I have to say, this is probably one of the best comics I’ve seen (not just from you). If it were up to me, I’d make this something that is mandatory reading in schools. The whole message of little steps/practice/small compromise after small compromise leading to great OR catastrophic results is… critically important. I salute your (as usual) clever insight and effective way of communicating (hey, sometimes “too many words” is a good thing).
“Practice makes perfect” is a cliche thrown around so lightly that it’s nice to see someone unpackage it and put it in a larger context than just learning some new skill. Brain plasticity affects most every aspect of our existence, and it would be wonderful if we would acknowledge this instead of assuming that everything is innate.
This comic really struck a chord with me as a student learning about social justice movements. Your breakdown of the ‘steps’ people take to do both good and evil is very thought provoking, and I especially dig the ending. What I’m left wondering is how to inspire the glance down that brings the realization at just how far a problem has risen.
The message about how we need to keep a close watch on ourselves, because good people do bad things with stairs, is a very important one. If you believe only truly bad people do very bad things, then you won’t watch your steps carefully enough to prevent yourself from doing evil. Thank you for this VERY well done explanation of this, and all the rest of it!
See, if I’d read this years before I made the mistakes I’ve already made that may or may have led to the good decisions that brought me where I am today I … can’t maze through that logic, but lovely comic.
Doesn’t seem to be on the front page, only via the RSS – might want to tell the accidental world it’s time to re-gorge their subnormality gland.
I was expecting a big punchline at the end, so i was thrown off by the ending. then i read it again, and realized that every wall of text is right on the money. the same thoughts were going around my head too, but they are really well written here.
Wow. I think that is the second best comic you have ever done (nothing will beat The Line, although that’s not even necessarily a comic). Seriously, you have outdone yourself. The whole time I was wondering why this Saturday evening was “in the future” and then the end just made everything clear, and I couldn’t smile and laugh a little. When a specific comic that isn’t meant to be funny still makes you laugh because of a point it makes, I’d say it’s damn successful. Well done sir, and I’m going to remember this the next time I’m having a rough day, that it’s just a series of steps that led me to that. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to use the stair analogy in future conversations with people, because it’s just so brilliantly formed. I might also pick up that book, it sounds interesting. Thank you for continuing to inspire me with your art. I don’t usually comment, but I’d like to speak for all your loyal non-commenting readers when I say that every one of your comics is a great pleasure to read. But once in a while, a comic of yours really touches or inspires me, so I have to comment. Keep up the good work!
Winst, I think this is one of my favorite Subnormality pieces of all time (and I’ve read them all!) It’s both cautionary and inspiring, and I think it’s going to be one of those things I mentally refer back to every time I’m feeling discouraged or intimidated by the seemingly impossible.
I also love how you took those two characters from previous strips (I tend to think of them as the “philosophical debate girls”) and showed them being older (are they actually married now [in the future]?) I also love the “Peterson Analogy & Metaphor” sign.😀
Sometimes I get anxious checking the Subnormality homepage to find that there isn’t a new comic, but then I find every couple of weeks you produce something truly worth waiting for. Keep up the great work.😀
You’re a good man, Mr Rowntree. I like this one a lot.
It always amazes me how we humans, finding ourselves in a new group, can really vault up those stairs unawares because the norms in our environment have changed.
I guess the good trick, then, in life is to find the group that has you slaloming back down the stair unawares.
One of the best comic I’ve ever seen (not only here), somehow really motivating. The opening picture reminded me of Stanisław Jerzy Lec’s saying:
Suppose you succeed in breaking the wall with your head. And what, then, will you do in the next cell?
I have to say, this was so indescribably awesome. Its both scares me and fills me with hope on the duality of human nature, and how both truly great or horrendously evil things can be accomplished. Its one of those things in the back of everyone’s mind, even if they don’t realize it, but this strip puts it right out there for all to see.
You know, I had a thought whilst reading this entry.
One could make a show based on this comic, SUBNORMALITY, and every episode be based around a comic that you have made, and I bet it would be a success. Add in some ancillary characters, with your oversight, and you’ve got a receipt for greatness.
