The Jellybean Analogy

I am not firstly a political writer, but sometimes I fee I must speak my mind about politics. One meme that made the rounds this week is about candy (in this case Skittles, a kind of jellybean)…

What If?
What If?

This is what we call in the real world a false equivalence. It implies that you are willing to take a small but real chance of dying in exchange for something that is essentially worthless, candy.

But alas, we live in a real world of hard choices. Does a battalion commander send his unit to capture a ridge, risking two percent of his troops, for a handful of candy? No, of course not. But his attack might save 50,000 lives. That two percent is potentially traded for something valuable.

The question is centered around the current coronavirus pandemic, and some have suggested that we need to allow, or at least accept that, two percent of everyone who gets the disease will die. People are not Skittles, of course, so the question is an absurd and overly simplistic view of a very daunting task ahead of us.

Sure, they look like jellybeans, but in truth they are something far more complex and important.
Sure, they look like jellybeans, but in truth they are something far more complex and important.




  1. I think I first heard the jellybean false equivalence in the context of immigration. Someone very ill-informed suggested (or was it insisted?) that X% of immigrants would maim/rape/kill my family members, just like the X% of poisoned jellybeans, and therefore wanted to know if I’d risk eating the jar of jellybeans (allow Y immigrants into the country). As with the coronavirus argument, it makes the mistake of conflating candy (worthless, harmful even if not poisoned) with people. It also, of course, ignored that almost all maiming, raping, and killing in the country is committed by natural born citizens, even by percentage. (Statistically, I’d be safer in a community of immigrants than in a community of natural born citizens.)

    With the coronavirus comparison, I’m not even sure what they’re trying to say, unless it’s that we should “re-open the economy”, so the wealthy can get on with the business of exploitation while some number of plebes must necessarily die – which is the entire argument of capitalism in the first place.

  2. Why is it false equivalence ? Partying or sitting in a cafe during a COVID outbreak can be argued to be as”worthless” as candy, as each pursuit (ie. eating candy and partying) are arguably non-essential, with the former (at the very least) being merely a means for experiencing instant gratification.

    I think that the real message that the meme is trying to convey is less about the motivation for the risky behaviour and everything to do about probability of the consequence, because as we know COVID deniers tend to fallaciously downplay the 1/98or 1/99% statistic.

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