Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Eriksson’s Razor(s)

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One of the main cognitive problems among humans is an overly large tendency to assume a conscious driving force of some kind, even when it is not necessary to explain the observed phenomena. For instance, a dominance of Jews in some area does not require a Jewish World Conspiracy—it might just as well be a result of different personal or cultural characteristics (e.g. a higher average IQ to explain success in science) or Jews being directed by outside forces (in the case of medieval banking). Ditto the Feminist paranoia “the Patriarchy”. Ditto the alleged “systemic racism” that makes head-lines in the U.S. at the moment, which, to the degree that it at all exists, is better explained by individual actions than systemic problems, and is largely a misinterpretation or incorrect explanation of observations to begin with—much of it discussed in “The Bell-Curve” decades ago.

Similarly, we do not need to postulate a divine creator or an extraterrestrial intervention to explain life as we know it: known chemical processes followed by Evolution suffices. We certainly need not give Evolution a teleological aspect, as with naive ideas of eyes having evolved for the purpose of seeing or that Evolution would be a continual, automatic process from worse to better. (The latter include such whoppers as ascribing the post-industrial increases in human height or the Flynn effect mostly to Evolution and being blind to the risk of a dysgenic effect from the currently low evolutionary pressure.)

That earth-quake was not caused by the wrath of the gods, but by natural processes in the Earth. That ball did not hit little Billy in the head because it was “stupid” or “mean”, it did so because external influences moved it to do so, including the wind and little Bobby. (Little Bobby, in all fairness, might have deliberately tried to hit little Billy, but there is a fair chance that he was genuinely just trying to score a point.)

I have seen so much absurd behavior from e.g. civil servants and customer service staff that I have often been tempted to assume a conspiracy—but I know that sheer incompetence is a (much, much) more likely explanation. Why would both the German “IRS” and DHL, e.g., be out to get specifically me? They might have an aversion to Swedes*, but shit happens all the time, even when my counter-part has no way of knowing** that I am a Swede. In those cases where I have a legitimate reason to suspect that my being a Swede was an issue, it has usually*** been in an indirect manner, e.g. that I might have had problems getting my first job in Germany because my German was quite poor at the time—or been something going back to the individual at hand, not a massive anti-Swede sentiment or deliberate policies directed at keeping Swedes down. If we look at foreigners in general, the risk of negative sentiments might be considerably larger, but would genuine xenophobes care about the few Swedes (geographical neighbors and members of another Germanic people) when there are Turks and Arabs to worry about? Unlikely, but my negative experiences remain.

*I am a Swede living in Germany.

**Most persons and entities that I casually interact with would not have access to this information through e.g. files, my name could easily be explained by a single Swedish great-grandfather, and many will have no opportunity to deduce otherwise. For instance, the DHL never rings my doorbell and can, therefore, not deduce my status through a Swedish accent. For instance, someone who sees me in the street would have little reason to reflect on the possibility that I am not a born-and-bred German. However, I could easily see how e.g. a Black man with a name like “LeBron Ali” could have drawn the opposite conclusion based on even my set of experiences (if transferred to him).

***One truly glaring exception was my first German bank account, at the now defunct Dresdner Bank. The bank refused to hand out the PIN for my ATM card, claiming something about my youth or my status as a student and explicitly telling me to go to the counter every time I wanted to make a withdrawal. I took this at face value at the time, but was soon told that this was unheard of by other students in the same age bracket and even another branch of the same bank called it an absurdity.

Even in the case of the Left, where there is some reason* to assume deliberate large-scale driving forces, chances are that much what might look like a conspiracy is just coincidence or caused by “natural” forces. For instance, the trigger for this text is a Mike Whitney text on UNZ, which pushes the envelope of a Leftist U.S. Conspiracy beyond the plausible.** For instance, is the DNC an evil force masterminding everything that happens—or is it just driven hither and thither by attempts to use the unstable political winds? For instance, is journalism (ditto, m.m., colleges, and whatnot) dominated by Left-leaning people because of a conspiracy, because people with Leftist opinions coincidentally are more interested in journalism, or because many Left-leaning people have independently (and to a higher degree than “Right”-leaning) had thoughts like “if I become a journalist [professor, whatnot], I have the opportunity to push my political agenda”? Has non-Leftist journalists [professors, whatnot] had a harder time to be accepted or get printed because of a systematic mistreatment by their peers or because the Left has had a majority and contained sufficiently many intolerant and bigoted individual journalists?***

*As with the “long march through the institutions”, the Frankfurt School, and Marcuse. (More on him in a later text.)

**Not to deny that individual portions of his writings might be correct or make sense, but when taken as a whole the result becomes highly dubious. I do not give specific examples, because the text and reasoning is confused, draws strongly on other sources, and it is hard to say for certain what individual speculation is right or wrong.

***If so, with the implication that the reverse might have happened if the Left had been a small enough minority in the press. (I use “might” as my experience with the Left and the non-Left point to a greater intolerance problem within the Left.)

A conscious driving force, a conspiracy, a deliberate attempt at sabotage, whatnot, might be the explanation in any given case, but it should not be our first assumption. Other explanations must be considered, we must look closer at the evidence and not jump to conclusions, we must consider the relative plausibility of various explanations, etc.