@blank, i agree, the idea behind this comic is really amazing! and it’s a mentality that i think it’s worth spreading, I’m actually planning to start a web show and while it’s not gonna be based on this comic, subnormality has been a great influence in my artistic life, keep doing what you do.
You put into words what I have been thinking about for a long time now. Thank you for illustrating in an amazingly simple way the complexity of human behaviors. Intelligent and warm for the soul. Let’s hope we are all climbing more good stairs than evil ones.
It’s also weird, after reading the strip I linked to, their lesbianism was also implied. You’ve gotten better, though I think the wall of text is hindering you. Less words are more words in comics, and I think you’re forgetting that.
I’m just popping by the comments board to say that I think this was one of your best strips in a while. You’ve shown us something most of us, on one level or another, already knew…but had probably never formalized as well as you’ve done it here. You’re a philosopher. =)
I was reading this comic and was thinking mostly about myself. Of course, right? I have goals, things that will require small steps to accomplish. I want to get in shape. I want to write a novel. There are certain small steps that one must take to accomplish things like that. And there are certain small steps one can take in order to make those things impossible.
The comic was delicious enough when I was merely thinking of myself and my own personal goals.
And then you give us those last two panels, and all of a sudden by god it wasn’t just about me anymore, and I had a double dose of deliciousness. Thanks, man. I really appreciate this comic.
Another great honest yet endearingly hopeful look at ourselves. Great comic, great story. Also, I saw on previous comments you posted in reply that you are getting self conscious at only drawing “hot” women – well here are two endearing women who look like people I meet and like every day. The ending touched my heart.
I couldn’t help making a SB&HJ reference. In all seriousness though, this was an amazing comic. The wall of text puts me off at first but after the first few lines BOOM I’m hooked onto your delicious word gravy.
Winston Rowntree, I could explain in long detail how amazing I’ve found that last comic of yours, using a long wall of text along the way, but after reading it the Nth time around I decided that it would be more apt to just become one more step in the whole stair of praise that will surely cheer you up, so:
Thats brilliant… I like the way it leads to the end.
Many of us are so hard bound by conventional thoughts and learnings of how human beings and society must been, that its difficult for them to accept that there can be something better than what has been happening for so long. They are so convinced by the righteousness of this way of life that its impossible to make them believe otherwise.
This comic is truly brilliant, and I hope this comes true in the future…
Actually I feel kind of sad now, but not really because of the metaphor rather that there is no way people ever going to talk this intelligently around me (maybe expectation is my family) but like I am going to university and the people are so dumb there and of course I become the black sheep. Oh well… not that I didn’t got used to it.
@Brad, IMO it’s the two girls who were already featured way back in subnormality, you know, the one who used to have her hair dyed in pink and the homeless chick, I think they also somehow got married
Asides from the possible interpretations of the canon, the comic itself is pure gold,truly enlightening I really to read something like this, Thanks Rowntree, keep it up, you know we’ll always be here lurking on Mondays even though we’re kinda used to take Wednesdays as 2nd Mondays as well.
The aftermath of a Swedish influenca ?
Slipping pen ? See what you mean ! I can imagine an artistic, 40C fever peak in frame 7 (the cubistic? face of the speckled girl-lady). Interesting.
The lady in black seems nice and ..well.. wise for her age (40 straight?).
* Partly stolen from
Holy molars !
Keep it up Winston !
P.s. Suppose I, somehow, luckily invited them for lunch ! What the hell could we talk about ? Carpentry ?
this comic, somehow, sounded to me as a cautionary tale…it’s something i should keep in mind, never to find something so “stupid” i couldn’t do it. If i don’t keep in mind my values and don’t forget who am i, maybe i could end in some situation so far from what i’ve wanted that i couldn’t believe it’s that bad. But as you say in the end, this can be good too, progression takes you to the “impossible” so out of reach…
great comic as always, and this one with a good lesson for life
E. Dejeva : The text on the stairs starts by just repeating the stuff she says about conformity and trusting authority and such, and then trails off into unreadable scribbles, because i don’t claim to know ALL the steps. I feel it’s the most significant staircase, if you will, in the history of modern western society, and the debate over what all the steps were will continue for decades.
