But Don’t Rule Out Malice By Ryan Scott Welch

There is an adage that reads “never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity… but don’t rule out malice.” This is known as Heinlein’s or Hanlon’s Razor (there is only a slight difference between the two). Unfortunately many people only go by the first part of Heinlein’s Razor, leaving out the “but don’t rule out malice” part. People using this heuristic decision-making shortcut often think that even though some things that people do seem very suspect, and even though mental red flags are going up and instinctive alarms are sounding, that there must be some explanation, other than malice, to explain the actions of people. This is especially true when the suspicious people are connected to them is some way like family, friends, or even the politicians that they support. Many people using Heinlein’s Razor shrug off these suspicious actions as if they were just a mistake, or maybe the actions that people did were the result of “bad luck”, or possibly that ignorance can explain why they made those decisions. But I would like to focus on the second part of Heinlein’s Razor which of course is: but don’t rule out malice.

Sometimes, some people actually act out of malice. Malicious people do exist in the world and always have, as far back as the beginning of recorded human history.
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I submit that the more likely hypothesis, which is supported by both Heinlein’s and Occam’s razor, is that these politicians are not at all stupid or unlucky, but they are doing exactly what they want to do and they are getting exactly the result that they hope to achieve. You might think, “I can’t believe that my politicians are purposefully destroying/harming (fill in the blank). Well, you are probably right. You can’t believe it, but that does not mean it is not true. Much that is true is not believed at first.

If it is true that the destructive decisions that these politicians make are just mistakes or caused by stupidity then many if not most of the decisions made should be good, right? But if most of the decisions made are not good, can stupidity explain that? Even if these politicians were blithering idiots, wouldn’t about half of their decisions be right, just from the laws of probability, or rather “dumb-luck”?

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