The Evolution of an Accidental Meme
August 5, 2016 5:24 AM   Subscribe

"I was trying to clarify why, to me (and, I generalized, to liberals), “equal opportunity” alone wasn’t a satisfactory goal and that we should somehow take into consideration equality of outcomes (i.e., fairness or equity). I thought the easiest example of this concept is kids of different heights trying to see over a fence. So, I grabbed a public photo of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, a stock photo of a crate, clip art of a fence, and then spent a half-hour or so in Powerpoint concocting an image that I then posted on Google+... [Afterwards], my original graphic was being adapted, modified, and repurposed in a mind-blowing variety of ways, and then shared and redistributed all over the place."
posted by Shmuel510 (40 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
It is a perfect illustration of Pareto superiority, although I never see it described as such.
posted by gauche at 5:40 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'm remembering incorrectly, but I'm fairly sure I saw a variation of this graphic in a textbook about 15 years ago.
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 6:22 AM on August 5, 2016

Who makes an image in PowerPoint?
posted by koeselitz at 6:50 AM on August 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's better with clipart/vector graphics than paint.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:52 AM on August 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Apparently the mememakers do.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:52 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

People who make a lot of presentations but are not graphic designers. We use the tools we have, and that we're familiar with.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:57 AM on August 5, 2016 [12 favorites]

The real question is: why are these people going through all this effort to watch baseball?
posted by signal at 7:01 AM on August 5, 2016 [14 favorites]

The feminism one made me laugh. I will go turn myself into the reeducation camp now.
posted by BentFranklin at 7:10 AM on August 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

The real question is: why are these people going through all this effort to watch baseball?

A discussion about equality versus equity is worth having. But, I'm also wondering if these people paid for their tickets to the game or are they just trying to watch a free game!?!?
posted by Fizz at 7:15 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Equity needs to have a graphic to show that it is a dynamic operation. Let me give you an analogy I've been working out in my head.

I call it, the slow hiker syndrome. Having grown up as a fat kid with a hip problem, who hiked a fair bit with others in the mountains, this pertained to me.

While hiking, I typically fell behind. Eventually, those behind would stop, take a ten minute break for me to catch up. And then they would immediately take off. I never got the advantage of a break and even if they did extend the break, they would have a fifteen minute (resentful) rest to my five. Not having had a break, I fell even further behind on the next jaunt.

I also grew up poor. So, to extend this analogy, I could save up to do the same thing others could do, but then I would be broke.

This becomes what we expect of the poor. One example: a poor person is granted a scholarship providing opportunities. The rich person doesn't need a scholarship to buy into those opportunities.

If this seems a bit creaky, I'm still working it out in my mind.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:35 AM on August 5, 2016 [35 favorites]

With regards to the slow hiker restitution, how would you create equity? Beyond having the faster people take on some of the burden of the slow, I don't see any practical way to show a desirable change. By itself, that wouldn't be enough to bring things level so that all could enjoy each other's company.
posted by YAMWAK at 7:52 AM on August 5, 2016

Who makes an image in PowerPoint?

Me when I have an urgent report to complete.
posted by Segundus at 7:56 AM on August 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

re: hiking and the problem of the 5 vs 15 minute break. I've definitely encountered this issue on a bike rides I lead, and so i'll make an effort to put the people who are behind in the front when the ride starts up again. people tend to keep position as much as they naturally spread out, so the slower people tend to speed up and the faster slow down, which helps keep a group together.

in this case, we, as leaders, do explicitly state our purpose to the group and state that we are trying to keep people together before the ride begins, before any of the sorting happens, so people feel less put upon if they are out front or singled out for being slower.

That's another thing missing from the graphic, a sense of the collective purpose. spectators are individuals, the collective can participate.
posted by eustatic at 7:56 AM on August 5, 2016 [13 favorites]

Apparently the mememakers do.

They prefer "memesmiths".
posted by Sangermaine at 8:00 AM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

To make it fair, you should show a cop with wraparound shades forcing the tall guy at gunpoint to buy two boxes and hand them to the short guy, while the middle-height guy looks on in blissful certainty that the cop will never come for his box.
posted by MattD at 8:03 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Right wingers like equality of opportunity because it's impossible to quantify and easy to assert already exists, especially because it lets you pretend that existing inequalities and power structures are natural and valid. Arguing against it like it's a good-faith idea is silly and unproductive.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:09 AM on August 5, 2016 [10 favorites]

To make it fair, you should show a cop ...