God damn man, every week i expect something good, but that’s one of the best, thank you kindly for the hard work man, few words describe how glad i am you didn’t end up in some dark damp office grinding your soul away. Instead you manage to give real social commentary, particularly without being a pretentious asshole.
So again, thanks kindly dude, and keep em coming.
“@Brad, IMO it’s the two girls who were already featured way back in subnormality, you know, the one who used to have her hair dyed in pink and the homeless chick, I think they also somehow got married”
I believe they are the creepy story girl and the homeless chick. Man, what an awesome marry would that be!
As always, a wonderful comic man😀
I like all of your comics, but Stairs is definitely my favorite. It’s an amazing concept that you explain really well. I want to print out the fifth row and put it on my wall to keep me reminded of it. ^^
It was 5:20pm when I stumbled across your comic. I loved it, and so then read the next… and then the next… and then the next…
It’s now 6:58pm, and I’ve had more entertainment the past hour-and-a-bit than pretty much any movie has ever offered me.
I wish the entire world had some resemblance to your perception of the world.
We’d be a far more enlightened race, all with the common consciousness of wishing a giant Sphynx with an attractive girl’s head actually existed and had conversations with us.
This is the greatest single comic in the history of human civilization. This needs to be posted in every classroom in the country, and in the office of every politician. And on billboards in every city and every highway. Just a coincidence, but I see a lot of Scott McCloud in this. And the little red/green/green/red panels? That would make a fabulous t-shirt, front and back. Think about it. I’d buy some.
First time here as well, I very much enjoy your artistic style and the thoughtfulness of your dialogue even though I disagree with some of it (though not all). As much as this will not make me popular I offer an alternative to the second-to-last panel:
“How about this: A few decades ago it would have been illegal for you and I to get married in most places, here included, which just seems surreal now, I mean it’s hard to get your mind around it, but thanks to a persistent politically-correct anti-establishment liberal media and pop culture we’re now so far from where we used to be that it’s hard to believe society used to hold the idea of marriage to a higher standard than what the secular culture wants it to become. And I bet people never thought we’d be able to make an entire generation think it can redefine an institution based on procreation of the species, but the media and secular structure has corrupted enough well-meaning young minds… it was just a matter of time.”
I would also submit that the realization that ‘same-sex marriage’ is a popular but ultimately regressive idea will need several steps to be taken to re-educate people to why it never caught on in other cultures including Rome, arguably the most pro-homosexual pagan empire in history. But those are steps I’m willing to take.
Yeah I’m one of those old-fashioned types. Sue me. But then again, that’s diversity: a group of people who aren’t the same sharing opinions and perspectives.
What’s the matter? Not enough billy goats passed over your bridge this week so you felt the need to pick a fight?
“A higher standard” for marriage, eh? Last I checked there were plenty of heterosexual marriages that were viciously unhappy and/or adulterous and/or abusive and/or constantly broken and/or divorced. Many of these were established well within a given religious institution.
Also, why is this “regressive?” You express that it was something that historically never occurred before yet consider it something regressive.
“[…] why it never caught on in other cultures including Rome, arguably the most pro-homosexual pagan empire in history. But those are steps I’m willing to take.”
Because Pagan cultures had the same hang-ups about marriage as Christians… right. Also, I’m sure the Romans had tax breaks and other incentives for marriage to add to the debate.
“Yeah I’m one of those old-fashioned types. Sue me. But then again, that’s diversity: a group of people who aren’t the same sharing opinions and perspectives.”
So you’re hiding your bigotry behind the notion of “everyone’s different?” Maybe you should have better reasons for believing something than merely being contrary.
Diego: I do appreciate the relatively polite tone of your argument, but as Eric said you have to concede that it’s wholly disingenuous to say that marriage has until now been held to a high standard, because it’s only maintained at the standard of the two individuals participating in it- and if you want to talk about diversity then it’s been a pretty diverse range of people getting married and a pretty diverse range of standards.
