the truly stupid (we’ve seen them in street rallies or film saying the end is nigh…). But most of the Global Warming Theorists are from the other two camps.
Many (very many) are from the Noble Cause Corruption side. Often these are the businesses and UN / Govt sorts who suspect it’s bunk, but know they can make a buck off of it. Look in any of the published Climate Science papers and the volume of dross is huge. The editors, reviewers and even the authors simply are not dumb enough to not know that they are publishing trash. In some cases, we have on record their statements that the ends justifies the means. These are the conquistadors of the Global Warming Theorist crowd. The folks out to ‘get theirs’ while incidentally foisting an empire of dominance on the rest of us natives. All the while comforting themselves that they are doing The Lord’s Work in spreading the Faith.
More, IMHO most, are from the Noble Cause Naive side. The “useful idiots” who are happy to accept a ‘feel good story’ about their noble cause and just don’t have the time or mental equipment to sort out all the deception and errors in what is otherwise a ‘happy story’ for their sense of self worth. In this category, too, I’d put those who have an honest belief in the ‘radiative physics’ as abused in the CO2 model and have an honest belief in the “adjust, homogenize, and fold / spindle / mutilate” temperature torturing methods; then believe the results. While the “science” is actually quite ambiguous (or even outright wrong) those folks (who are often the ones doing the “science”…) are not sharp enough to realize it. While this dances on the edge of “stupidity”, these folks are not stupid in an absolute sense, only relative to the complexity of the problem and explanation. (One could make a case that the ‘malice’ comes in with those who create the hideously complicated ‘explanation’ that can’t be falsified, and the “stupid” comes in with those who accept it and then sometimes even extend it, having swallowed the premise un-skeptically.)
So there’s a 4 way spread of folks, IMHO. Malice. Stupidity. Noble-Corrupt. Noble-Naive. Each of these needs a different approach to understanding.
The “Noble-Naive” there is some hope of getting them focused long enough on a decent enough exposition of the errors for them to ‘get it’. (Though one is still fighting the ‘incredible power of stupid’… and often coupled with willful ignorance as a way to preserve their sense of nobility). To be really effective, there must also be a replacement “feel good” cause for them to substitute so that the loss of the cherished phantasy is not so hurtful as to prevent change.
The “Noble-Corrupt” already know they are making stuff up. Perhaps not all of it, but a lot of it. They have often got a core of “Noble-Naive” on which they have built a response of corruption (like posing as a board member to steal email…) I have no idea how to approach someone who is suffering both naivety and corruption as they have already admitted that they will go beyond what is justified and are comfortable with corruption. For them, there is also the barrier of “fear of getting caught / found out” to overcome if they were to change their POV.
Then we have the simple Incredible Power of Stupid. For folks in that quadrant, it takes a horrendous amount of work to get them to either understand (sometimes impossible) or change camps (which if done while staying stupid is simply a different act of faith and more based on popular stories and peer groups than anything else). These are the folks where propaganda wars are working their evil.
Finally, for the “Malicious”, the usual cure is prosecution and incarceration, but for this particular group many have so arranged things that they are in charge of prosecution and / or out of the jurisdiction. (Maurice Strong, for example, had a large compound in China with a personal guard…)
per the wiki:
In 2005, during investigations into the U.N.’s Oil-for-Food Programme, evidence procured by federal investigators and the U.N.-authorized inquiry of Paul Volcker showed that in 1997, while working for Annan, Strong had endorsed a check for $988,885, made out to “Mr. M. Strong,” issued by a Jordanian bank. It was reported that the check was hand-delivered to Mr. Strong by a South Korean businessman, Tongsun Park, who in 2006 was convicted in New York federal court of conspiring to bribe U.N. officials to rig Oil-for-Food in favor of Saddam Hussein. Mr. Strong was never accused of any wrongdoing. During the inquiry, Strong stepped down from his U.N. post, stating that he would “sideline himself until the cloud was removed.”
Shortly after this, Strong moved to an apartment he owned in Beijing. He said that his departure from the U.N. was motivated not by the Oil-for-Food investigations, but by his sense at the time, as Mr. Annan’s special adviser on North Korea, that the U.N. had reached an impasse. “It just happened to coincide with the publicity surrounding my so-called nefarious activities,” he insists. “I had no involvement at all in Oil-for-Food … I just stayed out of it.”
“apartment” doesn’t quite cover the picture I saw… A very LARGE apartment that looked like a block of apartments, and with armed guards stationed outside.
So short of prosecution, what can be done? Only idea I have is illumination of the evil and corruption. That, unfortunately, will require a press that actually cares and isn’t itself Noble-Corrupt to Noble-Naive. “Facts not in evidence” at this point in time.
I think it is of value to keep in mind the 4 quadrants when dealing with Global Warming Theorists. Unless you can properly place what quadrant a particular person is working from, you can not get them to hear you. Responding with “Malice” responses to a “Noble-Naive” person will simply have them reject you out of hand as yourself being full of Malice or Stupidity. In order to get them to open their eyes and minds and actually question their ‘Received Wisdom’, there must be some willingness to see the source as credible and honest.
Then you must set about having a “simple, obvious and right” answer to replace their “simple, obvious and wrong” one (or perhaps “complex, incomprehensible, wrong but from authority” one…)
Unfortunately, much of my time has been spent on trying to unravel the “complex, incomprehensible and wrong” parts and not enough on the “simple obvious and right” counter points.
To undermine the “Noble-Corrupt” and even harder, the flat out “Malice” quadrants is a domain I’ve not explored. It clearly needs to be done, but “how” is something I’m going to leave as a “Dig Here!” for folks with congressional committees and / or subpoena power.
The simply stupid will need a retrieval of the means of propaganda from the hands of the Malicious and Noble-Corrupt. As of now, the public media are fully bought-in to one story, and that is the evil one. That, too, is outside my turf. The only hope I really see there is that we are in the early stages of a prolonged and deep cooling cycle. If we can ‘play out the clock’ for another 4 or 5 years it is highly likely that even the significantly stupid will know they are up to their eyeballs in snow, and not warmth. But even there, as long as the media are propaganda outlets for the Global Warming Theorists, then it is a race condition between the Incredible Power Of Stupid and the quality of the propaganda.
I do tend to the optimistic notion that even stupid folks can learn enough. I’ve been a teacher and tutor, and the spouse does Special Education, so it isn’t hopeless. I’ve seen and participated in some effective education of the special needs folks. Since that can be done, there is hope for the Useful Idiots as well. But that will require some much better presentation methods on the Nature Done It side. Likely, too, it will require making the Global Warming story very “un cool”. Essentially, illustrating that Green is the New Red and/or Greenshirts as Brownshirts. As long as “being green” is forced as good, and being against “carbon” is being “green”, the propaganda will be effective even in the snow.
So that’s my “contribution” for today. To realize there are four quadrants, not two ends of a line, and that the different groups present different issues to resolve, and those will require different solutions. Proselytizing might work with some, enforced morality for others (such as the “science journals” that really need a good housecleaning of True Believers with Noble Cause Corruption). Identify the quadrant. Identify the better approaches to fix them. Implement operationally. QA / revise and Repeat.
Never attribute to Malice that which is Noble Cause Corruption, and
Never attribute to Stupidity that which is Noble Cause Naivety.