To make it real, you should show a cop shooting the small person, and the second person handing over his box to the tall person out of fear.
posted by eustatic at 8:13 AM on August 5, 2016 [18 favorites]

With every scrolldown/additional update, this became more delightful. Thanks Shmuel!
posted by emjaybee at 8:15 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

In a hiking situation, the correct thing to do is for everyone to match their pace to the slowest hiker, with the fastest hiker typically being placed at the back (or in larger groups, ranging up and down the line) and specifically charged with keeping the group together. The schedule should have lots of pre-determined breaks built in (either at milestones or at generous pre-set intervals) with buffer in the schedule to allow for additional breaks as needed.

The group leader should make sure that the group travels at the pace of the slowest hiker and use their people-management skills to ensure that the slowest person doesn't feel unfairly singled-out or an object of resentment. The emphasis should be on making sure that nobody gets exhausted (because that's a major safety issue) and that everybody is taking time to enjoy the sights and the experience of being in the out-of-doors, rather than rocketing on through and missing everything.

People who express resentment toward or disdain for the slowest hiker should be reminded that this is unkind, that keeping the group together both emotionally and physically is more important than showing off how fast you can go, that the hike itself is a fun activity and that they should be in no rush to "get it over with", and that the hike ends when the last person finishes, not when the first person does. If they're having trouble going slow and feel held back, they should be given additional responsibilities to make them feel important and to take their mind off the pace of the group. Also, to some extent and in some situations, slow hikers can be given less weight than fast ones in order to balance out their abilities and keep them moving at something closer to the same pace.

People who hike on ahead of the group, stop, and then start moving again as soon as the group catches up to them are jerks, and in a group situation they should be identified and dealt with early, ideally before the hike even begins.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:40 AM on August 5, 2016 [20 favorites]

Apparently the mememakers do.
Only the small-time operations. It's shunned at the larger think-danks.
posted by aw_yiss at 8:41 AM on August 5, 2016 [19 favorites]

In a hiking situation, the correct thing to do is for everyone to match their pace to the slowest hiker, with the fastest hiker typically being placed at the back (or in larger groups, ranging up and down the line) and specifically charged with keeping the group together.

That way, you don't get picked off by German u-boats.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:51 AM on August 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

They prefer "memesmiths".

That's so aughts. We're up to memewrights now.

That way, you don't get picked off by German u-boats.

Also, krakens.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:19 AM on August 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Oh, and also, breaks should either be group decisions or decreed by the group leader, not just something that happens whenever the people at the front feel like they need to stop for whatever reason. And when a break is called, the group should ideally regather at the center, not the front, with the front of the line back-tracking a bit until everybody is together again. (Exceptions for natural break spots such as a wide place with comfy logs or a bend in the trail with a great view are allowed.) This helps reinforce to those at the front who might want to shoot on ahead that they are part of the whole group rather than just a sub-clique of fast hikers, and that they don't benefit by outpacing the group as a whole.

Seriously, people who hike on ahead of the group and leave slower members in the dust piss me off. I have stories of poorly-managed hikes that I've been on where things got seriously dangerous and people ended up arriving alone, exhausted, injured, strung out over a six-hour period, drunk, in the dark, and furious at the group leader because the leader didn't manage the group and keep everyone together, and people were allowed to just take off at whatever speed they felt suited them best, even though it was super predictable that certain people would want to do that because we'd already been working together for weeks at that point. Worst. Hike. Ever. Still makes me angry to think about. Fuck that.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:21 AM on August 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

And OK I'll stop harping about this and get back to work after this comment, but I should point out that the slowest members of a group can often be induced to go a little faster (if truly necessary for schedule reasons) if they're given some extra attention in the form of gentle encouragement and morale-boosting. This needs to be done sensitively so that they don't feel singled out or like they're being pushed to go faster than they can safely manage, but attitude makes such a difference on a hike and a happy fat kid with a bad hip (to use sneetches' example) will move a lot faster than an unhappy one. If the slow person is feeling bad about themselves for being slow, and angry at the rest of the group for not giving them fair breaks and/or for generally making them target of resentment and disdain, they're going to get a lot slower even if not intentionally. Happy hikers move faster. A positive mental state feeds your physical energy, a negative one saps it. I cannot emphasize enough how big of a difference it makes. When everybody feels valued and appreciated, the whole group benefits.

