THE STORY BEGINS with a king who, while standing in reverie at the window of his palace one evening, happened to notice a man in the town square below. He was apparently an average man, walking home at night, who had taken the same route five nights a week for many years.
The king followed this man in his imagination – pictures him arriving home, perfunctorily kissing his wife eating his late meal, inquiring whether everything was alright with the children, reading the paper, going to bed, perhaps engaging in the sex relation with his wife or perhaps not, sleeping, and getting up and going off to work again the next day.
And a sudden curiosity seized the king, which for a moment banished his fatigue: “I wonder what would happen if a man were kept in a cage, like the animals at the zoo?” His curiosity was perhaps in some ways not unlike that of the first surgeons who wondered what it would be like to perform a lobotomy on the human brain.
So the next day the king called in a psychologist, told him of his idea, and invited him to observe the experiment.
When the psychologist demurred saying,”it’s an unthinkable thing to keep a man in a cage” the monarch replied that many rulers in effect ,if not literally done so,from the time of Romans through Genghis Khan down to Hitler and the other totalitarian leaders; so why not find out scientifically what would happen?
Furthermore,added the king,he had made up his mind to do it whether the psychologist took part or not; he had already gotten the Greater Social Research Foundation to give a large sum of money for the experiment,and why let that money go to waste? By this time the psychologist also was feeling within himself a great curiosity about what would happen if a man was kept in a cage.
And so the next day the king caused a cage to be brought in from the zoo-a large cage that had been occupied by a lion when it was new,then later by a tiger;just recently it had been home to a hyena who died the previous week.
The cage was put in an inner private court in the palace grounds,and the average man whom the king had seen from the window was brought in and placed therein. The psychologist with his Rorschach and Wechsler-Bellevue tests in his briefcase to administer at some appropriate moment sat down outside the cage.
At first the man was simply bewildered,and he kept saying to the psychologist “I have to catch the tram,I have to get to work,look what time it is,Ill be late for work!”. But later on in the afternoon the man began to soberly realize what was up,then he protested vehemently.”The king can’t do this to me!, It’s Unjust,It’s against the law!”His voice was strong,and his eyes full of anger.
The psychologist liked the man for his anger and he became vaguely aware that this was a mood he has often in people he worked with in his clinic.”Yes,”he realized ,”this anger is the attitude of people` who like healthy adolescents of any era` want to fight what’s wrong,who protest directly against it”.”When people come to the clinic in this mood,it is good-they can be helped.”
During the rest of the week the man continued his vehement protests. When the king walked by the cage as he did everyday,the man made his protests directly to the monarch. But the king answered”look here,you are getting plenty of food,you have a good bed,and you don’t have to work” “We take good care of you;so why are you objecting?”
After some days had passed the man’s protests lessened and then ceased. He was silent in his cage generally refusing to talk. But the psychologist could see hatred glowing in his eyes. When he did exchange a few words they were short,definite words uttered in strong vibrant but calm voice of a person who hates and knows whom he hates.
Whenever the king walked into the courtyard there was a deep fire in the mans eyes. The psychologist thought “This must be the way people act when they are first conquered” He remembered that he had also seen that expression of the eyes and heard that tone of voice in many patients at his clinic;the adolescent who had been unjustly accused at home or in school and could do nothing about it;the college student who was required by his professors to pass courses the could not prepare for if he were successful at football` and who was then expelled from college for the cheating that resulted.
And the psychologist looking at the active hatred in the mans eyes,thought “it is still good;a person who has this fight in him can be helped. Everyday the king as he walked through the courtyard kept reminding the man in the cage that he was given food and shelter and taken good care if so why did he not like it?
And the psychologist noticed that, whereas at first the man had been entirely impervious to the king’s statements it now seemed more and more that he was pausing for a moment after the kings speech-for a second the hatred was postponed from returning to his eyes-as though he was asking himself if what the king said was possibly true.
After a few weeks more the man began to discuss with the psychologist how is was a useful thing that a man is given food and shelter; how a man had to live by his fate in any case and part of wisdom was to accept fate. He soon was developing an extensive theory about security and the acceptance of fate, which sounded to the psychologist very much like the philosophical theories that Rosenberg and others worked out for the fascists in Germany.
He was very voluble during this period, talking at length although the talk was mostly a monologue. The psychologist noted that his voice was flat and hollow as he talked, like the voice of people in TV previews who make an effort to look you in the eye and try hard to sound sincere as they tell you that you should see the program they are advertising, or the announcers on the radio who are paid to persuade you that you should like highbrow music.
And the psychologist also noticed that now the corners of the man’s mouth always turned down as though he were in some gigantic pout. Then the psychologist suddenly remembered: this was like the middle-aged, middle-class people who came to his clinic, the respectable bourgeois people full of resentment as if everything they did was conceived, born and nursed in resentment.