But let’s not pretend we’re really debating the institution of marriage here (The procreation of the species? Is that really what must be protected? Because birth rates worldwide are dangerously low you mean, so we simply can’t take the chance? Because non-heterosexual women are incapable of giving birth? Because non-heterosexual men are incapable of procreating?). What this is about is basic human rights and it’s about the fight to remind the world that people’s sexuality is completely irrelevant to their rights and their character. That’s the goal. It is quite simply the least regressive thing ever.
I will not attack you for being old-fashioned, I will instead say to you that you should go make some non-heteronormative acquaintances and then take another run at your stance on same-sex marriage because what so many anti-same-sex marriage people are lacking is a face to associate with the aspect of humanity that they are arguing against. Find a face, and then see if you can repeat your beliefs to it. See if you can tell an actual person to their face that they don’t deserve what you deserve. See if you can dehumanize someone in person. And I only suggest it because i doubt you can, i doubt you have no soul. That’s what i choose to believe.
Maybe i’m being naively optimistic here (or just hopeful) but I don’t want to beat you into the ground, I want to convince you that not only are you treading a sinister path but you’re missing out too. When you exclude, you exclude millions of potential friends.
I’ve recently been thinking about how parents mess up their kids. We’re this antisocial indifferent generation raised by divorcees that were in turn raised by a generation of abusers or hippies or what have you. It feels like there’s a reason we’re the way we are, but that’s just an excuse because we didn’t feel loved, even though the fact that we’re alive is evidence that someone cared for us in some way.
Parent’s don’t love their kids the way the kids wanna be loved because they weren’t loved by their parents the way they wanted to be when they were kids. It kinda just sucks the optimism out of you.
This comic talks about small steps that lead us to some kind of progress. But what about when you’re stuck in a situation without options, when there are no small steps like “feel loved” or “listen to each other”? So much of the human experience is intangible.
If you’re born into something you cant understand how do you change it? Is that why we’re so messed up, because we simply CAN’T understand the reasons we think or feel the way we do? Not all of us are deep, not all of us are profound or educated. Where’s the hope in a planet of that?
Amazing comic. I agree with the commenter who said this should be taught in schools.
The only thing I can think of that I didn’t agree with is that I thought perhaps the first few stairs in the Nazi scenario needed rearranging– it seems a pretty big jump to “tolerating prejudice” on the second step, and I imagine most people would find it a strange step to jump onto for no reason, though it’d still not be very high on the staircase. I think “trusting authority” is a more likely second or even first step.
Disregarding all the Big World intonations this has for societal change and stuff I really appreciate this comix for what it means to each of us personally. My favorite frame is the one with the stairs that say “practice, practice, practice, practice…” on them leading to an easel.
I’m not that impatient for a 16 year old but famously , life seems too slow for us. I like the new perspective this has given me for long term and short term (the bad day to good day steps) and I will definately be sharing this with some of my friends.
You’re truely amazing. I’ve been reading your comics for a little while now, re-read all of them and I just find you absolutely fantastic. I repeatedly get goosebumps from your comics. Keep up the unbelieveable work🙂
Damn, nicely done. I think this one wasn’t heavy-handed at all, because it wasn’t trying to point fingers at anyone, and I really like that. It was worth the extra wait. I did have to increase my screen resolution to read it though…😀
Some people have complained, in the past, about walls of text, even though I like them – they have asked why you cannot say things with fewer words – but I realized that I identify with using this many words to get my mind around a topic. Are you like me, WR – do you go through issues in your head so substantially, and so often? I would guess that you do, since you’ve said that you over-think things sometimes, but I don’t want to assume.
NoVan: Yeah, i’m totally like you. I definitely do go through issues in my head, substantially and often. Often while in the bathroom. Or while someone is talking to me (apologies to everyone i know). If you identify with using a lot of words it’s because that’s how people think and that’s how people talk and so that’s how i write.
