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]

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

December 10, 2009

Beyond Freedom and Dignity, part I

This essay is based on B.F. Skinner’s 1971 book “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”

There is much not to like about B.F. Skinner;  he set himself on a course to obliterate the concepts of ‘freedom’ and ‘dignity’ sensing, he writes, that they are fatal to human survival, or more specifically, to the culture that “we” have made. Skinner’s use of the words “we” and “our” must be deduced to mean “anyone who has an interest in controlling human behavior, other than self”. He never uses the word “they” in any other context than to describe the proponents of ‘freedom and dignity’, and so the lines are clearly drawn. The implication is that in a social order there are two kinds of people: controllers and controllees. According to Skinner, controllers may, in turn, be controlled by the systems they design and controllees have the power of ‘reinforcement’ to affect the behavior of controllers, but ultimately everyone is controlled by ‘environmental contingencies’ which are humanly controllable and therefore the balance falls squarely in favor of the controllers. Skinner’s contribution as a controller was to develop a science of behaviorism : reduce ‘man’ to his observable forms, assess the sum of his parts, and gather experimental data to prove that he is accurately and justifiably categorical.
   What we have to imagine, from Skinner’s point of view, is that science will solve all of our problems and that furthermore the process is honest enough to become nearly flawless. There is an awful lot riding on Skinner’s assertions. He assumed “we” would advance toward a perfect state by “our” willingness to be scientifically guided there if only we would discard the obsolete traditions of freedom and dignity. In aid of that objective Skinner reconstructs the ‘autonomous man’, the self-willed individual, and then demolishes him in a demonstration of behaviorism. Was he right? Is science impartial and honest enough to answer that question? If you and I applied Skinner’s theories to himself and the “we” he speaks of, will we be able to discern the likelihood of general improvements that behaviorism has to offer? Skinner’s ascendancy as a psychologist indicates the favor of his views with his paymasters –is it Skinner’s Program and outlook that we are being subjected to ?
   Admittedly, the literature of freedom and dignity has won humanity much of its ‘progress’. Why wouldn’t expanding and applying its concepts continue to advance the human cause? What ultimately is the human cause? The risk of not defining it for ourselves (my ‘our’ and not Skinner’s) is to fail in matching our Controllers with effective countercontrols. As we shall see, the defenders of ‘autonomous man’ have already been done away with. Lack of control is not an option. Organization and articulation overcome disorder and weakness, subsuming and assimilating its energy, and ‘man’ is easily disordered by novel contingencies which behaviorism so adequately illustrates. What seems most dire in the views of B.F. Skinner is that he himself had to have disregarded fundamental principles of biology in higher organisms in order to sustain support for his thesis of intentional social design. He did not compare a society to an orgainsm. I don’t know if he ever did, was qualified, or incorporated qualified evidence of complex living organisms as models for larger systems. If he knew that the health of complex lifeforms was dependent on necessary interactions of seemingly opposed internal systems, it did not detract from his enthusiasm to suggest that ‘perfect’ design would eliminate conflict.
   The fact that every historical Utopian experiment has failed, and “ignominiously” so agreed Skinner, did not deter him from urging that designers press forward. Is this the definition of madness? Or is it reasonable that science will provide the keys to perfecting the controlled society, and more importantly, will that ensure human survival? Were it possible to do so, would a human ‘organism’ have a better chance of survival if all harmful ‘stimuli’ such as pathogens are designed out of the environment? With no need for a strong immune system will we ‘select’ it out of existence? “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” is not concerned with health –it is concerned with the survival of Skinner’s culture. The task then appears to be identifying Skinner’s culture, deciding whether or not it should survive, if tolerated then to what degree, and how best to apply countercontrols with the support of a new literature of freedom and dignity. Skinner was wrong in the end. Freedom and dignity are as essential to a human society as an immune system is to a human body. Without it we become sick, and we die, and may fail to endure as a species.
I have no idea if a ‘new’ literature of freedom exists, or if I would agree to it if it did. Undeniably, it works, motivating revolutionary spirit into action despite the faults found in it by Skinner. The main fault was that it was incomplete. The problem now is that it may not meet the needs of the present and ‘revolution’ as it was conceived in the past may not be the ideal spirit to engender. My personal sense is to ‘recover’ the freedom lost by the slow and ‘silent’ revolutions that have turned legal constructs upside down. Technology has inserted vast new contingencies that alter the definitions once given to ‘self’, ‘privacy’ and ‘privileges’, and with it we may have to forge a broad class of counter-contingencies. In Skinner’s view, ‘spirit’ is merely a colloquialism for a seemingly uncaused behavior. He rejected the notion of ‘uncaused’ –it was simply something lacking an observable form. Perhaps in the process of re-valuing freedom and dignity in light of the present challenges we will come closer to preserving them than our existing  literature can provide. We’ll have to lay our modern technologies on the table and account for them, as they are the ‘inconspicuous’ contingencies that Skinner advocated.
