Parable of the Polygons: segregation and "slight" racism


Vi Hart and Nicky Case created a brilliant "playable post" that challenges you to arrange two groups of polygons to make them "happy" by ensuring that no more than 2/3 of their neighbors are different.

What the simulations demonstrates is that a very slight bias against difference very quickly leads to near-total segregation. It's an update of the classic 1971 segregation math of Thomas Schelling.

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.”

Harmless, right? Every polygon would be happy with a mixed neighborhood. Surely their small bias can't affect the larger shape society that much? Well...

Parable of the Polygons - a playable post on the shape of society

(via Vi Hart)

Notable Replies

  1. This overly simplifies the complexity of racism. At best, the polygons express "discrimination". Racism is prejudice plus power, these polygons have no such dynamic as part of their behavioral motivations.

  2. Nice! A good starting point.

    The word "parable" really should've keyed you off to that.

  3. JonS says:

    Reading the whole article, where she explicitly acknowledges that it is a highly simplified model, might have helped too.

  4. Redlining

  5. 1. Small individual bias → Large collective bias.
    When someone says a culture is shapist, they're not saying the individuals in it are shapist. They're not attacking you personally.

    This is a really important point that gets a lot of arguments hung up on "not all men"-type fooforaw. If I say that gamer culture is sexist, I am not saying that you, personally, are sexist.

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