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This influential book created quite a stir when it was first published in 1948, so much so, that many people actually started forming intentional, egalitarian communes and existing ones embraced many of the ideas of social structure presented in "Walden Two". Further, Aldus Huxley, author of "Brave New World", was so impressed with the ideas presented in "Walden Two", that he incorporated and expanded on them in his last novel, "Island". And many people feel this was his best work. I concur.
The book is not a monument to fine novel writing and was not intended to be, yet it is fascinating and eye-opening as a fictional dissertation on utopian social structure can be. Huxley's "Island", on the other hand was beautifully written and requires no awareness of the psychology of social construction going on at the same time- neither book does, really. They are both interesting and thought provoking.
Skinner's basic premise was that with gentle behavioral modifications using positive re-enforcement and academics, coupled with leveling the social playing field with no class structure our hyper-competitive, private enterprise, we could then concentrate all of our energies on education and entertainment, thereby removing most all of the ills and stress that conventional society suffers from- sounds enticing, on paper anyway.
B.F. Skinner was a famous research psychologist who had a life-time of noted insights into the human psyche and his constant experimentation with behavioral studies led him to map-out, in a fictional utopian setting, a demonstration of what the supposed benefits of behavioral modification would do for a large group of people. He was not trying to be a novelist, rather he was submitting to a broader audience than his peers, a theoretic utopian society that the general public could assess on their own and no doubt, Skinner was probably keen to see how the public would respond- further studies of human response to mechanisms- his favorite occupation.
His very clinical approach to human behavioral studies was often criticized, but he was always quick to point out that he had no interest in debate on his methods. The following two paragraphs are borrowed from Skinner's bio seen at the Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio website Skinner pages. Material was compiled by Christa Swenson, 1999.
"Skinner was never highly influenced by critical reactions, he is not interested in the right or wrong because they are either effective or ineffective, and arguments of no avail. For that reason he is not interested in psychological theories, rational equations, or other verbal systems that are required to be proven right."- whoa. And:
[Following the principles of Bacon, Skinner rejects verbal authority, stating, "I have studied nature not books asking questions of the organism rather than those who have studied the organism."... "Observation overemphasizes stimuli; experimentation includes the rest of the contingencies which generate repertoires" (Dews, 1970, p18).]
It is interesting to note about his life that he is mainly remembered for such famous/infamous experiments as his "Skinner Box"- a replica of the famous Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov and his "Pavlov's Dog" positive response contraption. To say the least, he was highly impressed with Pavlov's work, but instead of dogs, he preferred rats and humans for study subjects and behavior reaction, not dog saliva studies (however interesting that might be).
So I would imagine that if Skinner were alive today, he would get a kick out of the reviews here that are somewhat unflattering and he would have no problem brushing them off as he would also see fit to do with the flattering ones.
His Walden Two book was influenced by the writing of Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" (Note the borrowed title) and many other similar writers. No wonder then, that he was keen to let that influence mellow his somewhat starchy, clinical outlook when he wrote it. And we are thankful for that- it made for a much more human and pleasing read.
Understandably, it does not please many that his story characters had embraced such social quirks as seeing no benefit in saying "thank you" and many other social graces- this is Skinner's personality coming through: social graces are a waste time. Level-headed, nothing-to-hide, and non-competitive people supposedly don`t need that nonsense.
Did Skinner miss something in the demonstrated efficacy of social courtesy? No matter, he lets many of his characters have their conventional, "good" social habits- he has to, to show contrast.
The communal setting the book describes is egalitarian, fair and desires no material gain other than normal sustenance. Labor needs are divvied-up at the start of each day and earn the communards "work credits" to ensure that they work a minimal amount for their keep. Over-work is discouraged and considered counter-productive, education and entertainment are much more important and with a large labor pool, daily chores can be completed quickly.
New incoming members must agree to the communities social dictates: "The Walden Code" , a set of easy rules of conduct for harmony in the communal setting. Administrative members called "Planners" have a bit more leeway and can over-ride the rules when dealing with the outside world. All social positions are on a rotating basis including work, to facilitate an even distribution of duties so everyone can gain experience of the total spectrum of communal life.
So what became of the communities that formed on Skinner's ideas? Many of them are still going and the most renown one modeled completely around Walden Two, "Twin Oaks Community", is still at it. Kathleen "Kat" Kinkade, one of the founding members, wrote a book about the "real" experimental commune, "A Walden Two Experiment"- Foreword by Skinner himself.