Behaviorism was not rejected, but it was energetically opposed by journalists, psychologists, and theologians such as Noam Chomsky, Arthur Koestler, Peter Gay, Herbert Kelman, Rollo May and others. Quoting Time magazine in 1971, as a pre-release notice of the book, Time states “To Theologian [Richard] Rubenstein, Beyond Freedom and Dignity is an important but ‘terrifying’ book. Skinner’s ‘utopian projection’ he says ‘is less likely to be a blueprint for the Golden Age than for the theory and practice of hell’.”
The fatal flaw in Beyond Freedom and Dignity is that Skinner destroyed the very ‘countercontrol’ that he was certain would balance an ‘intentional society’. His critics were wrong too. They said it would never work. Did the critics offer a false security to the public? Was it pretention that they were guardians of freedom and dignity? Skinner’s behaviorism and designer communities do work  which is why his outlook poses such a threat to us. He made himself a “useful idiot”, convinced of his own genius, and his detractors fairly recognized the ultimate price of implementing Skinnerian plans : totalitarianism. Their derision inflated the opinion that Skinner would be easily dismissed, but in fact, the plan is visibly attended. It is becoming much of what he hoped, despite appearances, and with great irony we can look back at the man who constructed himself a “pleasant environment” to live in, yet confessed to being deeply unhappy.
Excerpts from Beyond Freedom and Dignity
“In trying to solve the terrifying problems that face us in the world today, we naturally turn to things we do best. We play from strength, and our strength is science and technology.
…we can point to remarkable achievements in all these fields [birth control, weapons, medicine]…But things grow steadily worse, and it is disheartening to find that technology itself is increasingly at fault. Sanitation and medicine have made the problems of population more acute, war has acquired a new horror with the invention of nuclear weapons, and the affluent pursuit of happiness is largely responsible for pollution. As Darlington has said,”Every new source from which man has increased his power on the earth has been used to diminish the prospects of his successors. All his progress has been made at the expense of damage to his environment which he cannot repair and could not foresee”. Whether or not he could have foreseen the damage, man must repair it or all is lost.”
[p.4]…physical and biological sciences alone will not solve our problems…we need to make vast changes in human behavior.
[p.5] What we need is a technology of behavior…But a behavioral technology comparable in power and precision to physical and biological technology is lacking…
Today [man] is the thing he understands least. Physics and biology have come a long way, but there has been no comparable development of anything like a science of human behavior.
[p.6]..our practices in government, education, and much of economics..have not greatly improved. [The Greeks’] thinking about human behavior must have had some fatal flaw…Greek theories..led nowhere…they did not contain the seeds of anything better.
[p.7]..the methods of science have scarcely yet been applied to human behavior…It has to do with our treatment of the causes of behavior.
..Intelligent people no longer believe that men are possessed by demons..but human behavior is still commonly attributed to indwelling agents. A juvenile delinquent is said, for example, to be suffering from a disturbed personality. There would be no point in saying it if the personality were not somehow distinct…Psychoanalysts have identified three of these personalities –the ego, superego and id– and interactions among them are said to be responsible for the behavior of the man in whom they dwell.
[p.9] To the medieval alchemist…properties of substances were compared in what might have been called a “chemistry of individual differences”. Newton complained..”To tell us that every species of thing is endowed with an occult specific quality by which it acts and produces manifest effects is to tell us nothing”. Almost everyone who is concerned with human affairs..continues to talk about human behavior in this prescientific way.
[p.10]…certain stubborn questions about the nature of the mind..still go unanswered. How for example, can the mind move the body? As late as 1965 Karl Popper put it this way: “What we want is to understand how such nonphysical things as purposes, deliberations, plans, decisions, theories, tensions and values can play a part in bringing about physical changes in the physical world”.
[p.11]..the commonest alternative [to God(s)] is to appeal to antecedent physical events.
A person’s genetic said to explain part of the workings of his mind and his personal history the rest. For example, because of (physical) competition during the course of evolution people now have (nonphysical) feelings of aggression which lead to (physical) acts of hostility.
…aggression reaches back into millions of years of evolutionary history, and anxiety acquired when one is a child survives into old age.
[p12] Psychotherapists say feelings which have been put out of mind fight their way back in…and so on.
…but it is ususally possible to ignore them, and this may be a good strategy…The world of mind steals the show.
The conditions of which behavior is a function are also neglected…The professional psychologist often stops…how many of those who have considered [William] James’ arguments have noted that no antecedent event has..been pointed out?
[p.13] There is a good deal of current interest, for example, in what must have happened during the evolution of the species to explain human behavior…behavior we cannot explain…
[p.14] The [invented] function of the inner man is to provide an explanation…he is a center from which behavior emanates. He initiates, originates, and creates, and in so doing he remains, as he was for the Greeks, divine. We say that he is autonomous –and, so far as a science of behavior is concerned, that means miraculous.
His existence depends upon our ignorance, and he naturally loses status as we come to know more about behavior. The task of a scientific analysis is to explain how the behavior of a person as a physical system is related to the conditions under which the human species evolved and the condition under which the individual lives….these events must be related…
The contingencies of survival responsible for man’s genetic endowment would produce tendencies to act aggressively, not feelings of aggression….any feelings which may arise are at best by-products.
