Jennifer Lake's Blog

December 17, 2009

Beyond Freedom and Dignity, part II

The Society of Experts
“The society of experts which I am imagining will embrace all eminent men of science except a few wrong-headed and anarchical cranks. It will possess the sole up-to-date armaments and will be the repository of all new secrets in the art of war. There will, therefore, be no more war since resistence by the unscientific will be doomed to obvious failure. The society of experts will control propaganda and education. It will teach loyalty to the world government and make nationalism high treason. The government, being an oligarchy, will instill submissiveness into the great bulk of the population, confining initiative and the habit of command to its own members. It is possible that it may invent ingenious ways of concealing its own power, leaving the forms of democracy intact, and allowing the plutocrats to imagine that they are cleverly controlling these forms. Gradually, however, as the pluocrats become stupid through laziness, they will lose their wealth; it will pass more and more into public ownership and be controlled by the government of experts. Thus, whatever the outward forms may be, all real power will come to be concentrated in the hands of those who understand the art of scientific manipulation.”
–Bertrand Russell, The Scientific Outlook, 1931
[as found at, in an essay by Brent Jessup] 
Prefacing the next part in the review of Skinnerian behaviorism, it’s worthwhile to notice how the society of experts protects itself under the cover of national secrets. A news story printed on Nov. 29, 2009 reveals this tactic:
Washington –“President Obama will maintain a lid of secrecy on millions of pages of military and intelligence documents that were scheduled to be declassified….The documents, dating from WWII to the early 1980s, covers the gamut of foreign relations, intelligence activities, and military operations –with the exception of nuclear weapons data, which remains protected by Congress…limited to information generated by more than one agency, the records in question are held by the CIA, the NSA, the departments of Justice, State, Defense and Energy, and other security and intelligence agencies”
Skinner’s theory of behavior “extinction” appears to apply here –not in regard to the public, but to Congress and the agencies guarding these archives. A comment written by ‘truther’ Jeff Gates about Congress suggests “policy-makers can be induced to support a predetermined agenda not because lawmakers are Evil Doers but because the public mindset has been preconditioned to respond to manipulated thoughts, emotions and beliefs..”; laughable to consider our Pavlovian Congress serving the public mindset, but no less a valuable idea to consider our Congress in the hands of the society of experts for which most all of the lawmakers themselves qualify. 
Basics on managerial behaviorism:
Had B.F. Skinner never lived, someone just like him would have been invented; cultivated in the proving grounds of academia. In the year of Russell’s “Scientific Outlook” publication, Skinner was receiving his PhD from Harvard. He had already ‘tried’ and failed at the bohemian lifestyle of a writer in New York because, as he recalled for Time magazine, he “had nothing important to say”. Going back to grad school for his degrees in psychology, embracing it as an umplumbed science, at least gave him something important to do. Words came in their own time. By the mid-30s, they were flowing. Skinner did more than write and teach –he organized. Units of experimental behaviorists sprouted in his presence. At Harvard he was called an “institution”. His brand of radical behaviorism brought a calculable depth to animal motivation; experiments were arranged to show very long trends over multiple variations of situational ‘contingencies’. These were dogged trials over years of time –rats didn’t live long enough so Skinner chose pigeons with lifespans up to 15 years. His most interesting results unquestionably led to the ‘extinction’ theory, or how behavior is deprogrammed by creating emotional states which become aversive. But ‘Beyond Freedom and Dignity’ did not deal with the techniques of extinction theory or any specific techniques. It was instead the seminal statement of Skinner’s idealism.
[p.26] “Almost all living things act to free themselves from harmful contacts.
..Behavior of this kind presumably evolved because of its survival value; it is as much a part of what we call the human genetic endowment as breathing, sweating, or digesting food.
..We do not attribute them to any love of freedom; they are simply forms of behavior which have proved useful in reducing various threats to the individual, and hence to the species in the course of evolution..
[p.27] A much more important role is played by behavior which weakens harmful stimuli in another way. It is not acquired in the form of conditioned reflexes, but as the product of a different process called operant conditioning. When a bit of behavior is followed by a certain kind of consequence, it is more likely to occur again, and a consequence having this effect is called a reinforcer.
…some stimuli are called negative reinforcers…Negative reinforcers are called aversive in the sense that they are the things organisms ‘turn away from’
[p.28] Escape or avoidance play a much more important role in the struggle for freedom when the aversive conditions are generated by other people. Other people can be aversive; they can be rude, dangerous, contagious or annoying…
They may also be ‘intentionally’ aversive…
…a slave driver induces a slave to work by whipping him when he stops; by resuming work the slave escapes from the whipping, and incidentally reinforces the slave driver’s behavior in using the whip…
In one form or another, intentional aversive control is the pattern of most social coordination.
A person escapes from or avoids aversive treatment by behaving in ways which reinforce those who treated him aversively.
