Hanlon reveals less malice, more humanity

Sorry it’s been so quiet here of late.  The last few days have been filled with adjusting to a new country and climate, more meetings than I care to list, and–both important and topical–the broad strokes of a series on the power dynamics and interconnections of health care in the United States.  More on that coming Monday.

Meanwhile, boing boing highlights my favorite argument against conspiracy theories:

But as former Nixon aide G. Gordon Liddy once told me (and he should know!), the problem with government conspiracies is that bureaucrats are incompetent and people can’t keep their mouths shut. Complex conspiracies are difficult to pull off, and so many people want their quarter hour of fame that even the Men in Black couldn’t squelch the squealers from spilling the beans. So there’s a good chance that the more elaborate a conspiracy theory is, and the more people that would need to be involved, the less likely it is true.

Or, as Hanlon’s Razor implores, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”  Lincoln, JFK, the moon landing, UFOs, 9/11, Taylor Hicks winning American Idol…  Assuming a conspiracy accords far too much credit to the organizations involved.  That’s not to say that omnipotent organizations with sinister motives don’t exist…  well, yeah, actually that is what I want to say.

Hanlon is relevant to far more mundane matters, too–like health care.  Evil congressmen?  Nah, they’re probably well-intentioned people under a lot of pressure.  Diabolical insurance companies?  Nope, just a few companies trying to survive and protect single-digit profit margins.  Greedy pharmaceutical companies?  Well, maybe a little, but the vast majority of their employees are just trying to do good work in their narrow sphere of influence.  We often confuse organizations with the people who work in them, forgetting that anthropomorphizing organizations assumes too much of the firm and too little of its employees.

There’s no quick and easy moral here, just a nascent thought that it might be worth ratcheting down the rhetoric and thinking clearly about what it is we think and why we think it.  That clarity should produce better answers, or at least better questions, and it might remind us that ultimately we are all in this together.

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