Sunday, November 20, 2005

Carrot and Stick

Which is it? The one on the left, or the one on the right?
I hear the phrase used many times a week, and almost universally the speaker means it in the sense of the picture on the right--beating the donkey with the stick and offering it a carrot in order to get it to move.
Isn't the left-hand picture more elegant? Doesn't it make more sense, really? Isn't the object to get the donkey to move? I agree that the people who refer to carrots as rewards and sticks as punishments are consistent in their logic, but I think that they have imported a foriegn meaning to the original sense of "carrot and stick."

Of course I have no proof that I know the original sense, but let's look at the internal evidence of the phrase itself:

1) We talk about "the carrot and the stick." Is this not an apparatus? A carrot to reward and stick to punish are separate things, the operation of one independent of the other.

2) Which brings up a question? Why do we need to beat the animal at all? Won't it be lured forward by the promise of the carrot? As long as the carrot is just out of reach, the donkey will continue walking, in anticipation of reaching it. The stick-as-fishing-pole, with a carrot dangling tantalizingly out of reach, provides the sort of continuous promise of reward the situation calls for.

3) Can one person both beat the rump with a stick and feed carrots up front? Perhaps by holding a stick with a carrot dangling from it, as in the first picture, while simultaneously beating the animal's behind with another stick, would work--but then we're both violating elegance and returning to the question of why we need to beat the creature in the first place.

4) Although it is a donkey, and stubborn--which is probably why people assume we have to beat it to get it to move--there is no more guarantee that the animal will move with beatings than it will without them. We have the carrot, after all.

5) Someone could argue that the permanent withholding of the carrot will eventually result in the donkey stopping out of frustration. Then, beatings would have to be administered or the carrot given to the donkey. Fair enough--give the donkey the carrot. Then put another one on the string and start the process over. This is no different from the feeding of the carrot-as-reward--there are still no beatings necessary, and I would be willing to bet that we save money on carrots.

6) Yes, of course the dangling carrot method is manipulative. You might even try to tell me that the reward-carrot/punishment-stick method is more honest or some such nonsense, but this will remain a difference of opinion between us. Sure, I prefer a little quiet manipulation to violence. I prefer not to beat my donkey.

7) And then there is the self-sufficient--and almost pastoral--beauty of the dangling carrot method. The fragmentation of effort, the modern specialization required to mount the reward-carrot/punishment-stick method really turns me off.

8) But enough of opinions. Which is the correct meaning of the phrase, "carrot and stick"?


Anonymous Beth said...

Clearly, it is the meaning depicted in the left hand drawing.

The other one makes no sense. If you gave a donkey a carrot, it wouldn't start walking, it would just stand there and eat the carrot. The notion that the carrot can be used as a "reward" or "wages" to make the donkey move doesn't make sense. Donkeys have no sense of responsibility.

But, I suggest we get a donkey and try this out to get actual empirical evidence.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous ryan said...

you know i never even considered that phrase meaning what you have on the right. i always thought it was the one on the left. are you serious? people think it's the one on the right?
once again i'm reminded that my viewpoint is not the only one in the world (as much as it pains me to say so).

5:31 PM  
Blogger David said...

[Lori]: I always thought it was the carrot OR the stick method, meaning either a reward or a punishment. I didn't imagine both in the same scenario. However, if they are in the scenario, I agree that it does not make sense to both offer a treat and beat the about mixed messages.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with beth. Falwless logic my dear.

Actually I just discussed this with my cousin tonight after reaching a breaking point listening toWolf Blitzer parrot (no pun) the BFEE talking points on Iran. That's their approach, "carrot and stick". But I suppose 1) what can you expect from an adm inistration that calls looser pollution standards "Clean Skies", and 2) I should shut up as this ISN'T DailyKos.

Thanks for the topic tonight.

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The phrase has always meant the drawing on the left as far as I'm concerned. I believe that this administration introduces various phrases and manipulates or changes the meaning of others as a form of propaganda. Think about the psychology involved in the left hand drawing verses the one on the right; then, think about the currant imperialistic foreign policy.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Portipont said...

I am curious. Over the years, every once in a while, people end up here as a result of searches for terms involving carrots and sticks and donkeys...people from all over the world, and sometimes in bunches over a few days.
If you visit here, drop me a little line about what led you here. No pressure, I'm just curious about the cultural life of the carrot and stick.

3:42 PM  
Blogger fredkopp said...

This evening, Ted Cruz used the expression "carrot and stick" to define his plan for Iran. He actually said that if Iran did not comply, he would offer "more stick, less carrot," revealing that he has no clue what the expression really means. I will attempt to email him with the authentic juice and I'll link him to this website. Thanks.

7:41 PM  
Blogger fredkopp said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:44 PM  

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