Some years ago, I had a job that I didn’t like. The money was good, but the work was bad. I was stuck in “Coconut Monkey” syndrome.
Farmers in south India are sometimes plagued by monkeys stealing their crops. The bright little thieves raid fields en masse, grabbing anything edible. The peasants chase the animals, but the monkeys always come back.
According to a tale I read in Robert Pirsig’s Motorcycle Maintenance book, one farmer had an idea. [Trigger warning: Monkeys die just ahead.] The farmer hollowed out a coconut, leaving a small hole, just big enough for a monkey to stick a hand in. A bit of rice was dumped inside it and the coconut was chained to a stake. Here’s the trick. A monkey will reach in, collect rice in its fist, but not be able to pull its clenched fist out of the small hole without releasing the rice inside the coconut. A monkey won’t drop free food, even if a farmer is running at him with a club.
I’ll admit that I’ve been a coconut monkey more than once in my life. I just can’t let go of a ‘good thing’, even if I know it could kill me. I’m trying to learn that lesson, but sometimes I forget. I was reminded of the tale a couple days ago when I heard about those marauding monkeys again. This time, they were environmental refugees.
A troop of monkeys, climate-change refugees fleeing an intense monsoon, were stealing coconuts and breaking into homes for food. They had figured out that they could by-pass locked doors by climbing up on the roof, peeling off a few roof tiles, then dropping into the pantry. And what a mess. Even worse, the desperate little hooligans ripped up 55 beehives in a nearby apiary.
Those monkeys were hungry, having been displaced by the vagaries of climate. Monsoons have happened for generations, but they are becoming worse – except in the years that they don’t show up. This leads me back to human coconut monkeys. If climate is running at us with a club, but we are busy clinging to our allegorical rice, do we let go or do we stay the course and suffer the consequences?