Monkeys, and Cucumbers, and Proletarian Revolts: Oh My!

You know, when I finished my Common App a few weeks ago, under “desired occupation” I put “IR professor”. This anecdote from an IR conference, courtesy of Dan Drezner, explains why that wasn’t a mistake:

POLICYMAKER A: You know, they’ve done experiments with monkeys where they have to do tricks to earn a cucumber. The two monkeys can see each other do the tricks, as well as the rewards they receive.
After a few days of trick, cucumber, etc., the experimenter gave the first monkey a cucumber, but then gave the second monkey a red grape after his trick. The first monkey nibbled at his cucumber, but did not finish it.
The next day, this was repeated. And the first monkey took the cucumber and threw it on the ground.
The third day, the first monkey took the cucumber and threw it at the experimenter.
So the point is, all primates have an innate sense of fairness, and will react when they see it violated.
IR THEORIST A: Here’s the thing… if the experimenter shoots the monkey when it throws the cucumber, the other monkeys will process that information as well. So it’s not only about a sense of fairness, it’s about survival.
POLICYMAKER B: Yes, the experimenter could shoot the monkey, and maybe that would cow the other monkeys into submision. If you keep shooting monkeys, however, it might encourage the remaining ones to rise up and overthrow the experimenters and establish their own cucumber plantation.

At first I thought this must be in the context of the Indian nuclear deal (India getting the cherry, Pakistan getting the cucumber), but then I realized that wouldn’t work at all (if Pakistan failed to cooperate with us on counterterrorism work, I sure hope we wouldn’t kill Musharraf). Then I realized that I was analogizing monkey experiments to nuclear negotiations, and that I should really find more worthwhile pursuits. Damn you, Drezner!

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