So there was this experiment, right?
These scientists, white labcoats and clipboards and everything, put a group of chimpanzees into a room.
They hang a bunch of bananas, or a mesh bag full of chimpanzee treats, or whatever, from the ceiling in the middle of the room. Let's just say it's a bunch of bananas. It's high enough that the chimps can't reach it. In the far corner of the room they put a stepladder.
The chimps naturally figure out that they can get at the bananas if they drag the ladder over and climb up. The scientists watch with icy neutrality through Coke-bottle lenses and one way glass as the chimps rustle the aluminum ladder to the middle of the room.
The instant one of the apes attempts to climb the ladder, a research assistant hoses the whole troop down with cold water, turning the anticipation of fragrant yellow delight and a chimpanzee's application of game theory and food sharing into a mob of screeching, shit-flinging panic.
After a while, the chimps learn that they all get hosed down the instant any one of them so much as touches the ladder, so they learn to ignore it. And though some stare wistfully at the bananas, they soon conclude that dwelling on the impossible is less likely to be as rewarding as mutual grooming, or whatever it is they do when they're not murdering rivals.
After a suitable time elapses, the scientists decide that phase two shall begin. One of the chimps is removed from the room, and another is introduced. One who is utterly ignorant of the preceding events. Naturally, after greeting his friends who he has not seen for a whole day, he notices the bananas and the ladder.
As he approaches the ladder, his friends grab him and beat the mortal shit out of him with their enormous and hairy fists, because he's about to get them all hosed down with cold water. This happens two or three times until he's got the general and the specific idea of how ladder touching is to be tolerated from here on out.
The new guy doesn't know why, but he knows he's sure as hell not allowed up that ladder to get those bananas.
Another one of the original chimps is switched out.
Well, now new guy #2 does the same thing, and receives the same beating. Interestingly enough, the next-to-new guy, the one who still doesn't know anything about the possibly sadistic research assistant, helps dish out the gangbeating.
And so the process continues, until not a single one of the group of chimps inside the experiment chamber has any idea about the cold water. They only know that nobody is allowed to get anywhere near that ladder, and anybody who tries is going to get ruthlessly crotch hammered until they learn better.
Next time you are faced with a group, organization, or bureaucracy; stymied by a seemingly purposeless rule or regulation; or are generally not allowed by an ignorant and indefensible policy to do something that seems simple and obvious; just remember - none of the chimps you're dealing with actually remembers the hoses.
More importantly, next time you find yourself joining in on a gangbeating simply because that's the way it's always been, ask yourself why.