The allegory of the 12 monkeys

by Brian Keaney

It’s not even yet 9 am, and I’ve already experienced my first :headdesk: moment of the day.  It’s times like these that I like to let my mind wander back to islands.  Not for memory of the gentle tradewind breeze that blew across my lanai, or the sight of the sun setting over the Pacific while I sipped on a mai tai, or even for the rush I felt when I was finally able to catch a wave and ride it.  No, it is for a story related to me by perhaps the most cosmopolitan Islander I knew there.  While it does nothing to make the situation any better, it does at least give me a chuckle.

Twelve monkeys were put into a large cage together and lived peacefully enough.  One day a bunch of bananas was placed in the middle of the cage.  Monkeys, being fond of bananas, immediately went for a snack.  As soon as the first of our primate cousins touched one, however, a fire hose was turned on and sprayed all of the monkeys to the far side of the cage.  This process was repeated the next day, and then the next day, and continued until the monkeys finally figured out what was going on.

The following day, when the bananas were placed in the cage, the monkeys who had figured it out went over and defended the bananas, not allowing anyone else to touch them lest the fire hose be turned on them again.  Should another monkey persist, the monkeys who were wise to what was happening beat up the offender.  This continued until all 12 monkeys knew that if they tried to eat the bananas that they would get beaten up.

One day one of the monkeys was removed from the cage, and a new monkey was put in his place.  When the bananas were placed in the cage the new guy, seeing a tasty little treat, went for them and earned a couple black eyes and some bruises for his efforts.  Soon enough he learned not to touch the bananas.  When he learned well enough to leave the bananas alone, another monkey was removed and yet another new monkey took his place.  The lesson not to touch the bananas was quickly imparted to him, and the cycle of replacement continued.

Eventually there were 12 monkeys in the cage who had never experienced the fire hose, and all but one of them knew enough not to touch the bananas lest there be some painful repercussions.  When the 12th and final replacement went to go eat a banana, the other 11 bounced on him and beat him to a pulp.

“Hey,” said the new monkey.  “I was just going to eat a banana.  I wasn’t hurting anyone.  What did you all beat me up for?”

“I don’t know,” replied the other monkeys.  “That’s just the way things have always been done around here.”

I can appreciate when there is a logical reason behind something I don’t like, even if it’s something I’m going to have to do and not like doing.  What kills me, however, is when ridiculous practices persist, even if there is no good reason for it, simply because that is how things have always been done in the past.  What I wouldn’t give, in times like this, to be sipping a mai tai on my lanai.

The photo above was posted to Flickr by Mozzer502 under this Creative Commons license.