This assessment of the project was written about two years into the project and then followed by another report, "Is It Utopia Yet?: An Insider's View of Twin Oaks Community In Its 26th Year". Kat Kinkade is now the longest standing member and although she left the community for some time and then returned, she has a substantial history and intimate view of the project. Her assessments are an open, frank and honest look at intentional, communal living with all of it's inherrant ups and downs and is a fascinating follow-up to Skinner's Walden Two.
19 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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"Walden Two" is a bizarre utopian novel by the notorious behaviourist B.F. Skinner. The novel (first published in 1948) is quite seriously intended, but nevertheless comes across as an unintentional parody of social engineering. Had it been a work of considerable antiquity, I'm sure Leo Strauss and Alan Bloom would have assumed that it *is* a parody!
As classical utopian novels, "Walden Two" has no real plot. Most of the "novel" is a description of an imaginary utopian community, named Walden Two after the forest where Thoreau wrote his famous work "Walden". The similarity between Thoreau and Skinner isn't very striking, however. Walden Two may be surrounded by farmland, but it's really a large public housing complex with about 1,000 inhabitants, and obviously based on high technology. It has plans to expand and eventually take over all of the United States. Thoreau, as far as I know, mostly wanted to be left alone!
The main character of the story is Frazier, the founder of Walden Two, who guides six visitors (and the reader) through the community and explains its ideology. Another character is named Burris. Apparently this is supposed to be B.F. Skinner himself, although Frazier is probably Skinner's real alter ego. Yet another character is an unsympathetic, useless and abstract philosophy professor named Castle, who is Frazier's main protagonist and constantly questions both him and the utopian society. The four remaining characters are named Roger, Barbara, Mary and Steve.
Walden Two turns out to be a benevolent dictatorship ruled by anonymous Planners and Managers. They are not elected but appoint their own successors. The law of the community is called the Code and can be changed only be the Planners and Managers. The members of the community are not allowed to discuss any changes of the Code amongst themselves. The meaning of the Code is explained at mass meetings. There are also a kind of Sunday sermons. Children are taken from their parents immediately at birth and given a collective upbringing and education, based on (bizarre) behavioural psychology and conditioning. There is no sense of history. In fact, study of history is discouraged. Not even Frazier, who founded the community, expects to be remembered. At death, people are cremated and quietly forgotten. The important thing is the collective and the plan. Everyone in Walden Two seems to live in an eternal now.
All problems are solved by behavioural engineering. If anyone has problems with the Code, he is considered to be sick and sent to a psychologist. A group of medical doctors have complete control of nutrition, physical training and sanitation. Even the tea service is managed according to scientific principles! Despite these authoritarian features, everyone in Walden Two is happy and contended. They only work four hours per day, and spend the rest of their time playing music, watching theatre or tending the gardens.
And that, of course, is the point.
What struck me when reading "Walden Two" was Skinner's unabashed elitism. He has a kind of benevolent contempt for the common man. Anti-democratic arguments abound. Society must be rationally planned by a scientific elite steeped in behaviourism. Elections are unnecessary and "freedom" is just an illusion. The important thing is to make the common people feel happy. Of course, people have no idea how to accomplish this, and the task should therefore be left to experts. But since people will be happy-happy-happy, what grounds are there for complaints? Two of the characters, Mary and Steve, join the community almost immediately. They are real simpletons and sign up because Walden Two has a high standard of living and provides them with simple pleasures. In other words, Mary and Steve (just listen to those common names!) are symbols of the plain folk Skinner both despised and wanted to "help" with his social engineering. By contrast, the intellectual Castle turns out to be quite impossible.
Frazier openly talks about how Walden Two will eventually take over the neighbouring towns, buy up the farmers' land and force the local dealers to join "the cooperative"...or else, apparently. Frazier also reveals that all of Walden Two's inhabitants vote for the same candidates in the local elections. Both methods (economic compulsion and bloc vote) were used by Mormons to wield political power in both Nauvoo and Utah during the 19th century. Indeed, Skinner might have gotten the idea from a study of Mormon history (he mentions Joseph Smith in passing). At an even more candid moment, Frazier climbs onto a spot known as the Throne, assumes a position similar to the crucifixion, and fancies himself an equal to God and Jesus Christ! As for the inevitable parallels with Soviet Russia, Skinner's alter ego brushes them aside by accusing the Russians of not being radical enough. After all, they never abolished the family or religion.
