man with battle ax
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Idealism vs. materialism. Free will vs. determinism. Theism vs. atheism. Conspiracy vs. coincidence. LIHOP vs. MIHOP.1 Aliens vs. weather balloons. These are the dichotomous debates of our lives. And they rage on. Dip your toe into any one of them, and chances are you'll be cut by the respective razors of Occam or Hanlon at one point or another. As a kitchen-table veteran of all of the above wars of words, I have an all-purpose weapon I think well suited to the task at hand.

In this case, however, my target is Hanlon, whose razor is etched with the words: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." The razor may be sharp, but it is thin and brittle, and it only cuts in one direction. For lack of a better name, enter Koehli's battle-axe. It cuts both ways. On one blade's edge is etched "both"; on the other, "and." And for this battle it is inscribed with the runes: "Unchecked incompetence inevitably breeds malevolence." Or, simply to rephrase Hanlon: "Some amount of stupidity will always be accompanied by malice."

When things go wrong among humans, many reasonable people tend to fall back on the simplest, most likely explanation. Naturally, most of the time they're right. Incompetence, institutional inertia, failure to adapt to new situations, ignorance, petty human weaknesses: they can all be mistaken for conspiracies of malevolence.

But who wants to be right only "most" of the time, anyway?

Most of the time, deaths that look like suicides are suicides. But we all know they aren't always so. And if detectives were to solve cases based on statistics alone, they wouldn't be detectives. They'd be statisticians. It's a far cry from "There's a 98% chance this death is a suicide" to "This death is a suicide," but when it comes to lazy reporting and opinion-forming this is unfortunately the norm. Official government statements on anything remotely controversial are the worst. Just read such statements from the recent past and for the following year and notice how many times official spokesmen will state that something is known with "100% certainty" when that cannot possibly be the case. Or when people use the words "almost certainly." They're almost certainly bullshitting you.

In business (and most other places) we have the 80/20 rule, or the Pareto principle: 80% of outcomes results from 20% of causes. 20% of the employees will do 80% of the work. 20% of the products will make 80% of the revenue. Give or take. Let's introduce another: the 94/6 rule, or the ponerology principle. 6% of the people are responsible for an equal or greater percentage of the dysfunction. Framed differently, at least 6% of any group or institutional problem will be caused by psychopaths or "Dark Tetrad" personalities — i.e. malevolence and malice — or indirectly result from their influence on others.2

This is because of a point Lobaczewski makes repeatedly: the potential pathocrats in any given society are not clustered solely in any particular group. You won't find them all in one socioeconomic class, race, political party, religious denomination, or age group. If you imagine society as a layered marble cake, the personality-disordered potential pathocrats will be distributed more or less evenly throughout the layers (classes) and marbling (other class-independent social groupings).

During a pathocracy, the existing social structure is first destroyed, then a new class develops which constitutes a "slice" that cuts through all previous strata and groupings. The new ruling elite will be composed of the formerly rich and poor, intelligent and stupid, religious and atheist, "left" and "right." What they have in common is a deviant psychology. The mirror image appears as well: the vast majority, who came from different classes and held contradictory beliefs, become united in protest against a system they all perceive as an affront to their shared humanity.

A pathocracy is a particular kind of phenomenon, a worst-case scenario perhaps. But even in a so-called normal society — one becoming less normal by the minute, or one experiencing an incomplete manifestation of pathocracy (as do many western democracies, I'd argue) — similar dynamics will come into play, though perhaps only in some areas and not others, or in certain intensities. One will be able to find pockets of normality, even quite large ones. But the dynamics of ponerogenesis are operative in every society, to some degree or another. Thus, the 94/6 rule.

For example, Lobaczewski points out that you will find abuse of psychiatry in all nations where psychiatry is practiced. In a normal country, you will still find examples of individuals framing others for mental illness, perhaps getting them forcefully committed, because of a property dispute or family conflict, as a means of discrediting someone in court, etc. Often they will provoke their target into emotional outbursts or violence, or cause them to have a nervous breakdown, all of which make them look like the unstable party.

