Fake news, propaganda, and conspiracies seem more prevalent than ever. Our news feeds are rife with different sources offering widely varying accounts of the same event, with the explanations offered to us for the given event suspiciously aligning with the political bias of the source. This has had the effect of clouding my judgment. What is the real story? How can we know? Often, we can’t know.
I have stumbled across a three bladed razor that may help cut through the shit. This isn’t the overpriced Mach 3 razor developed by the obnoxiously “woke” Gillette company, rather, this three bladed razor is an amalgamation of three philosophical reality seeking razors; Occam’s, Hanlon’s, and the razor credited to the late, great Hitchens.
Occam’s razor suggests that when we are faced with two explanations for an occurrence, the explanation that requires the least speculation and least amount of assumptions is usually correct. The more elaborate the explanation, or the more speculation that goes in to explaining the occurrence, the less likely it’s correct. When in doubt, the simplest explanation is the best choice.
The conspiracies surrounding 9/11 are a good example. One explanation for 9/11 is that 19 religiously delusional hijackers flew airplanes in to buildings. Another explanation is that our government orchestrated an inside job that would require secrecy of quite a few people extended over a long period of time. It would also require explosives be placed in buildings without anybody noticing, and various other incredible logistical demands in order for the inside job to happen and remain secret for the last eighteen years. Both explanations are possible, but the “inside job” explanation requires more steps for it to occur.
Hanlon’s razor is the second blade, and it posits the idea, “When in doubt, never attribute malice to that which can be explained by stupidity.” A lot of the divide our country is experiencing politically is due to our tribal nature. Some people on the right wing are convinced anybody espousing left-wing ideas must be Stalin-incarnate, and in my perception, the left seems to be even more likely to condemn anybody right of center as Hitler 2.0. While there are certainly people alive today that are more than willing to throw their political opponent in the gulag or outright extirpate them from the Earth, I truly believe the vast majority of the people spouting off about their social policy du jour are simply stupid. Myself included! I would like to think my political opinions have been arduously forged in the belly of a University library; with each tenet of my beliefs having passed through a rigorous methodology derived from the scientific method. The reality, however, is I probably subconsciously downloaded my worldview from a 10 minute YouTube video a few years back. The quicker you realize that you, the reader, are just as dumb as me and misinformed, we can stop hating each other.
Hitchens razor rounds out our epistemological hat-trick, stating “That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Have you received that email about your long-lost cousin of Nigerian royalty that needs you to Western Union them money to get them out of a jam, and that you would be repaid for your generosity to the tune of 25 million dollars once they are freed from the jam your loan provides? My dad and I used to mess around with those people rather than just deleting the email. Anytime we would ask them for proof, we got stonewalled, rebuffed, and redirected. If they generate as lofty a claim as being not only related to me, but also cut from the fine linens of royalty and in need of my help, then they better have some pretty fantastic clear-cut evidence to substantiate their claim if they expect me to wire them money.
Illegal immigrants steal American jobs? Prove it. Gender is a social construct? Prove it. God says man should marry women only? Prove God.
Look, maybe you can prove one of those things. That proof needs to be in the form of evidence, otherwise, you have nothing. Get to know these razors, and put them to use.