Photo by Derek Story on Unsplash

The Parable of the Boiling Frog

“If you drop a frog into boiling water, it will jump out and survive. But if you turn up the temperature slowly, it will remain there until it dies.”


Turns out that idea is bullshit.

If you drop a frog into boiling water, its muscles will likely stop working before it can escape. It may try, but it’s too late. However, if you drop it in at room temperature then heat very slowly it will most likely jump out of the pot well before it would die.

Why? Have you ever met a frog? What kind of frog likes sitting in a pot of water for any length of time? A kitchen pot is not its ideal environment of rocks, moving water, and food. If nothing else, like most animals, it can sense the current temperature and move to where it’s most comfortable, as soon as it’s free to do so.

However, the “rings true” metaphor for humans implies that we won’t fight back if our rights are slowly taken away. But we will supposedly revolt if the loss is more sudden.

Is that really true, or maybe residual bullshit as well?

If a regime was elected for a [second?] chance at authoritarianism, some of us will surely resist. But, as we’ve seen, too many people would go along with it as the new normal, especially if they’re vulnerable to (or benefitting from) the regime’s power.

It’s not safe or smart to stand up for other people or frogs… especially when you’re not feeling threatened yourself.

So maybe the story should be: “If a comfortable group of frogs sees a single frog boiled in water, they will likely blame frog(!) and do nothing to save it or themselves.”

The real question becomes: “What number of frogs need to be boiled before the comfortable frogs learn to resist?”

In other words, can we empathize and learn from other people’s tragedies? Or do we condemn them, so we can still feel safe?

Looking at 10/7, that’s what’s happening to Israelis IMO. So many people blame Jews for being attacked by terrorists. We can see how many other people in the world /still/ don’t think radical terrorism affects them — today or tomorrow — while that movement is ostensibly seeking to turn the world into a living hell for almost everyone (see Iran). Supporting or normalizing such terrorism — even if you think many of the grievances are legit — makes the radicalism spread faster.

So how many boiled frogs will it take for us to take real action against the butchers, whose expressed intent is to cook as many frogs as possible?



Avi Bar-Zeev

XR Pioneer (30+ years), started/helped projects at Microsoft (HoloLens), Apple, Amazon, Keyhole (Google Earth), Linden Lab (Second Life), Disney (VR), XR Guild