Tag Archives: Amendment One

Amendment One and My Extinction Burst Theory

9 May

North Carolina passed Amendment One yesterday, and I’m extremely disappointed with my future home state. But I also think this piece of discriminatory legislation is the beginning of the end. As ThinkProgress points out, equality momentum is at a new high. Obama (finally) endorsed marriage equality today. And public support for same-sex marriage is growing.

My theory is that the slew of discriminatory legislative efforts we have seen of late – not just those targeting same-sex couples, but also those targeting women – represent an extinction burst.

Let’s say you’ve got a kid who has learned that if he screams in the supermarket, Mom will buy him a candy bar to keep him quiet. He likes candy bars, so he screams every time he and Mom go to the store. Mom gets extremely tired of this, orders the first season of Super Nanny, and learns that to put an end to the screaming, she’s going to have to stop inadvertently reinforcing it with candy. The next time she and kiddo go to the store, he starts screaming as usual. But this time Mom doesn’t get him a candy bar. He is confused. He is upset. This behavior has always worked before. Maybe he’s just not screaming loud enough. He screams louder, but nothing happens. He wants that candy bar and is getting frantic now, so he throws in some flailing too. Mom doesn’t give in. The same thing happens the next few times he and Mom go to the store. Eventually the screaming stops.

This is an example of an extinction burst – an escalation in undesired behavior in response to that behavior no longer producing the desired reward. I think anti-feminist, anti-LGBT legislators are in the same boat as our hypothetical screaming kid. This kind of legislation used to produce the “reward” of smoothly maintaining the status quo, ensuring the continued power of male heterosexual leaders, and providing comfort to those with prejudicial fears. But we live in a country that is increasingly less willing to provide those rewards without a fight, and legislators are upset and screaming. Our job is to keep withholding that candy bar, and to continue fighting, writing, talking, and voting with the knowledge that we’re slowly but surely ushering a discriminatory past to extinction.

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