[p.29] Another anomalous mode of escape is to attack those who arrange aversive conditions, and weaken or destroy their power.
…when treated aversively people tend to act aggressively.
If two organisms which have been coexisting peacefully receive painful shocks, they immediately exhibit characteristic patterns of aggression toward each other. The aggressive behavior is not necessarily directed toward the actual source of the stimulation: it may be ‘displaced’ toward any convenient person or object..
[p.30]What we may call the ‘literature of freedom’ has been designed to induce people to escape from or attack those who act to control them aversively.
The literature of freedom..has a simple objective status. It does not impart a philosophy of freedom; it induces people to act.
The literature often emphasizes the aversive conditions under which people live..thus ‘increasing the misery’ of those it is trying to rescue.
The literature also prescribes modes of action. It has not been much concerned with escape..;instead, it has emphasized how controlling power may be weakened or destroyed.
[p31] The would-be controllers do not, of course, remain inactive. Governments make escape impossible by banning travel..punishing or incarcerating defectors..
They keep weapons and other sources of power out of the handds of revolutionaries. They destroy the written literature of freedom…
The importance of the literature can scarcely be questioned.
Without help or guidance people submit to aversive conditions in the most surprising way.
…Many people have submitted to the most obvious religious, governmental and economic control for centuries, striking for freedom only sporadically, if at all.
[p32] The feeling of freedom becomes an unreliable guide to action as soon as would-be controllers turn to to nonaversive measures, as they are likely to do to avoid problems…
Nonaversive measures..have obvious advantages which promote their use.
[p33] Until recently, teaching was almost entirely aversive…but nonaversive techniques are..being discovered and used.
The effects are not as easily recognized as those of aversive contingencies…
A problem arises for the defender of freedom when the behavior generated by positive reinforcement has deferred aversive consequences.
..conditioned positive reinforcers can often be used with deferred aversive results. Money is an example.
[p34] But the misuse of many social reinforcers often goes unnoticed.
..a government may prevent defection by making life more interesting…the schedule of reinforcement is more important than the amount received.
Certain schedules generate a deal of behavior in return for very little reinforcement…not overlooked by would-be controllers
[p.35] The problem to be solved by those who are concerned with freedom is to create immediate aversive consequences…
[p36] ..sufficiently aversive so that a person will ‘escape from it’..
The more deferred the aversive consequences the greater the problem. The literature of freedom has never come to grips with techniques of control which do not generate escape or counterattack because it has dealt with the problem in terms of states of mind and feelings.
[p.37] Freedom is a matter of contingencies of reinforcement, not of the feelings the contingencies generate.
[p39] Uncertainty about positive control is evident in two remarks which often appear in the literature of freedom; it is better that a man “feel free” or “believe that he is free”
[p40]What the slave is..conscious of is his misery; and a system of slavery so well designed that it does not breed revolt is the real threat.
The literature of freedom has..failed to rescue the happy slave.
Jean-Jacques his remarkable book ‘Emile’..gave the following advice to teachers:
    ‘Let [the child] believe that he is always in control, though it is always you who really controls. There is no subjugation so perfect as that which keeps the appearance of freedom, for in that way one captures volition itself.’
Rousseau..had unlimited faith in the benevolence of teachers…
[p41] The literature of freedom has encouraged escape from or attack upon all controllers [i.e.] those who manipulate human behavior are said to be evil men. What is overlooked is control which does not have aversive consequences at any time;…social practices essential to the welfare of the species…
[p42] Man’s struggle for freedom is not due to a will to be free, but to certain behavioral processes characteristic of the human organism, the chief effect of which is the avoidance of or escape from so-called aversive features of the environment. Physical and biological technologies have been mainly concerned with natural aversive stimuli; the struggle for freedom is concerned with stimuli intentionally arranged by other people…
[the literature] has made the mistake of defining freedom in terms of states of mind or feelings, and it has therefore not been able to deal effectively with techniques of control which do not breed escape or revolt but nevertheless have aversive consequences. It has been forced to brand all control as wrong and to misrepresent many of the advantages to be gained from a social environment. It is unprepared for the next step, which is not to free men from control but to analyze and change the kinds of control to which they are exposed.
Skinner’s comments on dignity revolve around concepts of  “credit” , “admiration”, and “achievement”, which are immeasurable ideas that he calls “occult” and are considered significant impediments to progress, arising from a misunderstanding of their causes. He believed if humanity acknowlegded collective “progress” and transferred the concepts of dignity to the achievements of the species as a whole, allowing scientists to lead the way, “we” would accomplish the idealization of human potential –his version, in any case, which is postulated to solve all human problems. Is this the ultimate form of narcissism?
[p44]…”dignity concerns positive reinforcement.
[p45] The amount of credit a person receives is related in a curious way to the visibility of the causes of his behavior.
