Use Halon’s Razor for Good

A half-eaten cookie was left on your plate after a fight. Two people and some cookies illustrate a possible negative in society. Hanlons Razor offers a positive solution.

DON’T CRUMBLE: A half-eaten cookie was left on your plate after a fight. Two people and some cookies illustrate a possible negative in society. Hanlon’s Razor offers a positive solution.

Nicholas Jardine, staff writer

It’s a Saturday around noon. You walk into your kitchen and see a plate of cookies sitting on the counter. You pick one up and eat it, only to learn that they were intended for the neighbors, which you would have known if you had read the card by the plate. Your sibling, who spent four hours making those cookies, immediately assumes that you were trying to do something malicious rather than eat something delicious. Imagine this now all devolves into a fight. Is it worth the battle?

Well, as humans we get into fights over small and stupid things. Often this can be attributed to a reaction to an action. When somebody does something wrong or poorly, we often assume they intended to do something bad and react harshly. I’d like to suggest that people not do that. I think it may be a good idea for us to operate on some variation of Hanlon’s Razor.

You ask, “Wait, what is Hanlon’s Razor? And why did it take four hours to bake one plate of cookies in that story?” I cannot answer the second question, it is a mystery. But the first question does have an answer. 

Hanlon’s Razor suggests that we should not attribute to malice that which can be explained by, for lack of a better word, stupidity. Essentially, people rarely attempt to do bad things just to be bad. Rather, because they are human, they are sometimes incompetent. Just like your sibling who spent four hours on one plate of cookies, or like you, who failed to look down and read the card by the plate, everyone makes mistakes.

A great way to illustrate this is as almost an “innocent until proven guilty” case. Until there is proof that the person in question was actually being malicious, you should assume they were not. It makes it a lot easier to have a functioning society that way. Walking around without throwing constant accusations around might also help you to see the world through a happier and more forgiving lens. Giving the benefit of the doubt to people rather than joining the “cancel” mob, or just being a bit understanding when people screw up really can make a difference.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that malice does not exist based on Hanlon’s Razor. There are plenty of malicious people out there. But, if you can explain a problem with incompetence or simple mistakes, do that until there is good proof of bad intent. Hopefully, if we all do this and try to keep a straight moral compass we can avoid fighting some of the small battles that we have. And perhaps you will need less time to make one plate of cookies.