Monday, March 24, 2008

Stupid Is As Evil Does, But Communication Trumps It All

I kind of like this adage:
Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. (Source)
...but I don't think it goes quite far enough.

I've found that a lot of the problems that plague us today when there is interpersonal strife is much less likely to be attributed to one or other of the parties actively seeking to undermine the other. It's much more likely that they just don't realize what's going on.

In fact, while stupidity might be a major factor I typically feel fairly charitable to my fellow human beings and see more a lack of communication as the cause of friction and conflict. One person has a problem with another person, person A speaks to a friend, person B speaks to a co-worker, words are exchanged, rumors spread, inappropriate actions taken, all leading to hurt feelings and lack of forward momentum - all due to the fact Person A never really spoke to Person B about their conflict.


I'm caught up in a situation like that now with our church, but I see it everywhere - especially politics. Democrats and Republicans don't agree and hate each other not because it's in their nature - it's because they don't communicate. At least, they don't communicate with any real desire to see the other side of the argument and understand the other's position. It's not that either side is evil, and they're not (usually) stupid. They just don't know how to learn and develop ideas.

You can see that here, in an editorial in yesterday's News Sentinel by a young woman named Jessica Davis:

Ode to conservative evangelical
Liberal-infested academia despises the Religious Right for its small-minded inability to simultaneously contemplate the nuances of each side in political matters and sagaciously realize that truth is relative. But, by its very nature, Christianity demands absolutism and rejects relativity; it cannot reconcile with other religions' core theologies. These Christians, then, are merely acting rationally in accordance with what they know to be true.
Ms. Davis champions the belief that Christianity is an absolutist religion that morphs into a political philosophy. Because she - and many other Christians - believe that the absolutism of their religion must, by definition, extend to their interaction with everyone else in the world they reject the idea of open-minded communication. We don't live in a world where Christians are isolated on a hilltop and the unwashed rabble of the world are spread below, unworthy of interaction. To work through problems with people who may not necessarily believe the same as you requires communication, cooperation, and possibly putting for an effort to actually understand what they believe. This doesn't just apply to people of other religions (or no religion) but even to other Christians who don't quite subscribe to every tenet of their interpretation of Christian doctrine. Left-Behinder Capital-E-Evangelical Real True Christians (tm) don't mix with the rest of us, because we don't subscribe to their views. And as such, since the light should not have fellowship with the darkness, refuse to communicate in an effort to make the world (the one, incidentally, in which ALL of us live) a little better for all who live here.

Are they evil? No, I don't think so. Stupid? Some, maybe, but mostly I think they're scared of communicating with others and risk their world-view being shaken. And maybe learning things about other people - things that they're afraid will cause them to rethink their positions, but just as possibly will get them to strengthen their positions and understand how the world works.

So therefore, I offer:
Barry's razor: Never attribute to malice or stupidty that which can be adequately explained by inability to communicate.
Thus I communicate to you. Are you listening?

UPDATE: Ok, maybe I wasn't clear...

I wasn't trying to say that I thought people could just pick and choose what to believe in the Bible.... I just feel very strongly that there are parts of the Bible we don't understand, and some that we have misunderstood. And parts are mightily misunderstood, I think. We only have to look back 50 or so years in our history and remember there were churches in the south that were ready to preach blacks had no part in white society, because GOD said so. And they were believed.

There are people who believe the Bible tells them to condemn mightily homosexuals - not just in word but in deed, picketing funerals of soldiers who are defending this country. There are some who believe the Bible tells them, clearly, to beat their children within an inch of their life, and to horribly opress their wives to the point of involuntary servitude. And to handle snakes without fear of being bitten. And so on...

Yes, there is a Truth. And it's in the Bible, I just don't think humans have figured it all out yet. And probably never will, until the second coming... until that time no mortal or groups of mortals has a monopoly on the Truth..

Now, I'm sure that we all believe we understand the Truth. Or rather, believe our own interpretation of the Bible and God's acts, to be The Truth. And that's fine... it's great to believe. It's great to have Faith. But we have to be intellectual enough to understand that just because we believe we know The Truth, it doesn't mean we can't learn from other people. Even people of other faiths - even radically different faiths. There are always Truths to learn out there, Truths to better understand... Truths to get better perspectives on. And so forth.

You don't have to drop a belief of your own in order to understand someone else's. Communication can strengthen one's own faith, but we don't have to be so afraid that we might introduce ourselves to something so radical it changes our beliefs.

Don't be afraid to reach out to other people, test communications, test boundaries. Be strong in your faith and you'll grow even stronger.


  1. Perhaps I am missing something here, but my problem, is not so much with Barry's Razor (which is good), but in the application to the previous example.

    These people do not have the inability to communicate, they REFUSE to communicate. They CHOOSE, to bury their heads in the sand, stick their fingers in their ears and sing the "LALALALALALA" song so that a fresh thought or perspective can not reach them.

    That is not inability, that is choice, and a stupid one at that for people that like to think they are intelligent.

    In this case, I think we need to pull out Occam's Razor, and say stupid is as stupid does. Simple and to the point.

  2. That's a fair comment. I may have extrapolated a bit away from my original premise, but still the fact people don't talk to each other seems to be a bigger problem than evil or just being stupid. Sticking heads in sand and singing "lalalalala" signifies to me being scared to learn or grow, or come out of a safe shell. Not necessarily stupid, just stubborn.

    But hey, all the cool kids have a Razor. I want one too!