Tuesday, October 23, 2007
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The kind of conversations that happen at IR conferences
UPDATE: As God is my witness, I did not know about this when I posted the exchange below.
The following transcript approximates a real exchange that took place at the conference I attended this past weekend among serious members of the international relations community.
This is a true story. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent:
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.For the rest of the conference, this last exchange was referred to as "the cucumber paradigm."
I wonder if George Orwell hung around international relations types all that much.posted by Dan on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM
If not Orwell, then surely Charlton Heston.
I take it Salma Hayek missed this conference.posted by: Incompetence Dodger on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM [permalink]
.. if the experimenter shoots the monkey when it throws the cucumber,
That would get the experimenter in very deep trouble with the relevant University Ethics Committees.
Actually though, the experiment would seem to cast doubt on the whole economistic, 'rational choice' ontology. Surely a grape is better than nothing, so the monkey is being terrifically non-rational.posted by: Mitchell Young on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM [permalink]
The sad fate of the Deputy Mayor of Delhi this week casts a somber pall on these joyous speculations about aggressive monkeys.posted by: arthur on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM [permalink]
Economists have known about this kind of behavior in humans for years. There's a similar experiment done with pairs of humans, where one divides a sum of money between them and the other decides whether to accept it or not. If not, neither one gets anything. "Rational choice" theory says that any division should be acceptable, since even a few pennies is better than nothing. What they found in practice, though, was that people would tend to reject the money if they got much less than 40-50% of the original sum.posted by: crane on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM [permalink]
In my paradigm, we monkeys establish our own SUCCULENT RED GRAPES plantation. But nothing is sweeter than vengeance, so we would keep motivating the experimenters with pickled cucumbers with a few random grapes, just enough to make them crazy searching for a pattern.posted by: jaim klein on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM [permalink]
Economists have known about this kind of behavior in humans for years.
And have continued their 'research' as if these finding don't exist. I would include rat choicers in Political Science as well. Of course, Veblen describe a phenomenon he termed 'pecuniary emulation' that is very similar, 'way back in the day.posted by: Mitchell Young on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM [permalink]
You know, I find it frightening that policymakers are discussing monkey cognition in these terms.
Because this guy has got a very incomplete version of this story. A 2003 experiment found that capuchin monkeys rejected cucumbers when they saw other monkeys rewarded with grapes.
But a 2007 study found that chimpanzees don't reject offers in the ultimatum game that humans find insulting and reject.
The bottom line is not that primates have an inherent sense of "fairness". In fact, the chimpanzees appear to be rational maximizers irrespective of the perceived fairness of offers. The bottom line is that capuchin monkeys are easily distracted by grapes.
Now, that may have its own policy implications. But I'd say they are more or less the opposite of what this guy is suggesting!
Sorry to disillusion you, John, but IR scholars never let facts get in the way of a story. That's called "theory" !posted by: arthur on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM [permalink]
But whatever you do, don;t call the monkeys "macacas".posted by: Mike on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM [permalink]
The most interesting point here of course are the implicit beliefs the "policymakers" reveal:
1) You and me baby ain't nothing but mammals... I generally support notions of human behaviour that focus on behavioural patterns in line with evolutionary biology, however actors in IR, especially governments(!) - at least in my eyes - tend to act a tiny little more strategic - rational if you like - than the chimp next door.
2) Maybe it's just my distorted perception, but there seems to be a lot of hegemony stuff going on, right? Or who the hell is the researcher providing others with good(ie)s?
3) Policymaker A also seems to consider some of the hegemon/researcher induced world/lab goody distribution unfair. He doesn't offer solutions though, but fatalistically expects retribution by the masses of the goody-deprived... How boring... and not quite consistent with Hegemonic Stability Theory, unless there is some Uber-Gorilla gaining strength in the dark periphery of the cage waiting to loose his ties and takeover the research institute...
4) Policymaker B is some kind of bonobo-marxist - believing in dependence theory and import substitution... those guys are still around??? I had no idea! - Interestingly he suggests a cucumber plantation instead of grape-based agricultural production although the monkeys' revealed preferences suggest that cucumbers are an inferior good... He is thus somewhat acknowledging the lower production possibilities of his preferred monkey-ruled production regime...
Knowing about this behavior and being able to usefully include it in theorizing political (or economic) behavior are two different things. For example, we still don't know what determines when people will act "rationally" (because there are folks in these experiments who act this way, although they generally aren't the majority) and those who are generally referred to as strong reciprocators. In IR, for example, do we keep using game theoretic models that assume that one or more of the actors are reciprocators? Do the folks in government tend to be more strategic/rational than regular people? We don't know this stuff yet, and so replacing rational choice doesn't make any sense right now.posted by: Chris O'Keefe on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM [permalink]
.. 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 .. Nice thinking, Comrade Policymaker B. Shooting the monkeys sabotaging the experimenter's theory may be effective. I dont know if experiments with large apes can be extrapolated to monkeys, but shooting people did work wonders under the historic experiment which was the Soviet Union's Five Year Plans.posted by: jaim klein on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM [permalink]
Interesting perspective - well development history is a mixed bag, but in general, I would suggest to the monkeys to try (after having taken over the lab) to not to spend too much resources in fighting over who the monkey-leader should be, but rather specialize in industrial-scale production of experimental results for primatology - sth monkeys clearly have a comparative advantage in... and to trade those results for grapes, cucumbers, or whatever they like, RATHER than growing (inferior) cucumbers which is an activity mokeys clearly do not have a comparative advantage in...posted by: Roland on 10.23.07 at 12:17 AM [permalink]
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