Hanlon and Occam

I have been thinking lately of two famous sayings, both are remembered for good reason as their wisdom has filtered down through the years. The first is Occam’s Razor which says literally “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” However, in modern days we have translated it more clearly as “The simplest solution is most likely the right one.” The other phrase I have been thinking of is Hanlon’s Razor which states “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”. There is a lot going on in public discourse on politics and it is driving me a bit crazy (as it is with most people).

The first is the ridiculous OK symbol controversy. Apparently, if people want to casually and surreptitiously signal their allegiance to white supremacy, they just have to make an upside OK symbol with their hand. Recently, at the annual Army-Navy game, a couple of midshipmen were seen to flash the symbol behind a broadcaster. Everybody was aghast and outraged. Now, far be it from me to defend the military-industrial complex but I think these were just dumb kids. I mean, I would not be surprised if the military was not filled to the brim with white supremacists. I think there are plenty in the Army, Navy, and Air Force and, obviously, the Police.

However, I have read that these incidents are more likely the Circle game, a game where you flash that same symbol. If you get people to look, you get to punch them. It may have evolved to just be something you get your friends to laugh at. I honestly never played the game but I know it has been around since the mid-nineties. I don’t know if they are playing a game or flashing white supremacist symbols. Little actual journalism seems to occur after the fact, the perpetrators are not questioned publicly. They are usually reprimanded or punished and ordered not to talk about it publicly. Here, the cadets and midshipmen will probably get a good talking to and told to never do it again.

My issue here is both Occam’s and Hanlon’s razors yet again. Having this complex little game where people turn an innocuous gesture into a symbol of white supremacy seems like a stretch. I mean, they could be doing that but just this year an entire West Virginia Corrections Academy class did the Nazi salute in a photo and got away with a slap on the wrist. Yet, a costumed performer was fired at Universal Studios after making the symbol in a picture with a bunch of kids. No public statement from the performer. I really wish we knew for sure whether it was malice or stupidity. I don’t want to let white supremacists off the hook but I also think people have a hair-trigger these days. I wish people would stop screaming at stupid things when there are bigger evils in the world.

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I think the same can be said for the cries of “Russia!” Everything evil that happens now seems to be attributed to Russia when the simpler cause is capitalism and stupidity. Capitalism breeds people like Trump and, to a lesser extent, centrists like Hillary and Biden. Their lives are filled with few consequences and therefore they know they can get away with just about anything. In a world where George W. Bush did not see any consequences from committing war crimes, how can we expect anybody in office to behave properly? The rich will always look out for each other and few, if any, will ever choose us over them. The simpler explanation is that most of our leaders don’t really care about us and are only out to enrich themselves and maintain a status quo with them on top.

The instinct to attribute the evils of the world to Russia (without much evidence) seems to come from a fear to confront that our problems started right here at home. We were too permissive with our leaders. We expected the government to punish George W. Bush and his cronies for their crimes and we were disappointed when it did not happen. How were we surprised when Nixon and Reagan went free? Obama, as good as he was, got away with some nasty stuff with drones and a vast program spying on our own people. Whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden have been punished instead of the people they exposed. It is hard to have much hope that the current crooks will be punished if we have such a poor record of keeping our politicians accountable.

So that is why I roll my eyes every time I see “Russia” on twitter or on some pundit’s headline. While there is evidence that Russia attempted to meddle with our election, there is more evidence of the corruptive influence of capitalism. Besides, the US has meddled in countless elections and more effectively than infiltrating Facebook or hacking a few voting machines. Should we prevent Russia from doing it again? Yes. However, we should also look at ourselves. We need to stop trusting the smiling faces of the rich and powerful when they say they want to look out for us. It is a lie coming from Trump the same as it is a lie coming from Joe Biden.

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To sum up: I think we need to engage in more critical thinking and less jumping on the bandwagon. The more complicated answer is sometimes simpler emotionally but it does not make it the right answer. I feel like people are chasing ghosts and their own tails instead of confronting the real issues. I have little faith that this will change but maybe.

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