Hanlon’s Razor

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Imagine a world where everyone is trusting and no one could betray that trust. How would such a world be different from the world as we know it now?

The problem with trust is one of a chicken and egg situation – I would only trust the other person if he or she is trustworthy but I would never know if the other person is trustworthy unless I start trusting that person. And there is cost associated with such trust – if the trust is betrayed, we will be scarred. So over the long run, our subconscious mind protects us by making us more suspicious and less trusting of others, fulfilling the sad prophecy of the saying ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions‘.

Weary not because dimpledbrain is here. Any chicken and egg problems relating to human interaction has been resolved. Yes, resolved with the most optimal solution simulated and found!

Enter game theory. Game theory demonstrates why two people might not cooperate even if it is in both their best interests to do so. Example, I should trust you and I will be better off trusting you but I still choose not to trust you. The existence of contract laws is the most perverted manifestation of this lack of trust, thereby creating an unnecessary class called lawyers. It brings to mind the unfortunate story of two kids attempting to share a cake and because of a lack of trust in each other, they hired a sly fox to help them cut the cake in the most equitable manner. Problem is, it only went downhill from there because every time the cut cake is presented back to both parties, neither is satisfied, benefitting only the fox, who took a small piece of that cake as ‘commission’ at every turn until it is gone in its entirety! Good heavens!!!

Enter 90% tit for tat. (1) Always start by cooperating (2) Mirror the response of the other party thereafter. Example start by trusting the other party, i.e. giving the other party the benefit of doubt. If you are taken advantage of that trust, reciprocate thereafter. (3) You may choose to give the person a second chance or betray that trust if you feel naughty, yes, (randomized response) as and when you feel like it. (90% tit for tat means deviate only once in 10 instances).

One thing that most people are confused with is the type of circumstance we are dealing with as there is a huge difference between one off situations and scenarios that repeat. For example, dealing with a car salesman is of the former while dealing with friends is of the latter. 90% tit for tat is only meant for repetitive scenarios (geek term called iterations). Game theory proposes that taking advantage of others in one off scenario is better off for us. Using unfair advantage of insider information in one off situation is ok*. If you know the car salesman needs one more sale to hit his/her monthly target and you know how much commission is charged, negotiating down the car price is the smarter thing to do. This is called one off situation because we will not have further ‘iterations’ with the car salesman. Taking advantage of your friends is stupid (downright dumb I shall add) because future dealings are bound to spiral downwards from that one sour incident.

Food for thought – do we treat strangers better (for the sake of giving a good impression) than people whom we interact daily? (our friends, family members etc).

Hanlon’s razor is applicable to iterative scenarios and reminds us to give the benefit of doubt to people whom we deal with daily e.g. my wife who I think is taking advantage of me (malice), the friend who treats me in such a suspicious manner or that person over there who dares to utter such preposterous words and the whole nine yards of it.

Shaving off that layer of suspicion in the right place with Hanlon’s razor will make our lives and those around us much happier.

*p/s: I value shrewdness and rationality much more than foolish consistency

 

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