Why I Dislike the Banana Ladder

Several of my friends were sharing a graphic that mainly consisted of text. The text reported a scientific study that seemed dubious to me. When I expressed misgivings, my friend Chloe found an article that debunked it:


However, several people asked me, “Isn’t this story still useful as an allegory?”

If we want to pursue that, I still have my original thoughts about the conclusion of “‘This is the way we’ve always done things’ is bad,” from this particular analogy.

Thought 1: There seems to be an idea that if the monkeys can’t verbally communicate that water is going to fall on all of them, somehow the communication of “We will all beat you if you go up there!” is less valid.

Thought 2: The idea that most of us follow the rules without knowing why is communicated as a bad thing, rather than a survival instinct. As a society, we count on our fellow humans to teach us what they’ve learned so we don’t die as often. “If everyone is beating me up when I try to go up this ladder, there must be a reason for it. I guess I’ll stop and warn others!” isn’t the hallmark of a dumb animal. It’s good sense.

Thought 3: These monkeys are the victims of a sadistic, omnipotent being. These monkeys are not beating up another monkey for no reason. There is some all-powerful demon who has created a banana that can change the weather. This small group of monkeys has to deal with things beyond their comprehension. Cut them some slack.

Thought 4: Guess what? These monkeys protected themselves from getting further abused. The scientists only stopped the showers after the first five monkeys quit going up the ladder. Some may assume that the scientists wouldn’t have doused the monkeys if the replacement monkeys had succeeded in getting up the ladder, but I see no indication that this would have happened. Those scientists were jerks.

Thought 5: Of course we need people to go against the rules established before anyone remembers. However, this isn’t a great example of how to do that.

“Why do we continue to do what we’re doing if there’s a different way?”

Why indeed? However, in this story there is no “different way” explored, nor opportunity presented. The moral is, “Why don’t we try to do things in the exact same way that has failed so many times before in a rigged system within which we are powerless?”

So there you have it. It pretends to be inspiration, but sets you up for failure.

What the story needs is an orangutan who figures out that if she picks the lock and then breaks the pipe outside of the cage, all the monkeys can get the bananas without getting wet.

Orangutans are cool.


About paulgude

Paul Gude writes small books, makes stupid music, draws silly pictures, and does weird things on stage.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.