Jennifer Lake's Blog

December 19, 2009

Beyond Freedom and Dignity, part III

Filed under: manufacturing consent,Psychological War — jenniferlake @ 8:10 pm
Tags: ,
 [For ease of readng, all three parts are linked in the margin page “B.F. Skinner” >> >>]
Shifting ‘responsibility’ to the environment and arguing for the intentional design of environments is the whole of Skinner’s thesis, however his own words are remarkably insightful into the paradigm of control. He made the need for it, more and more of it, appear as a supremely moral cause essential to survival, harking back to Betrand Russell who postulated “There will, therefore, be no more war…experts will control propaganda and education. 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.” And this is the basic dishonesty of science. But for the time being, having come this far in Skinner’s doctrine, I’ll highlight the rest of his proposition in an effort to cull the essence of his point of view and let his words speak for themselves.
[p84] Permissive practices have many advantages. They save the labor of supervision and the enforcement of sanctions.
If men behave badly toward each other in a permissive world, it is because nature is less than perfect. If they fight when there is no government to preserve order, it is because they have aggressive instincts.
Permissiveness is not, however, a policy; it is the abandonment of policy, and its apparent advantages are illusory.
[p89] Jean-Jacques Rousseau was alert to the dangers of social control, and he thought it might be possible to avoid them by making a person dependent not on people but on things…the contingencies which involve things are more precise and shape more useful behavior than contingencies arranged by other people.
[p90] But things do not easily take control…and they do not often work…
We must also remember that the control exercised by things may be destructive.
[p91] Those who work productively because of the reinforcing value of what they produce are under the sensitive and powerful control of the products.
[p97] A permissive government is a government that leaves control to other sources. If people behave well under it, it is because they have been brought under effective ethical control or the control of things…[which includes things like ‘propaganda’, what Skinner calls ‘weak methods’]
[p99] The fundamental mistake made by all those who choose weak methods of control is to assume that the balance of control is left to the individual, when in fact it is left to the conditions.
When practices are concealed or disguised, countercontrol is made difficult; it is not clear from whom one is to escape or whom one is to attack. The literatures of freedom and dignity were once brilliant exercises in countercontrol, but the measures they proposed are no longer appropriate to the task.
[p101] ..[T]he environment can be changed, and we are learning how to change it. The measures we use are those of physical and biological technology, but we use them in special ways to affect behavior.
[p105] Feelings are said to be part of the armamentarium of autonomous man…he can ‘heighten his awareness’ of the things inside inside his body…
[p107]..It is the reinforcer that feels good, not the good feeling.
Men do not work to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, as the hedonists have insisted;  they work to produce pleasant things and to avoid painful things…
..the only good things are positive reinforcers, the only bad things are negative reinforcers.
[p109] Methods using positive reinforcement are harder to learn and less likely to be used because the results are usually deferred, but they have an advantage of avoiding counterattack.
[p113] Once we have identified the contingencies that control behavior called ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, the distinction between facts and how people feel about facts is clear. How people feel about facts is a by-product. The important thing is what they do about them…
[p115] In the long run people behave more effectively if they have been told the truth…but the gains..are remote…
[p119] The good things in life have only to be made properly contingent on productive labor. if citizens are not is..because law enforcement has become lax; the problem can be solved by refusing to suspend or abridge sentences, by increasing the police force and by passing stronger laws.
   The strategy may be successful, but it will not correct the trouble.
…but if a consequence is immediate…
[p121] The process of operant conditioning is committed to immediate effects…
[p128] A person is not only exposed to the contigencies that constitute a culture, he helps to maintain them…so the culture is self-perpetuating.
[p129]…the culture determines many of the biological characteristics transmitted.
   Many of the current cultures, for example, enable individuals to survive and breed who would otherwise fail to do so. Not every adaptive…
[p132] A dominant controlling agency or system may hold a set of practices together..
…most of the practices which compose a culture are concerned with sustenance and safety rather than competition with other cultures.
[p134] When it becomes clear that a culture may survive or perish, some of its members may begin to act to promote its survival…[for] the good of the culture.
[p135] A culture survives if its members survive, and this depends in part upon certain genetic susceptibilities to reinforcement…
[p136] None of this will explain what we might call a pure concern for the survival of a culture, but we do not really need an explanation…The simple fact is that a culture which for any reason induces its members to work for its more likely to survive. Survival is the only value…
[p137] It is not likely to evolve from successful competition…
The great problems of the world today are all global. [he cites overpopulation, depletion of resources, pollution, etc.]
[p143] The task of the cultural designer is to accelerate the development of practices which bring the remote consequences of behavior into play.
[p149] A programmed sequence of contingencies may be needed.
[p150] Such a technology is ethically neutral…[but] they will need to foresee some of the difficulties the culture will encounter.
[p153] A collection of cultural designs is to be found in the utopian literature…and the transition to a new culture is facilitated by some formalized break with the past…
[p164] It is sometimes said that the scientific design of a culture is impossible because men will simply not accept the fact that he can be controlled.
[p165] There are signs of emotional instability in those who have been deeply affected by the literature
[p167]..But if any theory is to be blamed, it is the all but universal theory of a free and worthy autonomous man.
[p168] The group calls it wrong to control through deception…
[p171] The great problem is to arrange effective countercontrol and hence to bring some important consequences to bear on the behavior of the controller…
Control and countercontrol tend to become dislocated when control is taken over by organized agencies…
The priinciple of making the controller a member of the group he controls should apply to the designer of a culture.
[p175] The intentional design of a culture and the control of human behavior it implies are essential if the human species is to continue to develop. Neither biological nor cultural evolution is any guarantee that we are inevitably moving toward a better world.
Survival value changes as conditions change.
[p177] What is needed is more control, not less…
[p181] Attacking controlling practices is, of course, a form of countercontrol. It may have immeasurable benefits if better controlling practices are thereby selected… [but] to refuse to exercise available control because in some sense all control is wrong is to withold possibly important forms of countercontrol. Punitive measures. which the literature of freedom and dignity have otherwise helped to eliminate, are instead promoted.
   A preference for methods which make control inconspicuous or allow it to be disguised has condemned those who are in a position to exert constructive countercontrol to use of the weak measures. This could be a lethal mutation.
[p182] All control is reciprocal, and an interchange between control and countercontrol is essential to the evolution of a culture. The interchange is disturbed by the literatures of freedom and dignity, which interpret countercontrol as the suppression rather than the correction of controlling practices.
[p191] It would be foolish to deny the existence of [a] private [inner] world, but it is also foolish to assert that because it is private it is of a different nature from the world outside.
[p193] One need not be aware of one’s behavior or the conditions controlling it in order to behave effectively.
A self is a repertoire of behavior appropriate to a given set of contingencies….
[p199] The picture which emerges from a scientific analysis is not a body with a person inside, but of a body which is a person..that displays a complex repertoire of behavior.
[p200] ..what is being abolished is autonomous man– the inner man, the homunculus, the possessing demon, the man defended by the literatures of freedom and dignity.
His abolition has been long overdue.
[p205] It is only autonomous man who has reached a dead end.
[p215]…and that is a step forward.
He is ondeed controlled by his environment, but we must remember that it is an environment largely of his own making…man remains what he has always been.
We have not yet seen what man can make of man.
[end excerpts]

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