Pathocracies just turn this into semi-official policy. Pathocrats label anyone who disagrees with them crazy, and, being in power, can do so with ease. This is a very handy way of both discrediting dissidents and removing them from society at the same time.

The primary reason that things like this still happen is mostly ignorance. Judges and lawyers simply don't know much about personality disorders and how to integrate that kind of understanding in the course of their work. Legislators are even worse. The result is a system of law whose dealing with this issue is patchy at best, the good results left solely to the personal experience and wisdom gained by individual lawyers and judges. In other words, it's a gamble whether the official in question will be able to recognize and see through the manipulations of disordered plaintiff or defendant; or, if they can see through them, whether they'll be able to do anything about it. And psychopaths in particular are very good at manipulating.

Bill Eddy is one of the lawyers who knows this. I recommend reading his 4-part article over at Psychology Today (one, two, three, four). Some excerpts:
The result of misunderstanding the significance of personality disorders in today's family courts is that the arguments over responsibility for bad behavior can go on for years, efforts to change behavior through insight usually fail, and children may be exposed to abuse, alienation, and endless conflict between their parents as they blame each other. Truly abusive behavior may continue unstopped.

However, there is hope. Understanding personality disorders points us in a different direction for helping children and their parents. [This is pure ponerology.] Professionals can more accurately understand the dynamics of a family and parents can understand how to present the reality of their cases to decision makers. Then, more productive planning can occur, understanding what behavior can be changed, and what behavior will not change.
  • In divorce and custody disputes, some professionals are misled by those with personality disorders.
  • The intensity of blame by those with personality disorders can make it seem that what they say is true. ...
  • Parents, friends, and family need to understand that bias exists in family court cases. ...
  • People with personality disorders often communicate falsely but successfully in family court because they are simple, repetitive, and emotional.
... most commonly, judges, mediators, some lawyers, and some therapists have been trained for years to think that both parents are probably contributing to the problems fairly equally. Therefore, they may disregard the need for real protections against abuse or false allegations, and simply tell the parents to calm down and move on. Many parents do not realize that there are these unwritten (and often unconscious) presumptions that can affect the outcome of a child custody case.
This behavior on the part of "judges, mediators, some lawyers, and some therapists" is just the 94%. It's the failure of regular people to learn what is going on and to put that understanding into action. Or it's the failure of laws on the books which must be followed to the letter, even if they may not be appropriate to the situation at hand. It's the tendency, for instance, to give the mother custody of the children during or after a divorce by default, even if she is clearly disturbed.

But that will never be all of it. At least a percentage of legal dysfunction will be the direct result of malevolence and malice. Some judges are simply corrupt. And the same goes for every profession.

As a society's norms and values decline during the end of a civilizational cycle, bad behavior becomes more prevalent. The upper classes in particular become more hysterical. They lose their common sense, their worldview becomes bereft of even basic psychological understanding, they become prone to emotional displays, and their decisions are increasingly motivated by emotion rather than reason. They become increasingly hedonistic, arrogant, and self-centered.

And as such behavior becomes more prevalent, the malicious have a much easier time mingling in undetected. It's easier to take one's mask off when the distance between what other people are doing, and what comes naturally to you, starts closing. Lower standards open the door to malevolence.

We are currently in the middle of a competence crisis. And as it proceeds, it will continue seamlessly morphing into a malevolence crisis. Political ponerology is the science of how this happens, and what to do about it.


1. Let it happen on purpose vs. made it happen on purpose.

2. Psychopaths are actually responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime, however (along the lines of the 80/20 rule). And the source for the 6% is Lobaczewski's number of personality-disordered people in a given population, which may be an underestimate for many societies today. But for the sake of argument, let's keep it simple.