[p47] We give credit generously when there are no obvious reasons for the behavior [i.e. reward or originality]
We give maximal credit when there are quite visible reasons for behaving differently [i.e. persecution or threat, etc.]
[p49] We attempt to gain credit by disguising or concealing control… We try to gain credit by inventing less compelling reasons for our conduct…. We conceal coercion by doing more than is required.
[p50] We magnify the credit due us by exposing ourselves to conditions which ordinarily generate unworthy behavior while refraining from acting in unworthy ways.
[p51] We do not give credit if it will work no change. We do not give credit on reflexes…[or] for what has been done by accident.
We also withold credit if it is going to be supplied by others…
…we do not commend people who are obviously working..for commendation..
We seem to be interested in judicious use when we call rewards and punishments just or unjust and fair or unfair. We are concerned with what a person “deserves”…
[p54] What we may call the struggle for dignity has many features in common with the struggle for freedom.
The literature of dignity identifies those who infringe a person’s worth..
A large part of the literature of dignity is concerned with justice…[and the] encroachment on personal worth.
[p57] Behavioral technology does not escape as easily as physical and biological technology because it threatens too many occult qualities.
[p58] It is in the nature of scientific progress that the functions of autonomous man be taken over one by one as the role of the environment is better understood.
   Science naturally seeks a fuller explanation of..behavior; its goal is the destruction of mystery.  The defenders of dignity will protest, but in doing so they postpone an achievement for which, in traditional terms, man would receive the greatest credit and for which he would be most admired.
   What we may call the literature of dignity is concerned with preserving due credit. It may oppose advances in technology, including a technology of behavior, because they destroy chances to be admired…[or] for which the individual himself previously has been given credit. The literature thus stands in the way of further human achievements.
[p60] Freedom is sometimes defined as a lack of resistence or restraint. Except when physically restrained, a person is least free or dignified when he is under threat of punishment.
Punishment is very common in nature, and we learn a great deal from it…[though] the word punishment is usually confined to contingencies arranged by other people who arrange them because the results are reinforcing to them..
Government is often defined in terms of the power to punish..
[p61] We should expect the literature of freedom and dignity to oppose measures of this sort.
…the military and police remain the most powerful arms of government.
[p62]…punishment may generate incompatible emotions
…fleeing to escape from a punisher is incompatible with attacking him.
…a person may subsequently behave ‘in order to avoid punishment’. Some of these are disruptive and maladaptive or neurotic…The so-called ‘dynamisms’ of Freud.
[p63] There are more effective ways of avoiding punishment. One may avoid occasions on which punishable behavior is likely to occur…
Still another strategy is to change the environment so that behavvior is less likely to be punished….Still another strategy is to change the probability that punishable behavior will occur.
[A man] may make punishable behavior less likely by changing his physiological condition…
[p64] A person may even take steps to strengthen contingencies which teach him to stop behaving in punishable ways.
Physical technology has reduced the number of occasions upon which people are naturally punished… [i.e. safety devices]
Punishable behavior can be minimized by creating circumstances in which it is not likely to occur.
[p65] Punishable behavior can also be suppressed by strongly reinforcing any behavior which displaces it. If all this fails, punishable behavior may be made less likely by changing physiological conditions [Skinner mentions hormones and surgery]
These problems are in essence soluble, however, it should be possible to design a world in which behavior likely to be punished seldom or never occurs.
T.H. Huxley saw nothing wrong with it.
[p66] ..[such as] T.S. Eliot’s contempt for “systems so perfect that no one will need to be good”…
[p67] There are of course, valid reasons for thinking less of a person who is automatically good, for he is a lesser person.
The problem is to induce people not to be good but to behave well….The issue again is the visibility of control.
..a state which converts all of its citizens into spies or a religion in which an all-seeing God makes escape from the punisher practically impossible.
[p70] The goodness to which good behavior is attributed is part of a person’s worth or dignity…Goodness, like other aspects of dignity or worth, waxes as visible control wanes, and so of course, does freedom.
[p71]..[people engaged in bad behavior because] they cannot do so in one environment and they do not do so in the other is a fact about techniques of control, not about goodness or freedom.
Appropriate contingencies can often not be arranged for primitive people…primitive people are not ready for freedom.
We hold a person responsible for his conduct in the sense that he can be justly or fairly punished.
[p73] If we want to say they are free, we must hold them responsible…
Any move toward an environment in which men are automatically good threatens responsibility…As responsibility diminishes, punishment is relaxed.
[p74] The real issue is the effectiveness of techniques of control.
It is the environment which is ‘responsible’….and it is the environment, not some attribute of the individual, which must be changed.”
….to be continued with Part III

1 Comment »

  1. Though i can’t fully understand your’s article,i’m glad to read. i come from China!

    Comment by ChenLImin — May 5, 2011 @ 5:36 am | Reply

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