Covid and Hanlan’s Razor
Malice and incompetence usually go together, not apart.
Many of us have heard the maxim; “never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by mere stupidity or incompetence.” This has probably been stated in one way or other from the beginning of writing. It has been attributed to figures from Napoleon to Aristotle.
Recently someone called Richard Hanlon has been given ownership, and the trope “Hanlon’s Razor” was coined. This came about when the “Murphy’s laws” compilation was being assembled. It was suggested by this Hanlon for inclusion in the second instalment.
I have some quibbles with it. “Stupidity” and “Incompetence” are often used interchangeably. However, incompetent people can be highly intelligent. Really stupid people usually do not get into positions in which to do much damage.
Incompetent people are often of mediocre intelligence. Yet many people who are not brilliant but have a good basic judgement are able to do a good job in complex situations. Really, incompetence usually has to do with deficiencies in character and in thinking skills, rather than with basic intelligence.
As for the idea of malice versus incompetence, in fact malice most often comes out of incompetence and vice versa. Incompetent people are well known for attacking anyone or anything which shows up their incompetence. Especially, anything that might take away their prestige and status, or remove or displace them from their privileged positions.
So the contradiction to Hanlon’s razor is that malice usually derives from incompetence, and malice also generates incompetence. So the first question to be asked when something is being done/not being done in a bad way which is causing harm is; is this malice a cause, or a result? Most of the type of problems usually labeled as “conspiracy theories” would be easier to understand if framed in this way.
The sars2/covid pandemic is clearly a malice. There is no good reason why the pandemic should be doing so much harm. We know how to control it and minimize damage, even if it is impossible for just one country to eliminate it permanently.
The damage is being done not by the virus itself but by the failure of governments all over the world to respond competently. They had a good idea of what to do, right from the start, and it was not difficult. All were bombarded by misinformation from organizations like the UN based World Health Organization (WHO) and the American based Center for Disease control, (CDC) but these are now fully discredited.
The examples are there of countries which were able to manage covid so as to minimize its harmful effects. Often they started out doing so and then for no obvious reason dropped all measures and “let it rip.” On examination, the cause of this has usually been pressure from business organizations, foreign and domestic.
The pattern is emerging of ‘control the disease’ countries becoming predominant, while the ‘let it rip’ mentality is becoming concentrated in the ‘western’ or ‘Atlantic’ countries, with some outliers. Generally, the strongly individualist and capitalist countries, which are now in serious decline, are accelerating their decline by refusing to deal with the pandemic. The consistent motivation has been malice toward whatever interferes with economic activity, or to whatever threatens to reverse an agenda of reducing government provision of services to the public.
Another factor causing unnecessary spread of disease has been the extreme dogmatism of a world wide public health community, based on the UN and WHO. These entities are dangerously dependent on funds from world wide ‘Big Pharma’. These people did great harm by their rigid adherence to the idea that sars2/covid must spread on surfaces and droplets, not through the air.
This led to resistance to masking up, and then to using the wrong types of masks. It led to the complete waste of time spent on cleaning surfaces. It led to plexiglass barriers, which concentrated the virus in eddies. The way these same dogmas penetrate public health systems all over the world, right down to local hospitals, is instructive.
It is true that the focus on cleaning surfaces instead of on cleaning the air had been a dogma of health science academics for a long time. In the previous century, the bad diseases had lived on surfaces or in water. They were largely defeated by sanitation and clean water supplies.
Airborne diseases have been easier to deal with by vaccines and quarantines, until now. The idea that such diseases are going to become more common due to the modern way of life and will require ‘cleaning the air’, the way water supplies were cleaned up a century ago, is slow to penetrate the thinking of health bureaucrats.
As a result, health workers all over the world are forbidden to wear correct, “N-95 or equivalent” type masks, resulting in a high attrition of such staff and a rapid breakdown of local health systems. Those pointing out the emergent facts about the disease are treated as cranks and pariahs, and removed from key positions. This is about malice, not incompetence; a vindictiveness toward anyone or anything showing up serious error.
Clearly, the failure to deal with sars2/covid is due to malice more than incompetence. People in key positions know how to do better, but will not. This is due to hostility to varying the set ways of doing things; in effect, hostility to the public good.
But is this malice a cause or a result? This question is important because it shows us how to end obstruction of antipandemic measures, thus ending the pandemic. The key people making these bad decisions, the health bureaucrats, the public officials, the media managers, are in their positions for reasons.
These are generally not incompetent people. They are highly qualified within their narrow fields of expertise. The problem is that their loyalties are to something other than the publics they are supposed to be serving.
In the case of these health bureaucrats, they are clearly committed to ‘big Pharma’ and to the health and research institutions it funds. Pharma’s interests are directly opposed to the public’s interests. The Pharma industry’s obvious interest is in selling vaccines and treatments, not in eliminating the need for them.
Thus the Industry has an inevitable conflict with the public. It is the public’s enemy, in a state of malice toward it. To preserve its power and profits, it must insure that those in key positions in all institutions related to public health administration are incompetent in certain ways.
As for the government officials who block pandemic measures so as to ‘force open’ the economy, their interests lie with the financial industry, and thus also against the public interest. It is the same with most media managers. The problem is that the economies in core Atlanticist states has become totally financialized; levered up so that even the minor economic slowdown needed to deal with the pandemic will lead to a catastrophic crash.
This Atlanticist Global financial oligarchy is clearly on its way out. Its actions in recent years have been very incompetent. However, they are simply doing what has worked very well for them for many years, but is no longer working.
In other words, they have been fairly competent at what they did, but what they were experts at is now becoming obsolete. They are acting maliciously to try to regain control, and because they do not know what else to do. So, their malice comes from their incompetence but their incompetence comes from flawed character, not stupidity.
Framed in this way, Hanlon’s razor is a false dichotomy. It is not usually incompetence or malice, but malice and incompetence. The real point is to remove from positions of power flawed characters who act with the malice of incompetence.
This is true of the sars2/covid calamity, and of the concurrent global economic calamity and danger of general war. It is likely true of any calamity to which Hanlon’s razor might be applied.
Thus, the question to be asked when things go oddly wrong is not; “can this be adequately explained by incompetence?” Usually it can be if you do not want to look closely. However, incompetence does not just happen.
Usually, the real question to ask would be; “how did these critical positions come to be filled by these incompetent persons?”
We are told by Mister Dunning and Mister Kruger that really incompetent people usually do not realize their incompetence. In that case, it is the responsibility of others to make the person aware of his/her incompetence and to deal with any malicious reaction.
Someone may have been competent when put into the position. The person may have grown incompetent for some reason, including by allowing his/her self to be deluded or intimidated by malicious forces. Or the requirements of the position may change, the person cannot change with it, and may act maliciously rather than surrender privilege.
It is very common now for powerful interests, with a malicious relation to the public’s interest, to be able to place their selected people into key public positions. These people may be selected for incompetence. They may be competent enough in their own way. But they will be loyal to the interests of those who put them in the position and malicious toward the general good.
To conclude, I hereto propose my own ‘razor’; “Where there is incompetence, there is generally malice as well.”
When a world wide crisis like sars2/covid is handled with such consistent incompetence over so long a time, and in so many places, there is some widespread malicious entity at work. There are still twits who will label this statement “conspiracy theory”.
Widespread conspiracies against the public good are very well known. People using the language of ‘conspiracy theory” are talking out of malice and incompetence.