[p.15] Our age is not suffering from anxiety but from the accidents, crimes, wars, and other dangerous and painful things to which people are so often exposed….we do not need to try and discover what personalities, states of mind, feelings, traits of character, plans, purposes, intentions, or other perquisites of autonomous man really are in order to get on with a scientific analysis of behavior…The inner man has been created in the image of the outer.
[p.16]…[Feelings] are by-products and not to be mistaken for causes.
For thousands of years in the history of human thought the process of natural selection went unseen in spite of its extraordinary importance.
[p.17] The effect of the environment on behavior remained obscure for an even longer time. We can see what organisms do to the world…but it is much harder to see what the world does to them. It was Descartes who first suggested that the environment might play an active role in the determination of behavior…(he excluded the human organism, presumably to avoid religious controversy)
   The triggering action of the environment came to be called a ‘stimulus’ –the Latin word for ‘goad’– and the effect on the organism a ‘response’, and together they were said to compose a ‘reflex’. Reflexes were first demonstrated in small decapitated animals…it seemed to deny the existence of an autonomous agent –the ‘soul of the spinal cord’…
When Pavlov showed how new reflexes could be built up through conditioning, a full-fledged stimulus-response psychology was born, in which all behavior was regarded as reactions to stimuli.
[p.18] The stimulus-response model..did not solve the basic problem, because something like an ‘inner man’ had to be invented to convert a stimulus into a response. Information theory ran into the same problem when an inner ‘processor’ had to be invented to convert input to output.
…Descartes hypothesis held a dominant position in behavior for a long time, but it was a false scent from which a scientific analysis is only now recovering.
   It is now clear that we must take into account what the environment does to an organism not only before but after it responds. Behavior is shaped and maintained by its consequences. Once this fact is recognized, we can formulate the interaction between organism and environment…
   There are two important results. Behavior which operates upon the environment to produce consequences (‘operant’ behavior) can be studied by arranging environments in which specific consequences are contingent upon it….The second result is practical : the environment can be manipulated.
[p.19] A technology of operant behavior is..already well advanced. We have moved forward by dispossessing autonomous man, but he has not departed gracefully.
   He is still an important figure in political science, law, religion, economics, anthropology, sociology, psychotherapy, philosophy, ethics, history, education, [etc.], and family life.
   In the traditional view, a person is free. He is autonomus in the sense that his behavior is uncaused. He can therefore be held responsible for what he does and justly punished if he offends. That view..must be re-examined when a scientific analysis reveals unsuspected controlling relations between behavior and environment.
…new evidences of the predictability of human behavior are [being] discovered.
   By questioning the control exercised by autonomous man and demonstrating the control exercised by the environment, a science of behavior also seems to question dignity and worth.
[p.21] [in the traditional view] A person is responsible for his behavior not only in the sense that he may be justly blamed or punished when he behaves badly, but also in the sense that he is given credit and admired for his achievements. A scientific analysis shifts the credit as well as the blame to the environment, and traditional practices can then no longer be justified.
   These are sweeping changes, and those who are committed to traditional theories and practices naturally resist them.
[p.22] As the emphasis shifts to the environment, the individual seems to be exposed to a new kind of danger. Who is to construct the controlling environment and to what end? Autonomous man presumably controls himself in accordance with a built-in set of values; he works for what he finds good. But what will the putative controller find good and will it be good for those he controls? Answers to questions of this sort are said, of course, to call for value judgements.
   A science of behavior is by no means as far advanced as physics or biology, but it has an advantage in that it may throw some light on its own difficulties. Science is human behavior, and so is the opposition to science.
[p.23] We can reject traditional explanations if they have been tried and found wanting in an experimental analysis…
[p.24] Almost all our major problems involve human behavior and they cannot be solved by physical and biological technology alone…but we have been slow…
[p.25]   The behavioral sciences have been slow to change partly because the explanatory entities..have been hard to find. The environment is obviously important, but its role has remained obscure. It does not push or pull, it selects, and this function is difficult to discover and analyze.
…the selective role of the environment in shaping and maintaining the behavior of the individual is only beginning to be recognized and studied…effects, once assigned to states of mind, feelings, and traits, are beginning to be traced to accessible conditions…
   It will not solve our problems however, until it replaces traditional prescientific views, and these are strongly entrenched. Freedom and dignity illustrate the difficulty. They are the possessions of the autonomous man of traditional theory and they are essential to practices in which a person is held responsible for his conduct and given credit for his achievements. A scientific analysis shifts both the responsibility and the achievement to the environment. It also raises questions concerning ‘values’. Who will use a technology and to what ends? Until these issues are resolved, a technology of behavior will continue to be rejected, and with it possibly the only way to solve our problems.”
[end excerpts]

