Sometimes enlightenment beams through the oddest crevices.
I was reading a book by David Thorne, a renowned internet troll, where he sarcastically called one of his coworkers something to the effect of “Harlow’s fifth monkey” for blatantly following rules without questioning them.
For those not familiar with Harlow’s monkey experiment, it goes something like this (and I’m paraphrasing).
He took 5 monkeys and put them at the bottom of the stairs and then put a bananaat the top. When one monkey approached the stairs, all 5 got sprayed with ice water. This was repeated until none of the monkeys tried to get the banana and resolved to remaining warm and dry. At this point, one of the monkeys was replaced with a new monkey. When this monkey went for the banana, the other 4 beat the sh** out of it. It was never sprayed. After this monkey was thrashed once or twice, yet another of the original 5 was substituted for a new one and it was yet again thrashed. The other monkey joined in to this monkey ass whooping with even more enthusiasm and vigor than the original four. No spraying. They replaced the third monkey to the same outcome; no monkey dared approach that damn banana. Eventually the fourth and fifth monkeys were also phased out slowly and initiated with the violent orientation whenever they approached the banana.
A new 6th monkey was introduced. And although none of the 5 monkeys that had been sprayed were there, the 5 in their place still handily dished out a thrashing to the new monkey when it tried to go for the banana. They had no reason to. They didn’t know about the water sprays and the cold that came with them. They didn’t know that they actually could have the banana now. Instead they made sure all other monkeys stayed in line. What line though, is questionable.
I read that and think of this.
That very specific instance, not just the entire post election violence saga. I think of that moment where that child emerged from that door and held up his tiny palm to the man with the club.
If he survived, he must be a teenager now. I can’t imagine how damaged he is. Best case, he has kept it bottled in all this time. That tightly shut bottle is what grows into that guard you see there with that club.
We are that generation. We are the ones who can end up in a cycle of beating each other senseless for crossing the line. Our parents suffered dearly whenever they did. They felt that cold water. They know the Nyayo House basements. Their parents before them also felt the steel heel of the colonizers trampling all over them.
What’s our generation’s excuse? Other than suffering the wrath of each other, is their really logic to the tightly bottled in angsts we bear?
A few weeks ago, I watched a few people pop open their bottles. It was at a demonstration organized by Boniface Mwangi.
A large group of us carried 49 coffins, each representing the 49 years of oppression and corruption since independence, from Freedom Corner to the doorstep of Parliament. It was an epic march and the levels of patriotism surging through the participants’ veins would’ve made our founding fathers nurse hard-ons for decades.
But you know what stuck with me the most? It wasn’t the fact that the media basically ignored the whole thing. It wasn’t the looks on the security guards faces at the Parliament when we laid the coffins there and engaged in patriotic chants. No.
It was the judging eyes of the Kenyans around us.
Angry, ridiculing, scoffing, dismissing, judging eyes. Some were mad because they were in a hurry and we had blocked traffic. Some were probably having a bad day and really didn’t need to deal with 300 angry young Kenyans heaving coffins overhead. But most of them were looking at us as if we’d just taken a dump in their porridge, offended them in the most personal way, infringed on their soul’s private property. One guy barked: “Don’t you have anything better to do?”
Well, goddammit, I don’t.
I mean, I have a job. I also have a life. And a family. And friends. And errands, and problems… And you know what those things have in common? They large majority of them are in this country. Yes, this country that is being so shoddily run to the ground by the greed of the few that have so much. The real question is “You sir, standing over there doing nothing about anything, don’t YOU have anything better to do? ”
Because at the end of the day, that’s all we really need to do; something. We don’t have to demonstrate, set the parliament on fire, build a human wall around State House, or clamp all MPs cars outside Parliament until they fully implement the constitution. We don’t have to picket, or march. We don’t even have to speak out or blog about it.
But we can.
You see, that is the banana. We are the monkeys. That is how we get up the stairs
And, unlike those before us, there is no jet of cold water that can keep us from it.
So even when we don’t rage against the machine, we can teach a kid their rights by standing up for your own, share our knowledge on the elections with our people at home….
All you new non-tribalist people, spread that message. End discrimination.
We all know what the country needs although we can’t agree on who should deliver it. So let’s unite around that. Let’s take a step up that stair every chance we get.
Because if you don’t…well…we’ll be a nation of people standing on the sidelines, criticizing those that try just long enough for disaster to erupt. And then you find yourself with a club in your hands facing a child with his palm held up with no answers because you never asked any questions; no results because you made no demands.
Dear children of the fifth monkey, do something.