Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.


Hanlon’s Razor

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings,The Network Geek at Home,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:22 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

So, I was thumbing through my copy of The New Hacker’s Dictionary and I came across this gem:

Hanlon’s Razor /prov./

A corollary of Finagle’s Law, similar to Occam’s Razor, that reads “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” The derivation of the Hanlon eponym is not definitely known, but a very similar remark (“You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.”) appears in “Logic of Empire”, a 1941 story by Robert A. Heinlein, who calls it the `devil theory’ of sociology. Heinlein’s popularity in the hacker culture makes plausible the supposition that `Hanlon’ is derived from `Heinlein’ by phonetic corruption. A similar epigram has been attributed to William James, but Heinlein more probably got the idea from Alfred Korzybski and other practitioners of General Semantics. Quoted here because it seems to be a particular favorite of hackers, often showing up in sig blocks, fortune cookie files and the login banners of BBS systems and commercial networks. This probably reflects the hacker’s daily experience of environments created by well-intentioned but short-sighted people. Compare Sturgeon’s Law.

Now, you might wonder why I mention this. Or, you might not, if you know me well enough. Oh, don’t misunderstand me, I do believe in evil, after a fashion, but most of the “evil” perpatrated against me is mainly stupidity and selfishness, not real, capital “E”, evil. But, then again, there are a lot of stupid, selfish people running around out there, so it does add up after a bit. Now, I’m not being mean or arrogant or anything that anyone reading this hasn’t been before either. I’m just writing it “out loud”, so to speak. I mean, you have to admit, the mass herd of humanity has gotten in your way and irritated you sometime in the past month, haven’t they? But, does that make the idiot who cut you off or called you a name on the phone or whatever “evil”? No, just an idiot.
That’s all. It just struck me as an important thought that I should share with my readers.

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones."
   --Phillips Brooks


  1. I didn’t realize there was a correlation between hacker/coders and the inimitable Robert A. Heinlein, but it makes perfect sense. Heinlein buried nuggets of significant social commentary in places most people would never look. Easter eggs for a typewriter generation!

    Comment by WhiteGuy — 6/27/2006 @ 10:26 am

  2. It’s funny you should mention that, condsidering what I saw in the news today…

    Comment by the Network Geek — 6/27/2006 @ 12:55 pm

  3. Oh, I would expect him to be well-known in space circles, I just didn’t know he had a geek following. And by “buried” I meant that his books/stories were catagorized as “juveniles” in his early days. Wanna change the world? Captivate the juvenile mind.

    Comment by WhiteGuy — 6/27/2006 @ 5:39 pm

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