Walden Two, by B. F. Skinner was published by the Macmillan Company in 1948 is a spinoff of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. It is an expansion of the creation of a Utopian society. The society is the creation of T.
E. Frazier and is run under his guidance. The story starts with Professor Burris being prompted by one of his prior students to find some information on the existence of Walden Two. The gentleman are asked to visit Walden Two and travel as a group of six.
Joining Burris and Rogers, the student, areSteve, a friend of Rogers from the war, Rogers and Steve’s girlfriends, and Castle, a fellow professor. During their visit to the society, questions are raised about the legitimacy of the group. After living as a member of the society for several days, Steve and his girlfriend, along with Professor Burris decide to become members of the society. Walden Two is the story of the creation of an ideal society that meets the needs of its members through behavioral engineering and the use of other psychological methods.
Skinner constantly refers to the field of psychology for the basis of his book. He maintains that by engineering youth through psychological techniques that the bad parts of human nature can be removed and create a better society. Parts of human behavior such as jealousy and hatred are negative aspects of a non-conditioned society. The main focus is on the use of behavioral engineering through conditioned reflexes and experimental theories.
Burris does a case study with one of the elderly women of the society to gain knowledge that is unbiased about the society. One theory is gradual deconditioning of the negatives from human behavior. The book also presents a view on the way society should run. For example, there is no advancement for one person and no personal gain in the way of money.
Through the training the members receive as a child, they feel no need for praise and reward for duties that help the community. He mentions that the society has created a psychological effect where the members want to do work. Also the perfect society has trained youth to lack jealous behavior and anger. Scientifically, the material presented has some viability, but it seems improbable to mix the people of the old way with the newly trained generation.
Several times, Frazier mentions the use of conditioning to reduce a child’s probability to perform a negative action. Frazier even mentions the possibility of experimental breeding being introduced into the society. There is the problem of inbreeding in the society with the experimenting in breeding. Skinner also portrays through the characters his belief that church is psychology and that government is based on the science of human behavior.
Finally, Skinner writes that freedom is psychological. Through all the seemingly realistic situations, Skinner’s perfect society is scientific, but hardly plausible in an advanced society. Skinner supports his ideas about the perfect society through the use of examples. The examples are hypothetical, but they are still examples.
Each chapter contains a defense of his ideas. The skeptic professor Burris represents Skinner and his friend Castle is constantly providing arguments for Frazier to defend his society. The society at Walden Two has a strong program for the development and growth of the children into the society. To keep the society running, the children must be experimentally taught through conditioning in learning the necessary techniques to generate a society running on the exact principles of Walden Two.
His society is “a culture which is under experimental control.”(242) He provides the actions of the children in the nursery as a backing for the effectiveness of the conditioning at an early age. There is no true scientific base for the information given, but only hypothetical proof. His children were missing several traits found in the youth of today’s society.
For example, the children lacked traits such as jealousy and anger. Through operant conditioning, Frazier weaned the bad habits by using negative reinforcement with the children. The children were gradually introduced to discouragement little by little, building a tolerance that would prevent rage.(101) By conditioning babies to be perserverant, the society lacked what could be seen as detrimental competition.
The next step to having a perfect society that started with children was a “weakening of the family structure that will make experimental breeding possible.”(113) To weaken the family structure, the neonatal is placed in a “cubicle” and is cared for with genuine affection.(119) While the neonates are being slowly conditioned into the society, the elder founders of the society must accept the new way of life. As Frazier pointed out to the group, the transition between generations will be a tough one because nobody knows what will happen.
The future leaders were raised to be equal and do not have the skills to effectively lead the society. There is no guarantee that a leader will emerge from the future generation because the children were raised not to be competitive. This results in nobody wanting to be in control. As the children matured, the society accommodated them, but did not treat them differently.
In the society, all children were equal and could do as they wished so long as they followed the guidelines of Walden Two. Along with the equality offered to children, they were allowed to learn what they wanted when they wanted. Frazier pointed out that this created a better learning environment and “No time is wasted in forcing him to participate in, or be bored by, activities he has outgrown.”(97) This subsequently results in self motivation toward learning and the children that wish to have a graduate education making “excellent records.
“(98) His society is not just based on children and their growth, but also on adults. Adults at Walden Two don’t receive the same conditioning that the youth received, but instead are trained quickly to abide by the rules set forth to create a utopian society. In the society, there is no money and no use for it. Payment for food, shelter, and entertainment is provided through “labor-credit.
” A labor credit was the value of the work done by a member of the society. A years stay at Walden Two costs 1200 labor credits. At approximately four credits per day, the average work day becomes four hours. Because people in Walden Two pay through credit, each job is assigned a credit value and members can freely choose what they would like to work on.
This free choice has members wanting to do work.(41) Now that people want to do work, there is less pressure applied to working hard. Also, the society places no pressure on achievement, allowing “the growth of the super-ego.”(85) Through work and leisure activities, Frazier explains that they rely on any method of shaping behavior.
(86) Because they rely on these theories, the experimental society tests everything. Similar to the children, the repression of unpleasant behaviors was done without punishment. Linked to the children is the right of the youth to marry when they feel they are mature. This shortens the gap between generations and allows for an easier transition through the generations.
The elders also controlled the society through the “Board of Planners.” Each planner served a ten year term and nominated a member of the society to succeed them in their position. Because there is no election, the society is not divided into politically warring factions. When the national elections come, a member of the society chooses the candidates that the members will vote for.
For the good of the community, everyone votes the same way. In some ways, the society appears to support the claims made by Frazier, but the door is left open for argumentation. Castle constantly questions the actual happiness of the members. When Burris observes the people in the society inconspicuously, he determined that the relaxed lifestyle of Walden Two had a soothing psychological effect and was truly blind to the outside world.
After observing the society, he meets an elderly woman and questions her about the society. He determines through his line of questions that the experiment had worked to create a world of happiness. Castle tries to prove that there is something wrong with the society and in the end, his only conclusion is that Frazier is a dictator, or a pseudogod.(247) The scientific base for the society seems well proven on paper, but lacks the realness and definition necessary to conclude that it would be possible to do any of the suggestions mentioned in the book.
When the ideas and psychological tools are examined, some ideas fail to meet reality of society, but meet the specifications and ideas of psychology. In general, the psychological backing for Walden Two lies in the basic principles of psychology. Walden Two was a study of human behavior that was : observable, measurable, and repeatable. The society was run as experiment in a open environment.
The society was observed through the visitors that went to Walden Two. Walden Two’s success could not be measured in purely quantitative measures, but in qualitative measures of happiness. The society was not created to become both a prosperous community and an escape from the harsh truth of reality. Finally, the society appears to be repeatable because of the formation of similar societies and the expansion of Walden Two.
(186) Free thought was not restricted, but seemed to be nonexistent. People looked for safety and comfort of familiarity.(21) Burris ran from an unfamiliar woman to his group of friends on the tour. Walden Two showed the effects of conditioning society to perform.
Frazier’s whole experiment appears to be nature versus nurture and the effects of conditioning using primary reinforcers. The communities next task was as Frazier put it, “experimental breeding.” The breeding and use of positive traits to create a more effective and gentler society was the next issue for the society to conquer. The society runs with positive reinforcement for positive actions, but to create the desired actions, the conditioning began at youth.