Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil

It’s time for a story.

This story is about an experiment. Five monkeys are placed in an enclosure. In the middle of that enclosure was a latter. At the top of the ladder was a great bunch of fresh, spotless bananas. Now, what do you think monkeys would do if they saw some lovely bananas at the top of a ladder? They’d make a dash to the top to take a bite, of course.

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But the scientists wanted to see what would happen if…

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… the monkeys were sprayed with freezing water. Every time one of the monkeys attempted to grab a banana, the sprinklers would drench all the monkeys. A cruel experiment which I’m sure contravenes several animal welfare laws, but since this is a hypothetical experiment, let us assume it abides by the practises of the international scientific community.

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After several such drenchings, soon the monkeys began to notice the correlation between attempted banana retrieval and cold showers, so any time one of their fellows attempted to make for the bananas, the other monkeys would pull the rascal down in a typically simian scuffle, choosing to punish one monkey rather than all receive a dousing.

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Soon it got to the point where there was no need for the scientists to activate the sprinklers at all: the monkeys policed themselves. Even if one of the monkeys was desperate for a bite, the others would prevent each other from even attempting to climb the ladder.

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So far, so interesting, thought the maniacal scientists. So they wondered what would happen if they introduced a newcomer into the group? One of the original group was removed – hopefully to retire to a nice zoo in San Diego – and a brand new monkey was introduced to the group. After social formalities were concluded, the newcomer noticed the as-yet-untouched bananas – fresh ones were provided every day for maximum temptation. This monkey, of course, knew nothing of the forbidden nature of the fruit, so that monkey would do? And what do you think the other four would do?

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Sure enough, the four veterans showed the newcomer exactly what happens when one attempts to snatch the precious bananas – an almighty scrum where the newcomer was roughly chastised. And this monkey had no idea why this was happening to him – but after a few tentative creeps up the ladder, he soon realised that You Do Not Touch The Bananas in this place.

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Then, the scientists removed another of the veterans, and produced a second newcomer. As before, this newcomer knew nothing of the consequences of going for the bananas. So what did the first newcomer do when the second newcomer went for the bananas? He joined the group, and skelped the impudent creature. And soon the second newcomer learned the lesson – the second monkey never to have experienced the cold water.

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So this would continue as a third veteran was replaced with another…

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And another…

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Until every veteran monkey was replaced with a newcomer. Not a single member of this new group had ever been sprayed with cold water, but they still left the bananas alone – and still stopped any others from attempting to take them. They stayed there on the floor in that enclosure, afraid to reach their goals for reprisal from their community, who continued their actions long after they knew why they started doing it in the first place.

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