December 8, 2009

Pausing For Thought

I’ve reached a point with this blog where I’ve laid out a lot of the things that concern me –and I’ll recap some of that– and for the time being I need to ‘go deep’ and get familiar with the guiding authorities that are shaping this New World into which we’re being delivered. People who generally are not concerned with controlling others have a tendency in common –they don’t explore the mechanisms of control or the literature that supports it, at least not until it becomes a problem. I have this tendency.
I’m in the process now of rereading a book that was initially loathsome, B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” –I highly recommend it. Skinner worked for Army Intel and trained a generation of Harvard behaviorists to create a science of social control. It’s been exceptionally thought-provoking to give Skinner’s book another go ’round and carry his ideas, published in 1971, forward to the state-of-the-art contributions in control made by science and technology. Behaviorism was Skinner’s technology.
I’ll give you a taste:
[page 42]
“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 arranged by other people. The literature of freedom has identified the other people and has proposed ways of escaping from them or weakening or destroying their power. It has been successful in reducing the aversive stimuli used in intentional control, but it 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.”
I’m nearly bubbling-over to use Skinner’s book as a touchstone and apply what I’ve learned about the ‘state’ we’re in to his exposition of behavior. That will take some time, but doing so can only be helpful to know where to look and how to strengthen and extend the concepts of the “literature of freedom and dignity” to cover the areas implied by Skinner but not addressed; namely tools of control such as biological/pharmaceutical and electronic means which have slipped into “legal” development –like the article just below endeavors to point out. Freedom and dignity are concepts that Skinner believed to be artifacts from an earlier time when humans “aggrandized the individual” –they could be fatal, he believed, for a culture wishing to preserve itself. What culture, exactly, does Skinner hope to preserve? He answers only ‘our’ culture. His allegiance is to the controller-designers who esteemed him to develop a methodology; and so man is not the autonomous being of his thought and spirit. He is an automaton in motion, subject to the contingencies of the environment and the ‘reinforcers’ that condition him. That’s all.
If  governments can manipulate our DNA, and program entirely novel organisms into existence (they can and they do!), nothing prevents them from using it to solve the “Human Question” once and for all. In fact, every aspect of this scientific pursuit has been accelerated. It’s not a moral question in behaviorism, but a contigency. 

Blog at