Five Wet Monkeys

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Our discussions of the Milgram Obedience experiment reminded me of a similar, but different idea--not obedience to authority, but obedience to tradition.

In this story, there are 5 monkeys in a cage, with bananas hung on the top of the cage. There is a stool in the room which would allow a monkey to reach the bananas. However, once a monkey got on a stool and tried to reach for a banana, all of the monkeys would be sprayed with cold water. Later, another monkey would try to get on the stool and grab a banana, but again, the monkeys would all be sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, the monkeys all begin to prevent any monkeys from attempting to get on the stool to grab a banana. If a monkey tried to do so, the other monkeys would attack them because they do not want to get sprayed with water.

After this, one of the monkeys is removed and replaced by a new monkey. This monkey, having not seen the effects of getting on the stool to grab a banana, obviously tries to. The other four monkeys attack the new monkey. Another old monkey is replaced by a new monkey, and not surprisingly, the new monkey is attacked when he tries to reach for a banana. Yet this time, the monkey who had just recently been added joins in on the attack.
Eventually, all of the old monkeys are replaced one by one with new monkeys, who all try to reach for the banana and get attacked by the other monkeys.

After all of the old monkeys have been replaced, you are left with five monkeys in a cage, none of which have ever been splashed with water (the other monkeys attacked him before he had the chance to cause the splash), who will all attack any monkey who tries to reach for the banana. They do not know why they are attacking anyone that tries to reach for the banana, but they do anyways. Why? Because that's the way things have always been done of course.

This story shows us why it is important to view the world and our traditions with a healthy level of skepticism. So much of what we do in life, we do not because we make a logical decision to do so, but because it is a habit--it is how things have always been done. Why are there so many rituals in Christianity that differ dramatically from the original teachings of Jesus (dressing nice for church, singing hymns together, etc)? Why are there so many rules and traditions in the military with no logical reason for them? Because that's how things have always been done. There are countless examples of things that we do not because they make sense, but because it is what has always been done.

While I am not saying that we should tear down all of our cultures and traditions and start fresh logically, it is not wrong to pause every once in a while before you do something and ask, "why exactly is it that I am doing this?"

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This page contains a single entry by leex4542 published on December 4, 2011 11:05 PM.

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