Grey’s Law

In the comments from a private Facebook post about anti-gun people someone simply said, “Grey’s Law”. I had to look it up:

Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

I’m seeing behavior at work which could be accurately described by Grey’s Law. It’s very depressing. Evil should be punished. But the appropriate response to incompetence is less clear. Depending upon the context it can be very difficult to find the most appropriate path to resolution.


10 thoughts on “Grey’s Law

  1. Why should you try to distinguish between malice and profound incompetence if the results are the same? So why should the response be different?

    Tam linked to this yesterday: It’s Who You Are On the Outside That Matters

    Who you are on the inside, you know, deep down, is unprovable to anyone outside your cranium. You ask someone what they will do in a certain situation, they will tell you what they want you to hear, tell you what they delude themselves into thinking they are, actually lie to your face because they are plotting your demise or maybe (hugely improbably but not outside the realm of possibility) they tell you the actual complete accurate truth of their understanding, divorced as it may be from reality.

    Remember the tales of anti-gunners confronted with the logic of their statements, on this very site, a logic that inexorably leads to the conclusion that “what you’re proposing is impossible, or will result in worse outcomes for the very populations you claim to be championing”, the cognitive dissonance kicks in, there is a visible reset, and they revert to vigorously asserting their demolished talking point as if they hadn’t just been obliterated on the field of rhetoric? That reset is them actually arriving at the “…and thus I am the baddie” conclusion, the proverbial breakers pop, and their memory of the previous five minutes is wiped out, returning them to the state where they are the unalloyed good person, the savior of the world, protagonist of their own major motion picture.

    Everyone should get one chance, simply for the allowance for true ignorance (and this should expire at age 21). If they have accepted correction and been trained/informed, and they are still incompetent, well, we give a second chance to allow for the inadequacy of the trainer/instructor. The third time, assume deliberate malice, because it is indistinguishable from obstinate willful refusal to accept reality. Of course, they could just be profoundly stupid… which is pitiable, but no-one should ever trust the opinion of the mentally deficient or easily programmed.

    It’s not a thing you hear much in the PNW, but have you ever heard someone acknowledge their mistake with “the Devil made me do it”? The right response is, “The Devil seems to have an easy way with you. You are to be kept away from sharp objects and matches and anything requiring personal trust.” The same with “I had a hard childhood” or “because structural racism” or “they hit back way harder“. It’s all a variety of “I lack personal responsibility”, which is intrinsically a component of stupidity. Even a person with a battered face and missing teeth that explains it with “I fucked around and found out” is displaying some basic intelligence, at least after the fact, linking their personal intentional causes with the observable effects.

  2. I have been struggling with this.
    Too much evil is excused by “stupidity”. Why?
    Is there a real difference? I think stupidity is a form of evil. It should be treated the same as being truly evil. Choosing to be stupid is choosing to be evil against mankind.

    • Stupidity is not always a choice – though sometimes it is.

      Stupidity is sometimes a real inability to learn.

      The rest of the time it’s a refusal to learn.

      The outcome is roughly the same, however – as Heinlein long ago pointed out.


  3. In the workplace, it should be easier. Warning, discipline, removal.

    Kinda follows the old maxim: Once is incidence, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.


    • In this case it appears to be either systemic in management or imposed from the top down.

  4. I think the proper response to incompetence encompasses a spectrum of possibilities, and may be dependent on the situation. Possible responses may be situation-dependent and include (but are not limited to):
    1) Do nothing, and work around it
    2) Additional training
    3) Additional practice
    4) Reassignment to a different task
    5) Assign additional personnel to help/supervise
    6) Punishment

    • And, of course, allow Darwin to have free rein for a while. Not nearly enough of that in recent history.

  5. While the proper punishment for incompetence meted out by others can be difficult to decide, nature very often considers it something worthy of an immediate death penalty.

  6. Then you have the typical politician…..who is both incompetent AND full of malice.

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