This is a story of how harmless choices can make a harmful world.
These little cuties are 50% Triangles, 50% Squares, and 100% slightly shapist. But only slightly! In fact, every polygon prefers being in a diverse crowd:
You can only move them if they’re unhappy with their immediate neighborhood. Once they’re OK where they are, you can’t move them until they’re unhappy with their neighbors again. They’ve got one, simple rule:
“I wanna move if less than 1/3 of my neighbors are like me.”
These are good shapes, nice shapes. And yet, though every individual only has a slight bias, the entire shape society cracks and splits.
Small individual bias can lead to large collective bias.
Equality is an unstable equilibrium. The smallest of bias can push a whole society past the tipping point.
There’s that phrase again, “tipping point.” While I get the ramifications of the metaphor — it’s got something to do with the state of an object shifting past some point of no-going-back — I don’t really understand what this means, and the website never offers an explanation that’s suitably specific, nothing more specific than “the society cracks and splits.”
Sonic Charmer picked up on this too:
In the long-term equilibrium, whatever SEGREGATION statistic they’re using climbs and climbs above 50%. And so, uh, I guess that’s the ‘harmful’ part?
But why? By the parameters of the model setup, literally everyone is perfectly content in that equilibrium. So there’s no actual ‘harm’ to point to. Yeah, sure, there are visibly-disjoint yellow-triangle neighborhoods and blue-square neighborhoods. But so the hell what?
Actually, if you step back there is one actor who is unhappy in the equilibrium: the website author. In a more-complete picture of this simulation, she would be represented somewhere onscreen with a frowny-face. The cartoon would show those nearly-400 squares and triangles all perfectly fine with their situation, but a frowny-faced judgmental progressive lady somewhere over on the side frowning at them all. “You’re segregated and that’s bad! You should literally all change your preferences and do a bunch of stuff till you’re not!”, she declares.
So yeah, I guess I can’t rightfully claim that everyone is content. It’s not enough that literally everyone else is satisfied. We gotta make the progressive happy.
But that’s just the first problem. There is another: You’ve heard the saying “contentment is the enemy of progress”? There is a lot of truth to that in home ownership. At this point, that’s about the most likely pathway of my wife and me, with our 30-year-fixed on a house we’ll call home for…who knows? All of it? Perhaps. But, most likely five to ten years, somewhere around or just under the average. Is this a bad thing?
The website proceeds from a false premise, that the goal has to have something to do with people being happy where they are. Obviously, it’s aimed at frowny-face-shape people who are considering a relocation, in part or wholly because of the neighbors. I guess that includes me, at least as of yesterday morning, when some crazy-lady walking through the crosswalk in her crazy-lady way lost her shit and started tearing apart a sidewalk placard advertising some hamburgers or something. Made me wonder, just for a second or two but once again, about the wisdom involved in leaving good old whitebread Folsom…
Oh. “White.” That’s the issue, is it? Now I get it, shapes represent color!
Sadly, it doesn’t work because the crazy-lady that makes me want to move out of the neighborhood, has my own skin color, which is white. So although I guess I’m part of the problem the website seeks to address, it fails to address it because what we have here is a guy in a car he owns, being forced by a traffic light to remain in proximity with a pedestrian who is free to move about as she likes, who is crazy, and violent. Turns out, “I’m not happy with this” is a perfectly natural reaction. The crazy-lady is white. The neighbors across the street are not, and sadly they just suffered a family tragedy and are getting ready to move. We’ll miss them, we wish they’d stay. So if we’re really talking about skin color then that’s strike two. I think we’re ready to call out a third problem, since if the statement of the problem doesn’t intersect with reality, the proposed solution probably won’t either.
The fourth problem is in the title of this post, which is a quote from the “box of friendship” section of the webpage, about two thirds down:
All it takes is a change in the perception of what an acceptable environment looks like. So, fellow shapes, remember it’s not about triangles vs squares, it’s about deciding what we want the world to look like, and settling for no less.
This is supposed to be something novel and new, something inspiring that applies to only this particular case. But anybody who’s looked at proggies for any length of time, understands the sentiment is a global and not a local; it is an accurate summary of the progressivism we know today, across all sorts of different issues. And the sense of entitlement is eminent, impossible to ignore, when one considers how this fourth problem conflicts so sharply with the second problem: Contentment is, indeed, the enemy of “progress,” but the discontentment that inspires progress is a privilege. You are not entitled to have it, you need to learn to be happy where you are, with all the violent crazy ladies in crosswalks ripping into your stuff while you wait for the light to turn green.
This is a big problem. In the “wrapping up” section, the web page intones
When someone says a culture is shapist, they’re not saying the individuals in it are shapist. They’re not attacking you personally.
It would seem, at the end of it, that that’s not really true. “Deciding what we want the world to look like, and settling for no less” is a privilege, we see, that “they” are reserving for themselves. What is that if it is not an attack? It certainly is an act of exclusion. One might even say, an act of…segregation.
There is a fifth problem, laid-out artfully, if a bit sarcastically, by texan999 in the comments:
I’m sure the author would be thrilled if every neighborhood had to contain a percentage of right-wing gun-toting Evangelicals consistent with the national average, instead of consisting entirely of hipsters with a strong diversity ethic.
Oh my. Yes. Maybe someone who’s running the happy-shapes website can tote it down to the nearest college campus, show it to students and faculty alike, see if any of the perfectly content shapes behind those ivy walls can learn a thing or two. About diversity of opinion and political ideology. Or…not…
…Trescott University president Kevin Abrams confirmed Monday that the school encourages a lively exchange of one idea. “As an institution of higher learning, we recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion…”
The sixth problem is the “A” in S.T.A.C.I., the Abundance. The progressive movement is punch-drunk on the idea that we, the hamsters in the wheels and crawl-tubes they’re buying from the pet shop on a weekly whim (with our dollars), can be taught to like some things and drop our interest in other things. Being liberals, they have arrived at the conclusion about how human nature works that is exactly 180 degrees off course from the way it really works, and if they had the ability to learn from experience and correct this oversight then they wouldn’t be liberals. They think, if they can conceal some of the things we like from our view for long enough, block us from the option of choosing whatever-it-is long enough, we’ll forget that we ever preferred it and our preferences will shift. They also think that if they shove some of the things we don’t like, right into our faces long enough and often enough, we’ll learn to like those instead.
Strangely, when it comes to winning elections, they are capable of learning from experience and honing their techniques over time into something that actually works. They don’t have that ability here, nor do they have the ability to see that what they do isn’t working.