It’s never the heat

It's only quiet if your hearing is already near zero capacity.

It’s only quiet if your hearing is already near zero capacity.

I had a little spat with a co-worker last week. It was 68degF with 60% humidity, which is low for where I live, and he had the air conditioning on. Mind you, the industrial A/C, the big unit that sits outside the building and makes little to no noise in our office when it’s on hasn’t been functioning for a week. Our landlord’s solution to this while he prices out the cheapest possible replacement, which won’t actually be adequate for our space because he will choose by price rather than capacity, was to provide a LG portable A/C unit which is advertised as being “So Quiet, You’ll Barely Notice It.”

This unit is loud as all living hell, and right in that frequency range that has for my entire life been supremely irritating.

My response to seeing the A/C on after I returned from an errand was to remark in a fairly sarcastic tone “It’s 73 degrees in here and we have the A/C on? Really?” His response to my comment was to tell me I was being passive-aggressive and that maybe I shouldn’t assume malice when I don’t know all the facts and sometimes the way someone acts could just be forgetfulness. And while I accepted this and apologized, after due consideration I’m not entirely sure he was right.

I am a firm believer in Hanlon’s Razor which is briefly defined as “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.” I’m also a firm believer in the corollary principle to Hanlon’s razor: “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.” Rational Wiki more completely defines Hanlon’s Razor thusly:

  • Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice.
  • Never assume stupidity when ignorance will suffice.
  • Never assume ignorance when forgivable error will suffice
  • Never assume error when information you hadn’t adequately accounted for will suffice.

I have a couple of little problems with the complete Hanlon’s Razor, one of them being the implication that people are by definition good natured. Rational Wiki cite’s Wikipedia’s doctrine of “Assume good faith,” which means assuming that most people are trying to help Wikipedia and unless there is specific evidence of malice in the editing of a Wikipedia entry other editors are to assume something erroneous inserted by another editor is an innocent mistake that can be sorted out in a civil, polite manner.

The idea that people are good natured does not square with my general life experience:

Some people are good natured, yes.

Some people are actively malicious giving no thought to their fellow travelers, human or animal, on the big blue marble.

All people are self-centered.

For some people that self-centeredness is indistinguishable from malice in that it manifests in actions that attempt to garner more rewards than someone deserves, preferential treatment for no merit-based reason, or literally something for nothing, and in every scenario always at the expense of someone else whose circumstances are on par or subpar to theirs.

Proportions of total population may vary over time and by locality.

Proportions of total population may vary over time and by locality.

My life experience has been when you add up the people who are actively malicious with the ones who are being unreservedly self-centered you get a much, much larger group of people than those who are good natured. I realize this analogy begs for a Venn diagram.

I think my larger problem, though, is how I’ve been applying Hanlon’s Razor. TV Tropes has an interesting article which brings in, well, tropes from TV shows to apply to philosophical problems. There’s the Mrs. Bridges (BBC’s Upstairs, Downstairs) test “Once is bad luck. Twice is bad habit.” which gives you an indicator of whether or not to consider malice, or there is another version attributed to Ian Fleming, “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.”

My larger problem comes in the form of false dichotomy but not entirely in the way that TV Tropes presents it (stupid or evil). My false dichotomy actually presents in a slightly different form: stupid or smart.

I’ve been applying Hanlon’s Razor with the assumption that everyone is as smart as I am therefore when someone acts in a way that seems malicious, like wasting resources on air-conditioning when the weather patently does not warrant it or getting on the bus every day with a $5 bill knowing that the fare is $1.35, they have actively considered not only what they’re doing but the consequences of what they’re doing and have chosen to put their needs (acting in a self-centered way that harms others which is the same as malice) absolutely in front of the needs of everyone else. The other alternative is that they’re unbelievably stupid and haven’t considered their actions at all.

Applying Hanlon’s Razor this way gets me out of one form of arrogance – the belief that I am smarter than (some/many/lots of) others but it exposes another which is the arrogance that I know all the circumstances in a given situation.

It’s quite possible there was noise or smell pollution from the construction behind our building (but why turn on the A/C if you just wanted to deal with the noise? why not just shut the window?) or some other factor I hadn’t accounted for (like the fundamental disagreement over the fact that 77degF with 60% humidity isn’t freaking hot or a difference in values that makes me see a minor amount of discomfort (read: 77degF) as a small price to pay for not wasting vast resources on air conditioning) in his decision to turn on the air. It is possible, and that, not the tone of voice, not the astonishment that when the outside temp was so low we had the A/C on, was my real mistake.

This interaction also exposes another flaw in the way I deal with people: I treat almost all people, save for a very few close, trusted individuals, the same. I assume not only will they not give me what I want but if given the opportunity they will use the knowledge of what I want against me. I realize this has to do with my personal experience, my emotional damage if you will, but it takes a long, long, long time to gain my trust. Given that my office mates are a group of people who routinely drain the water cooler and don’t replace the bottle because they “weren’t sure it was empty” (and no, none of them are blind or deaf) and who twice just this week spent the time to take the empty spool off the toilet paper spindle but then left the new roll on the back of the toilet, I think I’m entitled to a little sarcasm.

No, I’m never going to be able to assume out of the gate people are acting with good intent. I am not that flexible. I’m also not flexible enough to believe that thoughtlessness is anything but malice and though it isn’t willful the net effect of inadvertent malice is the same. What I can do is ask some winnowing questions before I try to determine if they’re malicious, stupid, or ignorant.

I’m still, however, moved to wonder how much of the interaction, his taking my astonishment at the fact that we had the A/C on as a back-handed way of asking for it to be turned off, is a direct result of his personal damage and why I should be responsible for it?

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