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January 09, 2006

Untraining monkeys 

It’s interesting to have brought up Reuven Brenner’s The Force of Finance. Chris Macrae introduced me to the book, and I ordered it from a UK retailer, who shipped it to my office in London. (I was passing through at the time, and I always like saving a few pounds on shipping.) Soon after we both got in touch with Reuven. After bringing it up in my blog post yesterday, I dug it out and read this in his chapter on :

Four monkeys were put in a room. In the center of the room, there was a tall pole with bananas suspended from the top. Whenever a monkey tried to retrieve them, however, he was hit with a shower of cold water. After several attempts yielded the same result, the monkeys stopped trying. At this stage, one of the original monkeys was removed and a new one was added. When the newcomer reached for the bananas, the other three pulled him back. After a few tries, the new monkey also got the message and stopped trying. One by one, the original monkeys were replaced, and each new monkey learned the same lesson: don’t reach for the bananas. Though the new generation of monkeys had never received the cold shower, they adhered to this .


high school lost relevance when they ceased to be held accountable for their kids’ education, and that they expect colleges and universities to fill the gaps they’ve left[.]

   The first quotation was about the of : that are too much about publishing incomprehensible, exclusionary works and organizing for their self-importance than really imparting that knowledge. The second quotation was one of the observations that Reuven made.
   Not only does the first tie in with Reuven’s observations within the university system, it fits with Chris’s, and it fits in with a lot of the things we have been blogging about. Beyond , as a book, tries to make these points which might seem way-out for some, but at least we are trying to pick up the slack of modern courses.
   It reminds me of the way uniformly attack the administration of the late Sir (1975–84), even though many of those who criticize him have no memory of the era. But, when many lecturers who could have sided with him were removed when Sir Robert lost power in 1984, when TV documentaries paint him as a villain, and when a mini-series, Fallout, is currently being rerun on network television and does the same, who questions? Whether one was alive during the Muldoon administration or not, one might be like a monkey.
   Indeed, you can read the monkey behaviour here. One blogger questioned the lies he was told about the era, and the anti-Muldoon din followed, with only one or two dissenters. And there were enough bloggers to label this post a looney-left post—odd in a liberal country. But then Muldoon was not in a left-leaning party.
   I enjoy this issue because it’s one situation, of many, that we should be questioning. I am not saying I have it all correct—but to not even question? Where are we, in Cuba or Honduras? John Kay thinks there are parallels with Argentina.
   My recollection is that had gas–petrol cars from around 1979 and filling stations were commonplace. That we were one of the most advanced economies around with and alternative energies. Not that that is ever raised. As I wrote earlier in this blog, politicians find it easier to admit to Satanism than —because Parliament is a forum of trained monkeys. And so are the (which are all owned by foreigners, anyway—well, nearly all).
   So in marketing, how many are trained to question anything beyond ? How many principles are suppressed because they do not fit in with the establishment?
   Even in my university days, we weren’t encouraged to do the till the 400 level. Perhaps I am naturally cynical, but I excelled in this. Summa cum laude and all that rot.
   The second quotation connects more with me than Chris. When I taught regularly—I still have some gigs—I noticed many of New Zealand’s primary and high schools had left the teaching of and to me. These kids were 20, or more, in some cases.
   And when I hired people as designers, I wonder if anyone had taught them fundamental, 100-level typography. So now it seems even tertiary institutions have passed the buck—in favour of “on-the-job” training.
   Institutionalization is a very bad thing, especially if we encouraged people not to question, and not to reason. We fight, and have to fight, this ignorance every day. It is why I got into , and why I got into . With the former, it was raising questions on an international level. With the latter, it was about helping clients raise questions on a firm-by-firm basis, maybe affecting an industry. It still is, in both cases, because my job is not done. Co-writing this book was combining the two—to question, in the words of , in order to break through the hypnosis of social .
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