Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Speaking Up

An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician are each given the task of enclosing a group of sheep in an enclosure as economically as possible. The engineer, knowing that straight lines are easiest to construct and that the area of a rectangle with a given perimeter is maximized when the sides are equal in length, calculates the area the sheep take up and produces a square enclosure. The physicist, on the other hand, recommends a circular pen, as circles have the highest area-to-perimeter ratio of any closed shape and so will use the least fencing. Finally, the mathematician takes a turn. She constructs a tiny circle, steps inside, and states, "I define myself to be on the outside."

Okay, I didn't come up with this joke myself; it's pretty famous. And relevant to this blog, I swear.

Sunday night Jess posted about an anti-gay app that's currently available through Apple's store. (We're opposed to it. You are encouraged to sign the petition.) We've gotten a couple of comments since then, through this blog and on our private Facebook accounts, telling us to ignore the bigots in the hopes that they'll go away.

The problem is, I don't think this approach is effective. Yes, if some mentally deranged person got an app through that demanded that we herd up the dentists in the country and throw them into a volcano, I would ignore it, because that is an extreme fringe opinion. Unfortunately, in a country where same-sex couples are mostly not allowed to marry and where de-gayifying your children is a successful business model, Exodus International's viewpoint is not really that fringe.

Most of our discriminated-against groups are minorities. Those who belong to these minority groups cannot ignore the discrimination and bigotry that they encounter in their daily lives and in the media.* It is simply not possible. And even if it were, what does it accomplish when bigotry is the norm? Ignoring the bigots would just isolate the non-bigot, much like the mathematician in the sheep pen.

* Not that the obligation to speak up rests solely with those in the discriminated-against minority. It is the responsibility of non-bigots to stand up for them and better the odds, of course.

1 comment:

  1. In a bit of good news, Apple has pulled the Exodus International app (sadly, they did it quietly, but I'm still glad they did it).

    As an aside, I always liked how the Mathematician solved the problem. One could also turn it into a parable about radical thinking and working to alter paradigms. But that's neither here nor there, as your interpretation works in the context of the people who advocate ignoring the problem.