"Walden Two" is a fascinating, bizarre and interesting example of the darker sides of social engineering. As already mentioned, it could be read as an unintentional parody. One recurring scene in the novel is a flock of sheep seemingly conditioned to stay within a moving enclosure, but actually carefully watched by a large sheepdog. The symbolism is ambiguous. I suppose it's intended as a symbol of how people behave when *not* converted to Skinner's program. However, it may just as well be seen as a symbol of Walden Two. Indeed, Castle sees it that way.
Somehow, it feels as if he has the last word.
17 internautes sur 22 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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Walden Two is a work of fiction that gives us an outline for a modern utopia. In the book, six people - two college professors, a former student and his friend from the army, and the girlfriends of the two young men - visited a commune out in the country. The commune had been created by an old school mate of one of the two professors. When Professor Burris received a visit from his former student, Rogers, and Rogers' friend Jamnik, about T. E. Frazier, who had set out to create a modern utopia, Burris discovered that his old friend Frazier had indeed succeeded at creating his utopia. But even more interesting was that when Burris sent a letter to Frazier, a return letter invited Burris and some friends to visit and see Frazier's utopia, Walden Two. Rogers and Jamnik were delighted to accompany him and brought their girlfriends along. Burris also brought along another professor, Castle, who was intrigued by the creation of a utopia, a feat he had believed impossible. Together, the six traveled into the countryside to find the utopia of which Frazier had boasted.
The visitors found that the members of the utopia worked short days, on average four-hour work days, had a great appreciation for art and science, used a hybrid economic system combining Marxism and capitalism that worked for the benefit of all members, and enjoyed happiness all the time. Frazier had thought the entire utopia through, and did many things very differently than the rest of the United States of America, from the communal raising of children, to new systems of education, and even to new ways of raising farm animals. He even used new ways of carrying food from the food lines of the communal mess halls to nooks in the "Ladder," a long stairway that doubled as a communal gathering place. Frazier had created an efficient utopia in a corrupt world. Though they see it before their eyes, some of them don't believe it, and they try to look for problems in the system. Professor Castle is always on Frazier's heels, trying to find contradictions in the system and failures to achieve true fairness and equality; he even accuses Frazier of being the despotic dictator of Walden Two. But Frazier is always ready for any attack with a defense, and even an attack of his own at times. From the "Ladder" to the "Walk", Frazier's Walden Two Utopia was truly something to be admired.
And how had he managed it? He had used a science called "Behavioral Engineering". In this system, adults signed contracts to abide by the rules of Walden Two and reinforced one another's behavior through their common acceptance of these rules. Children were raised to absorb and live by the values of this modern utopia, including the values of sharing, working their fair share for the benefit of the whole community, and maintaining impartiality. The adults used positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behavior by the children. It seemed like a viable system, but I think an all too well known cynical writer, George Orwell, would have a field day with how this might go wrong if even one person failed to absorb the communal values and found a way to use the system for his own personal gain.
Despite how good this community sounds, we must remember that this is a work of fiction. Though creating a "Walden Two" type of community could be a good start towards forming a fair society, I am not convinced that this model could work in a large society. In the small community, where everyone knows each other and trusts each other, there is a sense of loyalty that keeps the members subscribing to the ideals of the fair society. In a large society, nobody knows everyone and therefore cannot trust everyone, and this undermines trust in the system itself.
Walden Two is worth reading if you're trying to find a way to create a modern utopia. But, if you are going to read this book, I also suggest reading "The Case Against B. F. Skinner", by Noam Chomsky. The essay discusses why Skinner is wrong about the malleability of human nature, and why this society would fail to attract enough members to be viable. Walden Two and "The Case Against B.F. Skinner" are very "hard reads," and take a lot of time to fully understand the points that are being made. Take a month or two so you can read it slowly and understand the concepts that are being presented. If you do not understand anything, that is okay. The ideas are pretty hard to understand. I recommend talking it over with a political science teacher. Still, despite the difficulty, this book is a great read for an intellectual mind, and the essay is as well.