A mixed group of hikers on a communal outing is like a tiny microcosm of society. Every type of interaction and drama you can imagine can and will happen in a group like that. Good leadership is about setting the group up for success. Once people realize that things are going well and everybody settles into a positive role that plays to their strengths, a tiny community forms and everyone sort of sustains each other. It's a beautiful thing to see happen.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:36 AM on August 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also, to some extent and in some situations, slow hikers can be given less weight than fast ones in order to balance out their abilities and keep them moving at something closer to the same pace.
I am a woman and do long distance trips with my husband. I was surprised at the amount of crap I received when I told people that on those trips he carries all my stuff. Apparently that makes me a lousy feminist and therefore bad. It always seemed to me to be the best idea. Contrary to him, I'm not an athletic person, and being able to do those trips is awesome enough for me. I'm much slower than he is, but our purpose is not to go as fast as possible, or to prove how tough we are, but to enjoy those trips. But if I carry my own gear, it slows me down even more, I can do less distance, I’m more tired, and we both have less fun. My husband is used to carrying things, and doesn't mind the extra weight. I'm going to remember the concept of equality of outcomes, which I find a much clearer description than "fairness", but that might be because English is not my own language (in my experience, most people think that fairness means having the same options: everybody gets a box to stand on, that's fair!).

It really is interesting how this translates to general inequality issues. I would love to think that people see this and immediately understand why equality of outcomes is important, but I’m sure there are more than a few people who really do think that the little guy should not want that extra box, that maybe he shouldn’t want to watch that game at all if he isn’t big enough to be able to look over the fence, that it would be extra commendable if he just tried to watch it without needing that box (even though tall guy doesn’t need it at all). Little guy just needs to be creative, when they were unable to see over a fence one day they just found a tiny hole in the fence to watch through and sure, you didn’t see a lot, but well, they could see something, kids these days, so entitled, etc.
posted by blub at 10:33 AM on August 5, 2016 [15 favorites]

It's weird that people give you that crap, blub. If nothing else, people's weight limits should be calculated based on a percentage of their body weight adjusted for their athleticism. It shouldn't be just divided up equally. Why should a 110lb person with a bad back carry the same amount as a 180lb person who hikes all the time? When I hike with friends and family, we all decide ahead of time how much weight we feel comfortable carrying, and then divide up our cargo accordingly. That's what I was taught in the Scouts, and that's what I've always done.

You need equality of outcomes in a situation like that. As you said, it would be pointless and make the hike worse if you and your husband each carried equal weight, because you'd be suffering unnecessarily and your paces would become very different—potentially creating ill-will and ruining the tone of the whole expedition—whereas if you each carry an appropriate load you can keep up with each other, nobody feels overloaded, and everyone has fun.

Not everybody can carry the same load, nor should they be expected to. Setting things up for equal outcomes makes things better for the whole group. Kind of sounds like a metaphor for something, eh?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:49 AM on August 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Interesting article about the spread of memes but the repeated use of; my image, my graphic, my original... got increasingly tedious. It's a good graphic but this guy didn't exactly discover penicillin.

It's like listening to a guy who went out to lunch with the Baja Men in early 2000 and said, "who let the dogs out?" Good job, I guess. But I have a feeling that his friends and family are getting tired of hearing about it.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:06 AM on August 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

with regards to the hiking analogy, which is a good one IMO for pointing out unconscious privilege (seriously, most capable athletes/hikers have very little self awareness of HOW DIFFICULT it is for a non-athletic person to keep up, ugh), I've been coaching cyclists for years and seen this dynamic play out all too often in group rides.

In our situation (not sure how this works with hiking although I can guess) we will good-naturedly impose "penalty laps" on the faster riders, meaning that agreed-upon regroup points are laid out, and when the faster guys and/or gals reach the crest of that hill up yonder, or X intersection on a mountain biking trail, they are to stop, turn around, and retrace the route all the way back to the slowest / last rider, and then re-climb the hill / retrace the section of trail and continue to do so until everyone has reached the regrouping point.

And yeah, basically everything else Anticipation said. Don't be a jerk, is basically what it boils down to, but omg that is SO. DIFFICULT. for a certain subset of aggressively competitive Type A individuals to comprehend, whether it's social justice, hiking, or cycling, apparently.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:36 AM on August 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

Lonefront, that's why my WEMT instructor said that the best thing to do was to identify that Type A super athletic person right at the beginning (they usually stick out like a sore thumb in a mixed group: they're the one decked head-to-toe in expensive, purpose-made hiking gear, who's doing stretches and lunges at the trailhead before an open-to-all hike billed as "Lichens: Up Close and Personal") and give them a job.

