Having shaken my head in disbelief many a time over other’s bubbles of idiocy, I often assume that Hanlon’s razor must apply. Very few are sly enough to manage true malice and manipulation, and instead fall into the “dumb as a sack of hammers” category. And for those…we have Hanlon.
“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”
As my good Interwebs friend Wikipedia explains, the quotation first came from Robert J. Hanlon of Scranton, Pennsylvania. A similar quotation appears in Robert A. Heinlein’s 1941 short story “Logic of Empire” (“You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity”). A similar epigram (“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence”) has been widely attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte.
Another similar quotation appears in Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774): “…misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent”.
A common British English variation, coined by Sir Bernard Ingham, is the saying “cock-up before conspiracy”, deriving from this quotation: “Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.”
So the next time someone does you wrong, think Hanlon…oh HANLON!