Assume Stupidity Not Malice

[EmailNetiquettePatterns | CategoryPattern]

Also known as HanlonsRazor.

See also DontAssumeStupidity.

You are replying to an email message or Usenet posting with which you have some strong disagreements or objections. You sincerely try to KeepItCivilStupid, but some people come off as just plain rude or inconsiderate (or even disrespectful or disdainful).

You are trying to have a nice, civil discussion, but someone has jumped into a thread and said the most annoying things. You feel your position is being attacked, your adrenaline is pumping....

Eventually, you take a deep breath, pace around the room a bit, administer your favorite sedative, reread the message, and discover that the poster "just doesn't get it," or (more likely) perhaps you "just didn't say it very clearly" (cf. BlameYourselfFirst). Had you read or written more carefully beforehand, you could have saved yourself all that time and stress in the long run.


Never attribute to malice what can easily be explained by stupidity.

Maybe the poster is being stupid and just can't understand what you are saying. Or maybe you are being stupid and just can't seem to clearly communicate what it is you are trying to say so that others may readily understand it as you intend.

ProofBeforePosting to give yourself more time to discover stupidity. Inform, rather than argue, to avoid getting into a FlameWar in the first place. Then ConquerWithCompassion.

Or maybe nobody is stupid, but someone lacks information or knowledge.

Therefore: AssumeIgnoranceNotStupidity?.

Never attribute to stupidity what can easily be explained by ignorance.

Any reasons to AssumeMaliceNotIgnorance?

-- MarcoScheurer

I HaveThisPattern. Leads to less anger about other peoples behaviour and opinions, but is often perceived as arrogance.

Or maybe:

Sufficiently advanced ignorance is indistinguishable from stupidity -- DavidVincent

This can be expanded on transitively to

Sufficiently advanced ignorance is indistinguishable from malice

Recent events have led me to reconsider the "ignorance/stupidity not malice" template. It is observable that a culture of stupidity via ignorance and fact substitution has been fostered as a way of effecting control. From this I have derived this:

The institutionalization of stupidity is the product of malice.


The institutionalization of ignorance is the product of malice.

(The phrasing "stupidity through ignorance" could also be applied.) -- GarryHamilton

Cockup over conspiracy is the formulation I'm most familiar with.

Or maybe nobody is stupid, but is looking at the issue from a very different point of view.

The best example of this is Scott Adams's "Dilbert" cartoon series, if examined without Adams's stereotypical "The Boss is by definition stupid" blinders on. Aren't Dilbert and The Boss equally tragic figures, trapped in a non-functional corporate system with opposing incentive structures, which trap them into seeing every issue from opposing points of view? -- BradCox

Well, not in Dilbert, where the boss is clearly making uninformed and random decisions. Maybe in the corresponding real world situation.

[Don't forget that Adams hissef claimed that the bulk of his work came almost verbatim from emails. He wrote in one of his books that something like 85% of the emails he gets start with the line, "I am not making this up..."]

"Looking at it from a different point of view" needs some translation:

-- NotWardCunningham

Don't forget, however, that this assumption (stupidity) is the conscious decision to allow the kinder alternative as a first option - sometimes it really is malice, and can't be "square pegged" through the "round hole" of the kinder assumption.

In this instance, reason won't serve. BaseballBat? or TwoByFour tuning (ParkingLotTherapy) will be required.

moved from AssumeIgnoranceNotMalice

See HanlonsRazor "Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence" is a quote from Napoleon.


EditText of this page (last edited October 21, 2010) or FindPage with title or text search