Give them the very important (legitimately!) job of bringing up the rear of the group and making sure that if anyone is starting to straggle, they either help them along or come on up to the front of the group to let you, the group leader, know about it. Filled with pride at their newfound importance, they will then usually do an excellent job of running herd on the rest of the group and helping keep people together, rather than shooting ahead in a cloud of contempt, stretching out the line and making everyone else feel terrible about themselves.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:43 AM on August 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

Or, for hiking, you can do what my boy scout troop did: break out the hiking groups by ability. Slow/handicapped hikers get one group, and can even choose an easier route; faster, more capable hikers get their group and can choose a rougher more challenging hike, and the go-getters can choose to run up the mountain as fast as they can on the steepest vertical ascent offered. For hiking the northern terminus of the Appalachian trail, Mt. Katahdin, we had just about those three groups: everyone made it up the mountain, but two of the three groups were only allowed by the rangers to use an easy, gently sloping path, my group was allowed and enjoyed taking the Appalachian trail up (quite steep in parts), but in turn my group was being passed regularly by the crazies who run the trail at full speed, who were usually bumping aside and generally being quite rude to other, slower hikers who got in their way -- and were always alone.

If your hiking group has to stay together and has a diverse range of ability, then yes, for the interest of the group, you limit your speed to the slowest member, putting him in front -- but then admit you're doing so for the group, and if that level of compromise doesn't appeal to you, find another group closer to your own ability level or, to be blunt, suck it up in the interest of group coherency.
posted by Blackanvil at 12:13 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

yeah, to clarify, that is a specific job in a cycling group ride; it's called "sweep" and generally the stronger riders are also perfectly happy to pull penalty laps and sweep as they both gain bonus mileage and climbing, plus get to demonstrate their superiority to everyone else. I usually tag the Type A elite showoff-y types as TAs / assistant coaches to help form pacelines or teach noobs and slower riders better climbing technique / gearing and/or how to clear that one log everyone's bitching about up the trail... but it depends, some aren't very good at human relations, either, so they just get penalty laps.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:20 PM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of fascinated by the fence. Why is it there? I suppose the likely idea is that it's there to keep people who haven't paid from seeing the game, in which case, all three are equal in... seeing a game for free? What if the fence is there to protect people from errant balls? in this case, putting the shortest person up on extra boxes is exposing them to danger (to say nothing of the removal of the fence in the "liberation" panels). The weird scenarios where everyone gets a super-huge box so that the shortest can see over the fence but the tallest has a box that is as big as the shortest's seems to risk the tallest falling over the fence and possibly hurting themselves.

The "feminist" version is, needless to say, stupid and disingenuous. That guy probably deserves to fall over the fence or get hit by a ball (in the balls, if you lean towards the tendentiously literal).
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:41 PM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

"While hiking, I typically fell behind."

Herbie? Is that you?
posted by klarck at 1:47 PM on August 5, 2016

a number of conservative takedowns / backlashes against the meme played up the just world theory of the fact that using "stolen" resources (the crates) to "steal" a view of the game is a perfect example of how efforts at socialism are merely thinly disguised theft from the deserving and various other GRAR talking points.

other variants go on to point out that equality is one box each, equity is raising up the smallest to the level of the tallest, and LIBERATION is removal of the fence altogether, with various metaphors tied to the removal of social barriers, etcetera.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:51 PM on August 5, 2016

I like that the image assumes that we all side with kids trying to see a ballgame for free. It kind of feels like (old school) Sesame Street. It just presupposes that we sympathize with kids and working-class folks, and goes on to make its point about equality on top of that. I suppose its intended conservative audience might get bogged down in free-stuff->death-of-market->no-stuff worries (as some of the memes illustrate), but despite his intentions, I don't think this graphic is really working on conservatives. This is much more of a live battle within the "left" these days, where dozens of speeches at the DNC mention "equal opportunity" without ever recognizing that it contains these two competing concepts of justice. And that that failure to distinguish is itself part of what defines (American) liberalism as a bulwark against socialism and radical redistribution. We're gradually moving from justice-as-freedom to justice-as-equal-opportunity to justice-as-fair-outcomes (or conversely, that unfair outcomes prove unfair opportunities). And this graphic is another small push in that direction. But I like that, along the way, it takes a casual swipe at "intellectual property."
posted by chortly at 2:42 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

What I like about the graphic is there is no sane way to argue that the tall guy, whose height is happenstance and in absolutely no way a "self made" attribute, deserves to see the game more than his compatriots. Even if they came from "the right sort" of families which ensured adequate nutrition and health care and that if Short's parents had "been more responsible" they might be tall too: there is literally nothing Short could have done to change their fate.