One of my closest friends is gay and in the past, under the influence of alcohol, lack of female company and/or boredom I’ve experimented a bit, so one could say I’ve been pretty close to gays before on a social level.
That said vis a vis Diego, I really don’t think much of the issue at all, though of course my gay friends get on me about it. The way I see it is this: Okay, so say the government extends “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” as some American States and Municipalities have in the past, which pretty much offers the same legal coverage of marriage (in the case of civil unions) while having the grammatical fig leaf of not being actual marriage for the various God-bothering types.
My gay friends are pretty much divided between those who see it as a step towards their end goal, and those who see it as a throwback to “separate but equal” Jim Crow status and thus to be vigorously combated. I alone say “Just take it and be done with it.”
Why? Because it’s just grammar. Functionally it’s the same, and to reject it means that gay couples continue to suffer lack of legal coverage in regards to property and civil law. “marriage” has become symbolic, and to put the utilitarian value of people’s comfort below a symbol is madness.
So it comes down to that.
So, say the government offers “civil unions” and it has enough support to pass, but “marriage” does not, and will not for the foreseeable future. Does one take it or not?
What’s also interesting is that for the most part, “gay marriage” as a legal entity wasn’t really a question for the gay rights movement until the 90s at least in America (yes, I am aware of Baker versus Nelson, but one must look at the context in which it was filed). It wasn’t even discussed by the Mattachine Society or the Daughters of Bilitis, and in fact when the GLF was the foremost group, the idea of marriage and family was seen as part of the traditional oppressive gender roles!
So what’s my point?
That gay marriage is a hot button topic and thus apt to provoke ideological stupidity in people.
As for myself, as a conservative, I’m a marriage privitizationist. It’s none of the gummits business if I marry a man, five stern-faced women in old-timey dresses, or a blow-up Hello Kitty sexdoll which constantly recites Harlan Ellison stories, so long as both parties consent.
You are not a conservative, you are a libertarian.
A friend of mine, an old time libertarian, wobbly and protester (Leslie Fish http://lesliebard.blogspot.com/)
said that she can easily partition the libertarian and the conservatives: the L’s are for mind you own business, and the cons are against anything that the religious right hates. Ask about abortion, the L’s will speak of a womans right to her own bod, and the C’s will condemn.
No, I’m pretty distinctly not a “Libertarian” or libertarian. I think Austrian Economics is bunk, corporations are a destructive homogenizing force against societies and that the average person if denied a strong ethical and moral lodestone that is easy to comprehend will quickly revert to the lowest common denominator.
I’m basically a decentralist Paleocon who chooses to live a personally open lifestyle. Anything in the liberal tradition be it socialist or libertarian is far too optimistic and tabula rasa for the likes of my jaded self.
In other words, I’m an anti-Hobbsian Hobbsian. Ah, the joy of contrarianism!
Joining the masses to say thanks for an excellent comic. Definitely an excellent and thought-provoking piece. It’s something I wish more people would think about, but most don’t seem to want to be self-aware.
wow I’ve been reading for a while and always thought your work was great, but this both brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.
Superb, amazing, uplifting, rewarding work Winston I duly doff my hat to you.
How Aristotelian of you! I approve, I think more people need to go back to the classical thinkers who we base so much of our modern philosophy on, but ignore in favour of market ethics– that more is best. This also really helps me for my upcoming philosophy exam.😀
Okay, so when are we going to be able to buy this as a nice big 24×36″ poster, that I will then frame, put on my home office wall, and remind myself every day, and make my husband (illegal in 32 states) read it as well? So the first step is to realize that you really *can* make posters… ~_^
Winston Rowntree, you are mt idol, and your comics are amazing. I personally (along with everyone else here) loved stairs, and was deeply moved by it. This is probrably the seventh time I’ve gone back to read it. It’s so good. It leaves me hungry for change. And chili sauce.
Brilliantly put. Reminds me (in it’s own way) of Romans 1. We start out suppressing the truth because we find it distasteful. Eventually we laugh at the thought that it ever was true because we have suppressed so long, incrementally,and thoroughly.
