This fictional outline of a modern utopia has been a center of controversy since its publication in 1948. Set in the United States, it pictures a society in which human problems are solved by a scientific technology of human conduct.
Burrhus Frederic Skinner was a highly influential American psychologist, author, inventor, advocate for social reform and poet. He was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974. He invented the operant conditioning chamber, innovated his own philosophy of science called Radical Behaviorism, and founded his own school of experimental research psychology – the experimental analysis of behavior. His analysis of human behavior culminated in his work Verbal Behavior, which has recently seen enormous increase in interest experimentally and in applied settings. He discovered and advanced the rate of response as a dependent variable in psychological research. He invented the cumulative recorder to measure rate of responding as part of his highly influential work on schedules of reinforcement. In a recent survey, Skinner was listed as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century. He was a prolific author, publishing 21 books and 180 articles.
I have to say that I find it funny how often the user reviews call Walden Two "boring." I get as bored reading a philosophical treatise as the next person, but Walden Two is actually easy and engaging to read. It's even funny in the little ways the narrator mocks the hero Fraser as well as the daft intellectual Castle. Skinner has this great way of describing when conversation is awkward, or when people misunderstand each other in little ways, or when a person's ego is showing. I mean, ok, it's not exactly a rollicking romp of a book - it's a conversational back -and-forth that celebrates living in a way that uses pragmatic and scientifically-grounded solutions to the problems of living in a society instead of adhering to a set of principles that are unlikely to result in a life that produces maximum happiness and satisfaction. Yes, Skinner's book advocates for behaviorist approaches to fixing society's problems, and it's got some air crib usage in it, if that's what you signed up for. I recommend it.
And, you know, if you were bored reading it, it's too bad you don't live in Walden Two, where you could just say, "This is boring to me," and everyone would be totally cool with that.
Walden Two contains no plot, clumsy writing, and characters that serve as nothing more than mouthpieces for B.F. Skinner, our author. That being said, if you want an intellectual exploration of a Utopian world ruled by behaviorism, this book may be for you. Skinner proposes many thought-provoking questions in Walden Two: what if we strove to eliminate class differences so that everyone could work in equal measure? What if we used positive reinforcement to reward people for their good behaviors instead of punishing them for their bad ones? What if we trained everyone in our society to let scientific principles guide their actions? I think about these questions and the shortcomings of arguments about "free will" all the time. Yes, a woman may feel empowered and independent when she puts on makeup, but until she can walk into a job interview without makeup and have an equal shot at the position as a man would, is it truly free will? Or is it conforming to standards of appearance put forth by the patriarchy? Or both? Similarly, people who complain about firearm restrictions say that those laws would infringe upon their free will. But is it really free will if their behaviors and attachments surrounding guns are governed by a society that encourages aggression and toxic masculinity? Walden Two may not address all of these issues related to our society today, but the intellectual rigor of its contents calls on readers to connect its ideas to how we function in the contemporary world, unruly and awful president-elects and all.
Overall, a decent read unless you want plot or character development. Walden Two is an intellectual treatise disguised as a novel. Once you know that, feel free to take it or leave it.
This book has two target audiences, really, and the quality varies strongly depending on where you fall.
As a fiction reader, this book falls short in so many, many ways. Characters are merely loudspeakers for the author, going so far as to be named after him. Most characters, while having distinct viewpoints and personalities, are one-dimensional. There is no discernible plot whatsoever. And I mean none. The plot is the same as a virtual tour on an apartment website. As this is a novel of a utopia, the flavor is bland. Everything is perfect for the residents of Walden Two. You almost resent them. I was bored, despite the brisk pace.
As a behavior analyst, this novel is almost pornographic. This novel is Skinner's dreamworld, a perfect application of successful behavior analysis to a voluntary community of a variety of educated persons. Its moving. Its beautiful. It is almost overwhelmingly optimistic and positive. It even supplies research ideas.
If you are a behavior analyst, you've probably read this already. If you are someone with a passing interest in aba and an open mind, give it a whirl. For anyone else, please, stay away. For your own sake.
'My main problem is that it's just one big argument.' Jim said as we crested the hill. 'The characters just go back and forth debating the merits of Walden Two's behaviorist society. So while there are basic story elements; characters, setting and so forth, it's not much of a novel.'
'Would you rather Skinner wrote an essay; An Outline for Utopia, or something like that?' Kara replied as she joined us on top of the hill. 'Would that have been more amusing or persuasive?'
'Oh, no no.' Jim said and laughed. 'Walden Two is certainly readable; we all breezed through it in a couple days. The problem is the debate can't go anywhere. I... could go on for a bit on this.'
Kara smiled but wasn't about to grant Jim leave to dominate the conversation. As usual I felt a little more permissive. 'Proceed with your screed.' I said.
'Well, so most of the debate centers on Frazier versus Castle right? Frazier represents Skinner's behaviorist model-'
'And perhaps Skinner himself.' I added.