You'd have to be immensely privileged, an idiot, or a believer in bloodlines or other creepy bullshit to argue against the message.
posted by maxwelton at 3:30 PM on August 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

TFA was fun, but my take on the hiking subthread is that in my scouting days, we often broke into two or three groups and divided the end-of-hike duties by group. The fastest group were given the heavy canvas tents and would set up the campsite (and woe betide them if they skimped clearing the ground). The next group gathered sticks and wood along the way to set up and light the campfire(s). The last group carried the food and other items.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 5:51 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

You'd have to be immensely privileged, an idiot, or a believer in bloodlines or other creepy bullshit to argue against the message.

That's actually why I've been a bit skeptical of this comic (having of course seen it many times before at this point), though I've found it a bit hard to articulate why. I guess the idea is that it functions very well as an argument in favor of, say, wheelchair access ramps, and in part the reason why those have become so ubiquitous is that it is manifestly clear even to Republicans that most wheelchair-necessitating disabilities are clearly not the fault of the individual. Similarly, even (some) Republicans can see that being short is not the fault of the individual (unless, of course, they're a woman). In the same way that one-box-one-person seems obviously fair, the unfairness here -- that some people need more boxes than others to reach the "threshold" -- is also obvious.

But the problem is that I can (and do) see people at the center and center-left agreeing to this -- agreeing to things like, say, wheelchair ramps -- while still insisting that once these obvious things have been provided -- once the crudest forms of inequality have been addressed -- the job of liberalism is done. The whole reason progressivism is hard, though, is that 99.9% of these sorts of inequalities are totally invisible, not just easy to ignore but actually hard to discern. For instance, the entire edifice of "intellectual property," which suggests that we need markets with real money in order to support activities like art and sports, rests on the most commonplace false-equality story, the idea that equal prices means equal opportunity. This is why I prefer not so much the abstract formulation of equal outcomes, with its tendency to slip into Harrison-Bergeronian caricature, so much as judging fairness on actual observed outcomes, regardless of how invisible the unfairness may seem. In some ways, this is easier to illustrate -- ideally, you just have to show someone a statistic of educational outcomes by race, eg. In any reasonable world, the fact that blacks do so much worse than whites means either (a) you believe this is just because you are a racist, or (b) this is so obviously unjust and so obviously not the fault of the children, that it needs immediate and deep restitution. Yet not even the Sanders folks are calling for a wholesale federalization and reform of school funding, despite their willingness to propose pie-in-the-sky idealistic solutions. And that's not just because they are a bunch of quasi-racist white dudes (they aren't). It's because it's so easy to see the box examples that you feel like a few progressive redistributions of the boxes largely fixes the obvious flaws.

The comic is nice, but it seems to appear mainly in self-congratulatory liberal brochures and powerpoints. Again, I agree with it and like it, but it's not convincing conservatives, except perhaps about obvious things like height, and it's mainly just confirming standard liberalism in its mild solutions to obvious inequality. But how you succinctly illustrate the invisible stuff, the stuff that's really causing the problems, is harder to figure. You would think that merely pointing to so many poor nonwhite children would do the job -- either you're a racist, or society is -- but apparently not. And if something that obvious can't do the job -- where the outcomes are clearly unfair even if the pathway (boxes) is complex and invisible -- then I can only wish we can find another comic to illustrate the hard problem.* Though in the meantime, I'm happy to have these tidy boxes that might nudge the "immensely privileged, an idiot, or a believer in bloodlines" towards at least basic restitutions.

[* Though I think dances_with_sneetches's post, YAMWAK's question, and anticipation...'s follow-ups do a marvelous job of discussing both a less-visible problem and the complex, non-obvious solutions so often needed to fix them. So perhaps I'm just biased towards narrative.]
posted by chortly at 12:13 AM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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