To this end, I suggest “Eriksson’s Razor” (V1.0):

Never explain an observation with a conscious mover, a conspiracy, a systemic problem, or a teleological force when coincidence, individual choices, game theory, natural processes, emergence, or similar, are sufficient.

To this, knowing the Internet, I add “Eriksson’s dumbed-down Razor” (V1.0):

Not a conspiracy, stupid!

Moreover, looking at the current world, I add “Eriksson’s PC Razor” (V1.0):

Never assume racism, sexism, or another “ism”, when the observations can be explained by either individual characteristics/behaviors of the subject(s) or non-“ism” characteristics of the actor(s), like a personal antipathy, selfishness, general misanthropy, a pre-existing bad mood, etc.

Finally, I add “Eriksson’s dumbed-down PC Razor” (V1.0):

Never assume “ism”, when “idiot” will do.

To give examples of the “PC Razor”: If a woman is fired, do not just scream “sexist boss”, but do consider whether she was performing her job well or poorly and whether other reasons might have applied, e.g. that her boss simply (whether for good or bad reasons) did not like her personally.* If Black men appear underrepresented at a college, do not just scream “racist college”, but do investigate whether they are admitted by unfair or fair criteria and might actually be held back by, on average, worse grades and/or SAT scores.** If a White cop kneels on a Black criminals neck, do not just scream “racist cop”, but do investigate whether he used acceptable methods and whether he has a prior history of unacceptable behavior against arrested citizens (and, if so, by all means, whether Black victims were over-represented relative their proportion of arrests and/or criminals).

*As can be seen, a ruling of “not sexism” does not automatically imply that no fault or unfairness of another kind took place.

**Either could, obviously, point to some other problem that might need intervention, e.g. worse schools, but that is not the college’s fault. (And, again, I refer to “The Bell-Curve”, for why differences in cognitive distributions are a likelier explanation.)

Note on “mover”:
The term “mover” is taken to include e.g. the eponymous “Prime Mover”, divine beings, secret governmental agencies, the Illuminati, “mean” balls, and individual humans. This with the reservation that e.g. individual humans will very often not be covered by the Razor as a whole. For instance, an assumed Kennedy shooter could be a conscious mover, but would not be covered by the Razor: Kennedy was shot and any attempt to explain this without a human shooter would be far-fetched. (A dog accidentally triggered a loaded gun that just happened to hit the U.S. President in the head?) In contrast, an unknown mastermind behind the shooting is an example of a conscious mover that probably would be covered by the Razor.

I have considered a switch from “mover” to “agent”, as the original choice of mover was motivated by the exclusion of humans, where I changed my mind during the writing of this text. For the time being, I remain with “mover”.

Note on “conscious”:
This is not an entirely ideal word, as it e.g. can be disputed whether a secret government agency could be described as “conscious”. My very first draft used “deliberate”, but that seemed even worse. I also considered and rejected “sentient”. The point is that there is something more going on than e.g. a wind moving a ship forward. (But not necessarily as much as a fully sentient Boreas deliberately driving the ship of an offending Greek sailor onto a deserted island for the purpose of punishing his hubris.)

Excursion on other Razors:
Compared to the two most famous pre-existing “Razors”, Eriksson’s Razor could* be viewed as a sub-set of Occam’s Razor and as potentially slightly overlapping** with Hanlon’s Razor (which, in turn, could* also be viewed as a sub-set of Occam’s Razor). In addition, both Eriksson’s and Hanlon’s Razors have some overlap with the claim “shit happens”.

*For both Eriksson and Hanlon, they would be sub-sets if we assume that the respective encouraged type of explanation is more economical than the discouraged one. While I believe this to be the case, there is room for discussion and it need not be true generally.

**For instance, if Bobby, above, was covered by Eriksson’s Razor (but I would tend to exclude him), we would have an overlap with Hanlon’s Razor (which prescribes that we assume that Bobby did not intend to hurt Billy, unless more proof to this is present). The “mean” ball would be covered by Eriksson’s Razor, but would probably not be covered by most interpretations of Hanlon’s Razor. The Jewish World Conspiracy would be covered by Eriksson’s Razor, while Hanlon’s Razor has no bearing. The “PC Razor” has larger overlap; the “dumbed-down PC Razor” even more so.


Written by michaeleriksson

June 24, 2020 at 5:29 pm

6 Responses

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  1. […] through a recent text that partially deals with misinterpretation of intent/behavior/whatnot as racist, sexist, or […]

  2. […] see sufficient evidence), because they seem too far-fetched or in violation of Hanlon’s Razor or Eriksson’s Razor(s). I often take claims by others with several grains of salt for similar […]

  3. […] *Not necessarily with the implication of an organized attempt. The acts of individuals can still go quite far as explanations. Cf. Eriksson’s Razors. […]

  4. […] I have written about topics like how some jump to conclusions about sexism or racism (e.g. [1], [2]) as causes for some certain event where a neutral and reasonable third party would, in most cases, […]

  5. […] a distorting lens of they-hate-me-because-I-am-X”. Note Eriksson’s PC Razor, as discussed in [2] and […]

  6. […] to push a political agenda, after the main list, is particularly interesting. I tend to favor Eriksson’s Razor(s) over conspiracy theories, and am also a frequent user of Hanlon’s Razor, but I do find it almost […]

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