It reminded the psychologist of Nietzsche’s saying that the middle class was consumed with resentment. He then for the first time began to be seriously worried about the man in the cage, for he knew that once resentment gets a firm start and becomes well rationalized and structuralized it may become like cancer. When the person no longer knows whom he hates, he is much harder to help.
During this period the Greater Social Research Foundation had a board of trustees meeting, and they decided since they were expending a fund to keep a man supported in a cage it would look better if representatives of the foundation at least visited the experiment. So a group of people, consisting of two professors, and a few graduate students came one day to look at the man in the cage.
One of the professors then proceeded to lecture the group about the relation of the autonomic nervous system and the secretions of ductless glands to human existence in a cage. But it occurred to the other professor that the verbal communications of the victim himself might just possibly be interesting, so he asked the man how he felt about living in a cage.
The man was friendly t word the professors and students and explained to them that he had chosen this way of life, that there were great values insecurity and in being taken care of, that they would of course see how sensible this course was and so on.
“How strange!” thought the psychologist, “And how pathetic; why is it he struggles so hard to get them to approve his way of life?”
IN the succeeding days when the king walked through the courtyard the man fawned upon him from behind the bars in his cage and thanked him for the food and shelter. But when the king was not in the yard and the man was not aware the psychologist was present his expression was quite different, sullen and morose.
When his food was handed to him through the bars by his keeper the man would often drop the dishes or dump over the water and then he would be embarrassed because of his stupidity and clumsiness.
His conversation became increasingly one tracked; and instead of the involved philosophical theories about the value of being taken care of he had gotten down to simple sentences such as “It is fate”, which he would say over and over again, or he would just mumble to himself ”It is”.
The psychologist was surprised to find the man should now be so clumsy as to drop his food or so stupid as to talk in those barren sentences, for he knew from his tests that the man had originally been of good average intellegence.
Then it dawned upon the psychologist this was the kind of behaviour he had observed in some anthropological studies among the Negroes in the south- people who had been forced to kiss the hand that fed and enslaved them who could no longer hate or rebel. The man in the cage took more and more to simply sitting all day long in the sun as it came through the bars his only movement being to shift his position from time to time from morning to afternoon.
It was hard to say just when the last phase set in. But the psychologist became aware the man’s face seemed to have no particular expression; his smile was no longer fawning, but simply empty and meaningless like the grimace a baby makes when there is gas in its stomach.
The man ate his food and exchanged a few sentences with the psychologist from time to time but his eyes were distant and vague and though he looked at the psychologist it seemed that he never really saw him. And now the man in his desultory conversations never used the word I anymore. He had accepted the cage. He had no anger, no hate, no rationalizations. But he was now insane.
The night the psychologist realized this he sat in his apartment trying to write a concluding report. But it was very difficult for him to summon up words for he felt within himself a great emptiness.
He kept trying to reassure himself with words.” They say nothing is ever lost that matter is merely changed to energy and back again” But he could not help feeling something had been lost, that something had gone out of the universe in this experiment.
He finally went to bed with his report unfinished. But he could not sleep; there was a gnawing within him which in less rational and scientific ages would have been called a conscience, Why didn’t I tell the king that this is one experiment that no man can do- or at least why didn’t I shout I would have nothing to do with the whole bloody business? (Of course the king would have dismissed me, the foundations would have never granted me anymore money, and at the clinic they would have said that I was not a real scientist. But maybe one could farm in the mountains and make a living maybe one could paint or write something that would make future men happier and more free….
But he realized that these musings were, at least at the moment, unrealistic, and he tried to pull himself back to reality. All he could get however, was this feeling of emptiness within himself and the words” Something has been taken out of the universe and all that is left is a void.”
Finally he dropped off to sleep. Sometime later in the small hours of the morning, he was awakened by a startling dream. A crowd of people had gathered, in the dream in front of the cage in the courtyard, and the man in the cage-no longer vacuous-was shouting through the bars of the cage in impassioned oratory. ”it is not only I whose freedom was taken away!” he was crying. When the king puts me or any man in a cage the freedom of each one of you is taken away also. The king must Go!
The people began to chant ”The king must go” and they seized and broke out the iron bars of the cage and wielded them for weapons as they charged the palace. The psychologist awoke filled by the dream with a great feeling of hope and joy-an experience of hope and joy probably not unlike that experienced by free men of England when they forced King John to sign the Magna Charta.
But for nothing had the psychologist had an orthodox analysis in the course of his training, as he lay surrounded by the aura of happiness, a voice spoke within him” Aha you had this dream to make yourself feel better: it’s just wish fulfillment”.
“The hell it is! Said the psychologist, as he climbed out of bed. “Maybe some dreams are to be acted on!”