The argument falls apart, however, on the perception of what is good. If there are no absolutes, what is ‘boiling’ for the frog? Any water temperature is fine, since it becomes fine as the frog gets used to it. No harm is possible to the individual as long as it gradually adapts. Nothing is wrong, for while a given person may start out thinking that killing, or preferring one’s own ‘rights’ over the rights of others, is bad, eventually they come to think that no, that wasn’t really all that important. And if there are no absolutes, why can’t they be just as correct and appropriate as the person who insists that others’ rights must be respected? Isn’t it just two different beliefs? Without a standard to reliably compare to, we can’t evaluate at all. Without an objective reality which says, ‘amphibian cells are destroyed at this temperature’ the frog can never boil.
You know…if we really wanted to make the world just work a bit better…we could just make it mandatory for anyone taking a position of leadership or power in the world to read Sub-Normality, start to finish, first.
It’s 4 am where I live. I can’t sleep so I thought I’d catch up on some old reliable feel good net reading material of mine and fell back on your comics. I have to tell you that this particular one hit me really hard tonight. You are so talented and so profound that I just can’t thank you enough for doing what you do. You’ve put a solid beautiful thought in my head to go to sleep too and as I head to another day of work dealing with people who far too often resemble the antagonists of your comics, I’ll have this positive thought in my head. One small step. 🙂 Thank you. You’re fantastic.
Oh and when you draw your servers, give them a little more credit. We’re not all self-hating pessimists. A lot of us are students, parents, or just people persons trying to take small steps to improve our situations and make our lives a little bit better on to a much better status quo.
Mr Rowntree, besides the request that you marry me, like, now [it’s small steps to it not being illegal!] I would also like to request permission to translate this. I’m not kidding. Not even gonna make money out of it. :]
I love this concept of stairs – I teach the Holocaust to Gr. 8s. We talk about the very things you bring up in your comic. I will use this as an interactive way for the students to explore the concept even further. We will actually build our own sets of stairs – I use a lot of symbolism and drama in my class. Also I introduced my students to “A Complaint Free World” campaign. It echoes the same concept of giving energy to positivity to combat inaction/whining. Thank you. I will let you know how I present this idea (not the actual comic as the first part is too sexually graphic) I will include the gay marriage piece though – so important for our society. Great work!
Romans I fans can chuck their heads out with the next salt collection, because of keen social absolutes shaved up upon by comics and sometimes science or other ways of knowing. Read the ‘No Mo Dykes’ series and know 10% moral despair (those are tough standards!) Such a spoiler and surprise that boiling a frog takes around 9 kW (ten times through transmission lines and losses in a real saucepan) and the environmental and farm costs of the frog harvest, minus the cheesy eats benefit.
this is in regards to subnormality, the button led me here so i don’t even know if this will be read by the right people but fuck it.
I have just finished the 500th page in one sitting. I feel like i am getting progressively smarter with each following page and am simultaneously entertained by the sphinx’s antics in a simplified real world. Keep up the great work and enjoy what little i can offer in the form of a spot on my bookmarks.
Or you could just avoid going up and down stairs all together. Lao Tzu has a good metaphor; “You’re never as stable going up and down a ladder compared to having both feet firmly planted on the ground.”
I suppose ancient wisdom is no longer applicable to us modern folks, right? ;P
In addition to being an amazing storyteller you have a gift for communicating complex ideas in way-accessible ways. You have put in to words and picture something I have been thinking a lot about for 10 months in something that I could read and see in 10 minutes. You are really good at what you do!!!
It always takes me months to get back to your comic strip… Used to stuff my brain with whatever easy piece of crap information I find in a news feed, now facing your “walls of text” feels like a titanic effort. However, every time I come back, I don’t regret it. At all. Thanks for bringing me back for a moment to the time when I was not a lazy internet-addicted bastard.
How wonderful of you to use Ripley as your avatar of a strong committed person!
