Re: Definition of Racism (without rent-a-riot)

From: Mike Lorrey (
Date: Mon Aug 13 2001 - 11:04:08 MDT

Felix Ungman wrote:
> On fredag 10 augusti 2001 21.40, Harvey Newstrom wrote:
> >Mike Lorrey wrote,
> >> Wrong. If the statistics say that, say, 10% of blacks commit crime while
> >> only 1% of whites do, then it is a reasonable assumption to say that any
> >> individual black person is ten times more likely to commit crime than
> >> any white person, all other factors being equal.
> >
> >This is just plain wrong. Any freshman course on statistics will teach that
> >this is wrong. I am white. Do I have 1% chance of committing a crime?
> >Charles Manson was white. So was Hitler. Do they all have the same chance
> >of committing a crime? We cannot deduce anything about any individual based
> >on their race. All whites added together might add up to a 1% crime rate,
> >but you have no information about the percent chance of any individual
> >committing a crime.
> Mike is using subjective probabilites. That is, given a completely random black man, without further information, Mike *belives* that that man has 10% probaility of commiting crime. This would be subjectively correct. But extremely lazy. Further informa
tion might reveal that the man's wearing a suit and tie and titles himself as an accountant. Computing the fraction of criminal accountants compared to the total number of accountants might give the probability that this particular man being criminal is 0

This is exactly correct, and exactly what I said. But then again, seeing
the person wearing a suit and tie, you are only guessing that the person
is an accountant. If you are in a bad neighborhood, a black man in suit
and tie is just as likely to be the neighborhood cocaine dealer. I'd
expect a black accountant to live in a nicer neighborhood.

> (In Mikes opinion of course, the man himself, having a sawn-off shotgun in his suitcase, about to rob the nearest bank knows otherwise).

Very funny, though definitely possible. Since even I will acknowledge
that we don't JUST judge a person by their color, but by their clothes
and the car they drive, the surroundings, time of day, the look on their
face, their mannerisms, and relative physical size compared to
ourselves, and whether there are other people (and what sort of people
they appear to be as well) around.... and so on, the race and gender of
an individual are merely two individual factors in a sea of factors that
we evaluate in every encounter with other people.

Giving increased weight to the persons race in excess of the proper
value of that factor in a trust rating of the individual is generally
unethical, but given that physical appearance factors are the most
noticable ones, they are guaranteed to be given greater than proper
weight in ANY valuation by any individual in any situation. It is part
of the Bayesian process of actors attempting to operate as if they have
all information when in fact they do not.

Discrimination and racism can therefore be said to be effects of people
trying to act in a Bayesian manner when they are severly lacking in
information necessary to properly conclude a Bayesian transaction.

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