Walden Two by B.F. Skinner Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:06:56
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Category: B. F. Skinner

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B. F Skinner published Walden Two in 1948. The novel takes place in the United States shortly after the end of World War II. Rodge Rogers, whose first name is not given and Steve Jamnik became friends while serving in the military during the war. After the war, they find that it is difficult to return to a normal life, Jamnik and I are like a lot of other young people right now. We cant make up our minds. We dont know what we want to do (Skinner, 1948, p. 7). In an attempt to find the life they want to lead they visit Professor Burris, one of Rodges former professors, to discuss his ideas about utopia.

Ironically Burris barely remembers mentioning the subject but finally recalls a fellow student he knew in graduate school named Frazier who had designed a utopian community named Walden Two. Burris contacts Frazier and arranges the three of them, as well as Castle, a colleague of Burris, Barbara Macklin, Rogers girlfriend, and Mary Grove, Jamniks girlfriend, to visit Walden Two (Skinner, 1948, pp. 7-15). When they arrive, Frazier shows them around the community and explains how it operates. They meet some of its approximate 1,000 inhabitants. The people appear to be happy.

They live in communal quarters, share meals at communal dining halls and share the facilities of the community. Each of the adults works about four hours each day to provide for the needs of the community. They are not paid a salary because money is not used within Walden Two. The people in roles of leadership carefully monitor life in the community. If there is evidence suggesting a change should be made for the communitys good, it is made and its consequences carefully evaluated (Skinner, 1948). During their three-day visit, Burris and the others experience the community lifestyle.

At the end of their visit, Steve Jamnik and Mary Grove love life at Walden Two so much the decide to stay. Rodge also likes the life there and wants to stay, but his girlfriend Barbara refuses to say so they both return to society. Castle likes nothing about Walden Two and returns to his regular lifestyle as a college professor. Professor Burris finds himself intrigued with life in the commune, but decides to return to his academic life. However, once he is at the station, he changes his mind and returns to Walden Two to live and gives up his life as a professor.

I found this book disturbing, even threatening. As I read through the book, I found myself thinking of Orwells 1984 and Aldous Huxleys Brave New World. I felt like this even though 1984 wasnt published until the same year as Walden Two so it couldnt have influenced Skinners writing, and Skinner explicitly denies this with a vague reference to Huxleys work, I suppose you put phonographs in your dormitories which repeat I like to work in sewers. Sewers are lots of fun, said Castle. No, Walden Two isnt that kind of brave new world, said Frazier.

We dont propagandize' (Skinner, 1948, p. 53). Although Walden Two was an insolated community, there is a latent undertone of expansion and trying to convert society as a whole to the Walden Two model. Castle argues with Frazier, Ill bet you have designs on the political machinery too . . . [youll] want to get the offices yourself, . . .. Yes, [Frazier responds] I must admit youre right. . . . As soon as were in the majority in any locality, we shall exercise our rights under a democratic form of government and take control' (Skinner, 1948, p. 231).

As disturbing as the thought of communities such as Walden Two taking over the government is, this isnt really what disturbs me. Throughout the three-day visit, whenever anyone challenges Frazier about a point or questions something about the life in Walden Two, he always has what feels like a dispassionate, rehearsed response. Frazier is reminiscent of a used car salesmen who can deflect any criticism of the car he is trying to sell. He always has an answer at the ready that he delivers with a confidence and authority that appear to brush away the visitors objections as if they are unfounded and insignificant.

It feels as if he is running a con game and the six visitors are the marks. According to Frazier Walden Two provides an ideal, satisfying lifestyle. It appears that all of the needs of Walden Twos inhabitants are provided with everything they need, they work only four hours per day, have recreation, and appear to have a great deal more freedom than people enjoy in the United States today. Despite this assurance, I would not want to live there. What Frazier has done has removed the individual person from consideration.

There is a paternalistic quality that implies the managers of Walden Two know best and the inhabitants should just agree and enjoy the life there. In effect, Frazier/Skinner has reduced people to their basic responses to both internal and external stimuli. Of course this is precisely what Skinner, as a behaviorist, wants to do. For my part I prefer to think of myself as an adult person with a free will who takes an active part in living his own life. I would rather believe this, even if it is incorrect, than to submit to Skinners philosophy even if his theories were correct.

References

Skinner, B. F. (1948). Walden Two. New York: Macmillan.

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