I watched a lot of cartoons and movies. I draw incessantly and carry a sketchbook everywhere. I work in animation and self-publish my books. There are monsters in the streets, don't wear red. Mad bulls and monsters hate that color. I still watch cartoons.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Assume stupidity not malice, or...

Razor threads. I was reading Paul Graham's essay, "How to do what you love" and happened to see that he has a blog. I go to said blog. Top of his page, 19 April 2006 entry is also intriguing. I was keen on this part:

So if you want to discover things that have been overlooked till now, one really good place to look is in our blind spot: in our natural, naive belief that it's all about us. And expect to encounter ferocious opposition if you do.

Conversely, if you have to choose between two theories, prefer the one that doesn't center on you.

This principle isn't only for big ideas. It works in everyday life, too. For example, suppose you're saving a piece of cake in the fridge, and you come home one day to find your housemate has eaten it. Two possible theories:

a) Your housemate did it deliberately to upset you. He knew you were saving that piece of cake.

b) Your housemate was hungry.

I say pick b. No one knows who said "never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence," but it is a powerful idea. Its more general version is our answer to the Greeks:

Don't see purpose where there isn't.

That little tickle, "No one knows who said.." makes me want to know who did say it. This leads me to a MeatballWiki entry on Hanlon's Razor which proposes: Assume Stupidity Not Malice.

Nobody looks at themselves as malicious. If you think the root cause of a conflict is maliciousness, then you'll think it's someone else's maliciousness. If you think the root cause of a conflict is incompetence, then maybe you'll acknowledge that it could be your incompetence. That may still be difficult, but it's a sign of wisdom.

This in turn offered another link to, "Only say things that can be heard."

This advice sounds like saying "If people aren't going to listen anyway, then keep your mouth shut." Thus it seems to advocate social conformity over independent thought and the expression thereof (and sounds a bit like self-censorship), and so it seems evil to me.

It is important to recognize that if people don't believe they have a reason to listen, they may choose not to do so. You can expect certain kinds of reactions from people in certain frames of mind -- including, sometimes, the "ostrich" reaction -- and that is an inescapable truth.

The recognition of that, though, still doesn't relieve you of the obligation to say what needs to be said. Honesty is more important than people's feelings. If the truth (or your viewpoint of it, anyway) upsets people, or if they choose to ignore it, then so be it. (And if it's too complex for people to understand, then what they need is more information, not less. Writing is better than talking in such cases.)

Sometimes it's important to "go on record" with an objection that people won't listen to at the moment; you can always point at it later (like when you're on trial for helping to cause a disaster) and say that, well, you told them so, but they just wouldn't listen. -- EdwardKiser

This is about finding things that can be heard which is different from avoiding things that can't. It is far better to deliver a message that will avert the disaster than it is to deliver a message that will fail to avert the disaster but that will cover your butt. "Honesty" is too often used as an excuse to say what you feel like saying instead of finding more effective, albeit less satisfying, things to say. Consider that you will not live long enough to utter every possible truth. You must pick and choose among truths. "OnlySayThingsThatCanBeHeard" advises you to choose the truths that will do others the most good. -- PhilGoodwin

Backing up because I noted a Wikipedia link to Hanlon's Razor, I check it out. And sure enough there was a "see also" on Occam's Razor, the bloke whose picture I chose for this rambling post. And mind you, I freely admit that I only heard of meester Ockham because James Wood's character dramatically asks Jodie Foster's Dr. Arroway in "Contact" during her witch trial scene, "Do you know what Occam's Razor is?" to which she responds:

"Yes, it's the scientific principle that, all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the right one."

And this concludes today's rant. I've been feeling stupid lately and wanting to learn to say only things that can be heard and finding out that this is hard for humans in general. I celebrate being in this mire today and hope to move on, wheeling forward on the only razor that's mine.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great post, Ronnie. I'm going to print it out and also pass it on to some friends, who I know will appreciate it. Thanks for posting it.

4:16 PM

Blogger Emil said...

love "contact" by the way...i dunno why some people call it a boring movie....i've watched it waaayy too many times, i still find it so interesting! perhaps if we all look away from malice, this world would be a far better place to live in

8:09 PM

Blogger Louie del Carmen said...

Married people know this more than anybody. People process information differently so you can only hope they are as sensible as you are.

Occam's Razor also reminds me of the old chinese saying that goes: "In any mystery, rule out every element that is not possible and whatever is left, however improbable will be the answer"

... or something like that. Spock says much better in "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country".

1:29 PM

Blogger Ronnie said...

Hello, Jenny. I wonder what people make of these items. I needed it because I was in danger (still am) of seeing malice everywhere. Brings to mind this little nugget: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that no one's after you." What can I say, old age catching up with this old dog and I don't do the usual tricks without a growl now.

Emil--glad you liked it. I chase links all over the net. Sometimes they produce great information. Sometimes. I like "Contact" too. Ellie N. Arroway, get it? "Alien" Arroway.

Little Bro, I can see how this applies to couples in a marriage. Or any partnership. But wait, you didn't just write, "you can only hope they are as sensible as you are" ? Oh, 'you in trouble, Joe! May you live long and duck quick from rolling pin.

10:03 PM

Blogger Louie del Carmen said...

Oops! I was actually speaking generally but since the comment came after the married people comment, I can see how touchy that could be!!

I'll hide in the office for a while then.....

2:09 PM

Blogger Louie del Carmen said...

Interesting post Ron. Did you see the John Stossel report that showed that most people are honest? He highlighted a business that ran on the honor system only. (no employees) The customers were to just leave the money they owed in return for the merchandise. Except for one rober (whom they swiftly caught) the business ran great for many years. It was part of the show that was discussing the book "Freakenomics."
And to my wonderful husband Lou, I did read your post. You can head on home and stop hiding under your desk. I can see what you meant to say. I have taken the high road and have decided you were not trying to be malice in your actions/words.

6:17 PM

Blogger Louie del Carmen said...

Oh by the way. Last post is from me, Julie. I don't have an account and was using Lou's.

6:20 PM

Blogger Ronnie said...

Hullo, Julie. Glad to see you post in my leetol blog. I knew what Louie meant, though I wouldn't be a big brother if didn't give him grief about it first, eh? Glad to hear that harmony reigns in your household, wondering how Louie could fit under his desk.

I did see a part of the John Stossel report, people leaving money and taking the paid for merchandize with no one minding the store. Appealing concept, though it can't work in big cities, I'm afraid. One can hope, eh?

Post as "Anonymous" and just sign your name from now on. No need to get an account. Unless we're about to see a Julie blog, that is. Hmmm?

1:02 AM


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