I’ve just found this site and have spent several hours reading your whole archive. You are as good as Alison Bechdel of Dykes To Watch Out For. This is a fantastic and brilliant comic, as are many of the others. My favorite so far is The Line, but this runs a close second. Thanks so much for this stuff
Hey, just wanted to tell you that there have been at leas a few days (6 that I can remember) where I’ve been feeling like shit and I’ve found my way to your site and after reading for a bit found myself in a better mood. I’ve read and reread A Saturday Evening in the Future (#152) and it always redirects my thoughts towards what I could be doing rather than wallowing in self-pity. Thanks for being the conversation that brings me back to reality. (btw is there a way that I could get a 24×20 poster of that comic? It’s not one of the one’s that you have in your store and I was hoping it would be possible to work out a way to get one.)
So… those are the future selves of those two girls who always hang out together. I think the last one they were in was the elevator comic. Or is that like an alternate reality? Great comic, thats a good way to look at life.
I just read this comic (I recently discovered “subnormality” and I’m slowly reading every comic from the first one) and I have to say, it just clicked with me. It sounded exactly like the last conversation I had with a psycologist I’m seeing because of not been “good enough” at dealing with my life. Nothing bad about it, but nothing good too. And, you know, this comic had the answer to my questions. Thank you very, very, very much.
The readership of this webcomic is, by and large, pretty well inoculated against becoming Nazis. Many are extremely unlikely to take even the first step up any staircase that leads in any right-wing direction, much less the most extreme path.
That doesn’t necessarily make you immune to killing children in concentration camps.
(Assuming the problem with Nazis is the concentration camps part, not the right-wing part. There are people who don’t seem to agree that’s the offensive part. Hint: if you honestly think Sarah Palin is a worse person than Josef Stalin, then it’s probably not the concentration camps part that bothers you.)
The steps in your case could be something like: Resisting becoming Nazis; Not tolerating prejudice; Punishing prejudice; Removing all prejudice from society; Removing all prejudiced people from society; Removing people who would be prejudiced if you let them grow up. And you’re past the children in camps door.
In fact, refusing on principle to take the first step up the staircase to the swastika door (something like, “Grudgingly admitting a right-winger might have a point”)–can be the first step up a different staircase; and some of those do lead to concentration camps.
(And here’s the darkest part: You’d never be a Nazi–but would you ever be willing to kill kids in the camps for being Nazis? Maybe…the whole point of the staircase is that you can gradually find yourself somewhere you never thought you’d go. Even more to the point of this strip: if all the Christian Fundamentalists…went away…it really honestly would be a lot easier to get gay marriage accepted. And a lot of other desirable social reforms. No sarcasm–it really would be. And that would be a Good Thing, right?)
This comic has already taken a step or two up a potentially bad staircase–there are strips pointing out that George W. Bush and Margaret Thatcher are nonhuman monsters, and that people who voted for Bush have subhuman intelligence. Dehumanizing your opponent, anyone?
(Yes, it’s satire. Dehumanizing your foes as a joke is a lower stairstep than dehumanizing them and meaning it– but it’s not ground level either.)
But definitely not up to the swastika door. Very emphatically not.
The upside of this: people usually don’t go very far up the stairs. The enormous vast majority of people who tell racist jokes (or who despise people who tell racist jokes) will never even consider punching their targets, much less murdering anyone, much less killing kids in concentration camps.
So one praise: I think a staircase is a better analogy than a slippery slope. It takes some effort to get up a staircase, even if it’s less than climbing straight up the wall.
I think what the comic is getting at is that allowing injustice to happen by saying “what can I do, it’s out of my control” is as bad as committing the act. For example, most people wouldn’t have taken part in the killing in Nazi Germany, but a majority of the population did let the Nazi authorities know where Jewish people were hiding out, or even just didn’t do as much as they could to help those poor people escape or hide out. Realistically, a nation with a 1 million population(example) might have a 75,000 strong army, and if that army is doing wrong, then there are about 900,000 who should be standing up and saying “we are not gonna let this happen”
I like that you used the “slippery slope” argument to not only to show small things can end up bad, but how it can give us perspective when small things can happen that change our daily life. When we feel “justified” about an action and don’t really think about it, we lose control of it.