“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” – Robert J. Hanlon.
In any type of political debate, held at any level of political competence, you can easily observe two sorts of people arguing when it comes to explaining situations that have no easy answer.
The first type are the ones I’d like to call ‘complicators,’ or people who see connections everywhere and argue that everything (and everyone) must have ‘a plan.’ You may also refer to them as conspiracy theorists of some sort.
It may sound as though I’m degrading those people (who are in the utmost majority by the way), but I do no such thing at all. Trying to link ideas, people and processes is something hardwired into our brains by millennia of evolutionary pressure and as such is not easily overcome and sometimes can be of use to us.
This article wants to argue that in any complex political debate, where we don’t have a clear answer one way or the other, the second type of people have a much bigger chance of being correct, and, as such, all of us should strive to become such people, even though I know how hard the transition may be.
The second type of people are the ones who argue that you should: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” What that means is clear by the nature of the quote, but allow me to, in some detail, be the one to get this idea through to you.
In philosophy there are types of ‘rules’ that we in the social sciences use to try to hamper our innermost impulses, and be as objective as possible when analyzing an argument. The rules in question are called: ‘philosophical razors,’ and they aspire to eliminate out of hand explanations that are implausible when we have a more suitable one close to hand.
The quotation stated above is one such rule (Hanlon’s Razor) and if it’s used within our daily political debates, we start to see a clear shift in argumentation from: ‘everything happens because X planned it to be so’ toward ‘everything happens because X messed up.’ The debate becomes more congruent, truthful and, to be honest, statistically far more exact when applying such a rule.
I wish to provide a simple practical example that shows how it can be used in our daily political debate, and proves how ignorance (a form of stupidity) is a far better explanation for most problems than malice (or evil intent).
There are not very many things that unite all of us here in Kosovo. The political fragmentation we experience on a day to day basis is so wide that people here argue constantly about the most minor things just because of what those ideas say about their preferred political position (party).
One of the only ideas that unites every single individual inside Kosovo’s majority Albanian population is the love and admiration for NATO-KFOR, and its intervention on our behalf. You are not likely to find many people here that would argue that fact with you, and an extreme majority of us would, without hesitation, show the utmost gratitude to KFOR-NATO, as, to us, they literally saved our lives. As such, there is zero incentive to politically mastermind something that would be disrespectful toward them — right?!
Now, please observe the picture show here and try to tell me what you find wrong with it…
Photo: Elvin Blakaj / K2.0.
If you don’t know by now, this is the KFOR-NATO memorial statue located smack in the middle of Prishtina’s Mother Teresa square. It is supposed to show our gratitude as a nation for those that saved us. It also has a total of more than 10 mistakes in all three languages used in it: grammatical, technical and others.
If you did not spot them all, let me walk you through some of the more atrocious ones:
- REZULTAT-I – has attached to it an ‘I,’ a technical mistake that happens mostly when you transfer Microsoft Word documents from one computer to another. A completely unforgivable mistake but not the worst one, believe me!
- SACRIFIC-E-N – is missing an ‘ë,’ as whoever wrote it did not include a failsafe to assure that ‘ë’ is always present. This is a mistake a grade schooler would not make!
- This one is a doozy! WOMAN is singular!!! So, the sentence here states that in NATO-KFOR there were Men fighting alongside one Woman! Which is at the same time a truly hilarious notion and also deeply troubling proposition to all the serving women that were a part of those organizations. To me this one mistake is worthy of its own article, but, as I need to continue, try to think how we would we feel if half of our population were to be excluded because an ignoramus did not check a dictionary before doing something as important as writing it in stone! This mistake alone is insane to me but let’s continue as we have more ground to cover.
- Two words have been connected as if they were one – REZULTATNJIHOVE are two words — REZULTAT-NJIHOVE — but a space has been omitted. This mistake is the same as the first one and happens when you send a document between computers that use different versions of Microsoft Word.
- The last one troubles me the most, as it shows levels of ignorance not present in the previous ones and it is found in the last sentence of the Serbian paragraph, where there is a missing “NA” between – PODSEĆAMO and NJIHOVU ŽRTVU. The problem here is that anyone that speaks even a word in Serbian, would be able to see this mistake, but somehow, it has been missed. To me, this one mistake shows that the quote was not written in Serbian but was translated, and the only service that would produce such a mistake would be Google Translate. So, without pointing any fingers, this to me indicates that in the overblown ministerial service, that contains more than five times the people that the last government had, nobody saw it fit to consult anyone that knows the language! This is the definition of stupidity to me.
Believe me, there are more mistakes to be found here, from grammatical errors to syntax problems and wording mistakes that make the whole sentence seem nonsensical, but I’ll leave it to you all to find them in this picture because, after a couple of weeks, someone in the ministry responsible found out about the ‘problems’ and fixed them, leaving indentations where the mistakes were and even missing some of them — again!
So, what does this show? To me, this exemplifies the Hanlon’s Razor principle in its purest form, and presents us with the truth behind a lot of the problems here in Kosovo. It shows simply that the real problems in here are: incompetence, stupidity and ignorance, and not malice, genius or evil intent.
The mistakes I have shown you had to have passed between 3 and 10 sets of eyeballs to be made into a statue. From the person whose idea it was inside the ministry, his superiors (maybe even the minister himself), to the people that made it and then those that checked the final work, and put it in place for all the world to see.
So, we can clearly observe that if something like this can happen to an idea that has almost universal support and zero political pushback, we can extrapolate from there that with most things that happen, if the same people were involved, the results would likely be the same.
This is the basic idea of consistency, so we must go with Hanlon’s quote here, and argue that if a problem arises, someone’s incompetence is to blame, not his or her evil intent. Truth be told, in Kosovo that should be the default explanation for everything from the get go, until we discover something that changes our minds.
And lastly, why is all this important? If we start thinking along those lines, we can start putting people in positions of power who have the knowledge, prowess and basic logic to do the job they have been given to do! This is the most essential quality of what governing should be and as soon as we understand that simple fact, we as a nation may start finding those people — wherever they may be — and change how we allow ourselves to be governed.
On the other hand, if we continue believing that everything happens because of someone’s ‘plan,’ we will also continue steadfastly believing the leaders we believe, not because they deserve it, but because we believe in that secret plan – the one that, as I’ve shown you, almost certainly does not exist!
So, changing your outlook on this one idea may in turn change how you see governing in and of itself, and, trust me when I say this, we need that change immediately…
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.