Is Patagonia the Rabbit or the Duck: Why It’s Okay to Answer “Both”

By: John A. Lanier

I take a deep-dive into exactly how Yvon Chouinard gave away his ownership of Patagonia earlier this month. To me, the details matter, and they show that he was both acting philanthropically and in a way that minimized his tax liability. For that, I applaud him.

Rabbit or duck? If you aren’t sure what I mean, click that link and look at the image. It’s a 130-year-old optical illusion, and the question is whether you see a rabbit or a duck first. Whichever you see, it’s not too hard to refocus on the image and see the opposite animal. In casual company, this image can spark some fun conversation, as there is no clear correlation between who will see what first.

There are other examples of this effect. A classic one is the My Wife and My Mother-in-Law illusion. You also have the Rubin vase. One of my favorites is the spinning ballerina. I always see her spinning to the right (or clockwise, if you will), but if I concentrate REALLY hard, I can make myself see her spinning the other way. What I find most interesting about all of these, though, is how we tend to frame them. Each one is presented as an “or” proposition. Duck or rabbit? Young woman or old? Vase or two faces? Spinning right or left? In truth, there is always a right answer - it’s both. But for some reason, we humans are wired to take sides.

Let me give you one more example. Is Yvon Chouinard a trailblazing climate philanthropist or a savvy tax dodger?

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