You know that saying about how it’s best to not attribute to malice what can be better explained by ignorance? That’s an important thing. Came up in a discussion I had today, and I think it bears repeating for the world.
You see, ignorance and malice are two totally different things. (Note that ‘ignorance’, throughout this entire post, means accidental ignorance, not willful ignorance.) Therefore it’s productive to give different responses.
Yes, when somebody offers up an idea that’s counterproductive and kind of offensive, your first reaction is probably to fuck their shit up. This is pretty natural, really. But it only makes sense if they’re suggesting this out of malice. But sit back and think for a moment.
The probability, assuming malicious intent, of them making the suggestion is probably pretty high. Let’s say it’s 90%. SoP(B|A)=.9. But that’s not enough information to conclude the suggestion was made out of malice. Why?
Because in order to calculate the probability of malice, given the suggestion, we need to know both the probability of the suggestion overall, and the probability, prior to the suggestion, of malice. Let’s assume for the moment that the suggestion is one that comes up occasionally. Let’s pretend it’s quite common in some places, but not here, and assign a 15% probability of the suggestion. Then, let’s be a bit paranoid. Let’s say there’s a 30% prior on the malice. So we haveP(A)=.15andP(B)=.3.
Now we can do the math! Using Bayes’ Theorem, we getP(A|B)=.45.
In other words, you’re feeling pretty confident because it’s basically the suggestion somebody who’s out to get you would make, but 55%, the person making that suggestion isn’t doing so because they’re evil, it’s because they don’t know any better. And we should select the option which has the highest probability, which means it’s time to set aside the explosives, and explain, very carefully, why it’s a shit idea.