Hanlon’s Razor says that we should never attribute to malice that can which be adequately explained by stupidity. I believe Hanlon’s Razor presents a false binary, one which suggests that if a person or group of people is acting ignorantly, he or she can not be acting malevolently. This suggestion wrongly places ignorance and malevolence in the same classificatory scheme, that of motivations. While malevolence is a motivation, ignorance is not. To say a person or group or institution is acting ignorantly is to say that entity is not acting in its true interests and that the results of its actions will demonstrate that fact. That definition does not give you any information regarding that entity’s motivation for acting in that manner. And indeed if you approach said entity and inquire as to its motivation, regardless of whether it is telling the truth or lying to you, it will never say “I’m doing this because I’m ignorant and stupid”. The motivation may be benign. It may be malevolent. But the question of whether said action is ignorant or not is determined by the outcomes. It’s relatively easy to locate concrete examples that indicate the false choice presented by Hanlon’s Razor.
Trevor Aaronson’s book, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War On Terrorism, reveals how the FBI, under the pretext of engaging in real counter-terrorism since 9/11, constructed a network of over 15,000 informants/agent-provocateurs whose main job was to first infiltrate Muslim communities and then to compel certain members of these communities, who otherwise never would have had the means, the desire, nor the will to committ a terrorist act, to engage in phony terrorist plots that obviously never had any chance of succeeding in the first place. The FBI then arrests the so-called perpetrators in massive sting operations, feeds the false information to the mainstream media which these days has all the motivation in the world not to question the spoon-fed official narrative, and declares more marvelous successes in America’s never-ending war on terrorism.
Trevor Aaronson’s revelations indicate both malevolent intentions as well as ignorance behind the FBI’s manufactured war on terrorism. The neoliberal order that has come to dominate our government over the last thirty years but has really gained significant momentum over the last decade requires either the unqualified support and/or the relative ignorance of its populace so that it may be free to continue to advance its insidious agenda. Put very simply, this agenda enriches the very few at the expense of the many, and the people at the top know this fact. They know that a society built on the foundations of the neoliberal corporatist ideology is not meant to benefit the people. Rather society’s purpose is to ensure the elite’s unlimited power and cash flow to the people’s detriment. The first question that the wealthiest and most powerful citizens of our great nation have to ask themselves is “Why would the people go along with the kind of society we’re trying to build here?” The obvious answer is that we wouldn’t stand for it and would take action to prevent it if we were self-aware, well-informed, and mobilized in solidarity against the common enemy of neoliberalism. And the few at the top know this fact as well, that we can not effectively challenge the status quo without meeting these three conditions or some variation of them. So then the second question they proceed to ask themselves is how do we keep the oppressed from meeting these conditions and endangering our position as oppressors. And the obvious answers to that question are by 1) controlling the media and 2) utilizing the national security apparatus not to promote security but to stifle dissent and in a sense promote a perverse form of stability. Trevor Aaronson reveals just one of the ways in which the national security apparatus operates at the behest of the neoliberal order. Putting the FBI’s operation within the context of the neoliberal agenda reveals its underlying malevolence.
Now even if I had not framed the FBI’s use of agent-provocateur’s to manufacture fake terrorist plots within the context of the neoliberal agenda, it would have been apparent to most readers that the FBI was acting malevolently. What would not be so apparent without this framing is that the underlying purpose behind the operation displays complete ignorance by the people at the top about what is in their best interests. For this assertion to be made, the neoliberal context is necessary or else there is no basis for the accusation of ignorance. Yes, I am making the argument that neoliberalism is not even in the true interest of the oppressors at the top who nonetheless work fiercely and with dogged determination to maintain its dominance through insidious means. What the power elite fails to recognize is that a society that is operated solely to their financial and power benefit at the expense of everyone else will not last very long, and that eventually the oppressed will oust them from their lofty perches. History has demonstrated this basic truth time and time again. The oppressed will always find a way to subvert the subversion, to hold power accountable, and to challenge the status quo. Now whether or not the oppressed succeed in their revolution depends on whether or not they effectively dissolve the oppressor/oppressed relationship permanently. This is the sole condition for a successful revolution, and indeed it depends on a myriad of factors which, unfortunately, do not fall within the purview of this post. Suffice it to say that successful revolutions are few and far between in the annals of human history, because the oppressed and oppressor most often just switch places and the dichotomous relationship lives on. (i.e. Egypt under Morsi) Even though it is in the true interest of the oppressors to shed the label, they perceive what is in their true interest as being financial and power dominance. If a revolution has taken place and the formerly oppressed harbor vengeful notions in their hearts, the formerly oppressed may assume the role of oppressor and vice versa, and revenge becomes the primary motivation for resuming the destructive dichotomy. Put simply, the oppressors are either vengeful or greedy or a combination of the two, and designing an entire society on either basis is not good for the human being on either side of the relationship, regardless of his or her perception. Thus the oppressors are ignorant of their true interest which would be to fashion a society based on loving relationships, mutual respect and and mutual trust.