Congressional Monkeys

Rhesus monkey

Rhesus Macaque

Reading time – 1 minute, 19 seconds  .  .  .

My brother recently sent along a story (thanks, JHA) that is an adaptation of the findings of a 1967 ground-breaking experiment with rhesus monkeys performed by Gordon R. Stephenson. It is presented here for your review. See if you can read this without nodding your head in fundamental agreement at the end.

Start the experiment with a tall cage containing four monkeys. Hang a banana on a string dangling from the top of the cage, out of the reach of the monkeys. Then place a set of stairs under the banana. Before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana. As it does so, spray all the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey will make an attempt to reach the banana. When the second monkey starts up the stairs, spray all the monkeys with cold water. The next time a monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will assault and stop it. There is no further need for cold water.

Next, remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new monkey. The new monkey, having no experience with the cold water spray, will see the banana and attempt to climb the stairs to reach it. Immediately, all of the other monkeys will attack him to keep him off the stairs in order to avoid another spray of cold water. After another attempt and attack, he will know that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted and he will not try again.

Next, remove another of the original four monkeys, replacing it with a new monkey.  The newcomer will head for the banana and will then be attacked by the other monkeys. Note that the previous newcomer will take part in the punishment and do so with enthusiasm.

Then, replace a third original monkey with another new monkey, followed by a fourth.  Each time the newest monkey takes to the stairs in an attempt to get the banana he will attacked by all the other monkeys and will not try to reach the banana again.

Having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, none of the monkeys will try to climb the stairs for the banana, because in their experience, being attacked while trying to get a banana is the culture of the group. It’s the way it has always been.

And that is how today’s House and Senate operate, with no members having a memory of a time when hard negotiations led to compromise for the betterment of the country. Instead, we see near-universal demand that, “It’s all about me and my getting my way and I’ll attack you if you disagree with me because I’d rather get nothing done than to compromise.” (Look for a Disambiguation on this topic soon.)

And that is why, from time to time, we need to replace all of the monkeys at the same time.

Note: This narrative is meant as no disrespect to rhesus monkeys.

Here is a link to the publication of the original work by Stephenson.


Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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2 Responses to Congressional Monkeys
  1. Dan Wallace Reply

    Jack, I’ve believed since my days on Capitol Hill in the early 80’s that the Founding Fathers designed Congress to apportion growing resources fairly over time, but never imagined that it would have to apportion scarcity (a polite way of saying “make really hard, unpopular decisions”). The dysfunction we see to day is simply a reflection of the fact that today, the institution is being asked to do something it was not designed to do and is fundamentally incapable of doing. Like trying to get a cow to walk DOWN a flight of stairs. Someone asked me a while back what might be done to change that. Best I could come up with was that the entirety of Congress, House and Senate alike, should stand for election every 4 years, AND they should be required to run as a slate. We either re-elect all of the existing bums or we throw them out and elect new bums. This will never happen, but if it did, it would actually create a natural incentive for bums to cooperate with other bums, perhaps leading to a net reduction in overall bumhood.

    • JaxPolitix Reply

      To take your bovine analogy likely a foolish step too far, Dan, what can be done about it is to train that cow from a very early age that it MUST learn to walk down a flight of stairs. The alternative for little Moo is to become hamburger.

      Stretch that concept to our legislators and lots of them would need to cooperate instead of having political temper tantrums. Absent that cooperation they can be made available to industry with this qualification: a lifetime ban against lobbying.