Here’s Why Not Much Changes in Congress

My brother-in-law is always sending me political quips. This latest one really caught my attention. It not only applies to politics. Almost every long-term trend in society is based on the “Five Monkeys in a Cage.”

When I was in college, I had to take an introduction to psychology course — Psych 150. It was based on B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theory, a more sophisticated version of Pavlov’s theories and experiments. “Skinner invented the operant conditioning chamber, or ‘Skinner Box,’ in which subjects such as pigeons and rats were isolated and could be exposed to carefully controlled stimuli.”

tracyhighpsych - 5.2 Operant Conditioning

Skinner believed that what worked with animals would work with humans because he believed that humans are merely highly evolved animals.

We used Skinner Boxes in our class. The rats had no idea they were being controlled by outside forces. Their little rat brains were so focused on getting water (from which they had been deprived for 23 hours), that they would do almost anything to get a little drink.

Politicians are not rats. They operate at a higher level. Even so, there is a form of group-think that keeps them doing the same things over and over again for the rewards of power, prestige, control, and financial gain. They don’t want to be shocked by the media and special interest groups, so they keep doing the same things over and over again.

All newly elected officials promise to change the system when they get to Washington. They are placed in a cage with other politicians who have learned not to rock the boat. Here’s how it works:


You start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage you hang a banana on a string, and then you place a set of stairs under the banana.

Before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana.

You then shock ALL the monkeys. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt. As soon as he touches the stairs, you again shock ALL the monkeys.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it. They don’t want to be shocked by another monkey’s actions!

Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new monkey. The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his surprise, ALL of the other monkeys beat the crap out of him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys, replacing it with a new monkey. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment — with enthusiasm — because he is now part of the “team.”

Then, replace a third original monkey with a new monkey, followed by the fourth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

Now, the monkeys that are beating on him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs.

Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. Having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been shocked for trying to climb the stairs.

Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairs for the Banana.

Why, you ask? Because in their minds, that is the way it has always been!

This is how today’s House and Senate operates, and this is why from time to time, ALL the monkeys need to be REPLACED AT THE SAME TIME!

DISCLAIMER: This is meant as no disrespect to monkeys.

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