'Yes, perhaps.' Jim said 'Anyway, Castle represents more conventional philosophical thought and he's constantly searching for holes in the Walden Two model; ethical issues, potential future problems and whatnot. He says things like “Don't you run into problems with human ambition? Isn't it unethical to condition children from such an early age? Does such extreme egalitarianism stifle genius?” That sort of thing.'
Jim paused for breath. I glanced at Kara, who wore a look of patience. Jim continued:
'And these are worthwhile questions, but Skinner wins the argument every time; he always holds the hammer. Walden Two, in the book, works flawlessly; everyone is happy, productive and creatively engaged. You can't complain “but what about potential problems x, y and z” when everything you witness runs so perfectly. Castle's criticisms come of as petty and blind.'
'Well, Skinner clearly believes in these ideas...' I said uncertainly, more to inject a little conversation than as a counterpoint.
'Sure. Sure.' Jim said. 'But you can't just say “look at how well my ideas work in fantasy land. Don't you want to see them applied to the real world?” That's not persuasive; that's assuming your argument.'
Jim put his hands on his hips and stared toward the sunset. It was mid-fall and quite cool. A visible shiver ran through Kara and she turned to head back toward the university. I joined her and Jim jogged to catch up after spending several seconds gazing towards the horizon.
'I think,' Kara said, starting slowly to soften her rebuttal 'that Skinner's message lies not so much in the efficacy of his fictionalized results, but in the train of logic that led there. Take, for instance, the painstakingly Socratic method by which he explains the time-saving benefits of Walden Two's work-scheduling; how eight-hour days could be cut to four-hour days through basic theories about motivation and efficiency.'
'Well, yes.' Jim replied 'Skinner argued that part thoroughly. And I must admit that the prospect of a 20-hour work week tempts me fiercely. But none of Skinner's other arguments are as rigorously logical and he usually leaps past the nuts-and-bolts planning and that's the trickiest part. We never even meet the planning committee that runs the place much less witness it in operation.'
'True.' Kara said. 'But you wouldn't fault a Science-fiction writer for not inventing inter-galactic transportation or designing a functional space-ship. Take the insightful parts of Walden Two for what they're worth and don't dock Skinner so hard for not reinventing society. Take his description of an egalitarian community that treats men and women as equals in work, care-giving and authority. Take the notion that we'd all be happier if we could let go of our acquisitiveness. Take the notion that, while talent matters, we all work best when we develop everyone's skills and de-emphasize "genius." These are the sorts of things our society hasn't fully come to grips with yet, but the more we learn the more wisdom we find in this line of thought. And he was writing about this in the forties.'
'What stuck out to me,' I interjected 'was when he talked about the multitude of unused books most universities have.' I pointed towards our own university's library; six stories high and glimmering white. 'I think that sucker could be half the size and nobody would even notice.'
We all laughed. It felt good to produce a useful point and relieve tension at the same time. Jim was still smiling when he said 'I appreciated the part when he described the value of physical work for even the most scholarly individuals; I often feel primed to write after some light exercise. Ghandi was big on that idea.'
'Carl Sagan too.' Kara replied.
'Oh yes.' Jim said. 'But not everything Skinner talks about makes sense. Take that part about his advanced teacups with the bucket-like handles. What was that about? Sure, teacups normally emphasize style over function, but why not just a simple plastic cup? If you carried your cup around using a handle, not only would you look like a fool, but you'd have to switch hands every time you wanted to take a drink. They'd break easier too. Completely impractical.'
We all laughed again, and Kara added. 'Are we agreed then? Walden Two is a readable novel and Skinner makes several insightful points.'
Great book. Not a great novel. But rather a highly thought provoking Socratic dialogue with an agenda to introduce the reader to evidence based, experimentally derived public policy creation and the behavioral engineering world view.
It’s important to remember, the book was first published in 1948. So yes, much of it is dated. But it’s brash, atheistic, rational, highly pragmatic, dialectical approach would be ahead of its time if it were written in 2019.
Skinner is perhaps the most misunderstood and wrongly maligned Psychologist ever. But in the age of internet based, algorithmic behavioral tracking, behavioral forecasting and behavioral modification, ignore Skinner at your own peril.
As our economy and culture at large become increasingly informational, Skinner’s paradigm becomes all the more relevant.
And as AI and other forms of automation evolve, and continue to make human labor less necessary, than we may find ourselves having a second or third look at the types of policies and engineered environments Skinner proposes in this book.
Any literal interpretation or implementation of the ideas in Walden Two would be absurd in 2019. But the pragmatic methodology Skinner expounds deserves serious consideration, particularly after the disastrous spectacle of political failure we endured in 2018.
The era of governance via know it all ‘genius’ alpha male strongmen who govern via guts and nuts needs to die.
We clearly need a rational, scientific, less hierarchical, more level and more inclusive approach to government.
Walden Two is a valuable conversational aperitif that edges us in the direction of the latter, and protects us from the last drowning, desperate gasp of the former.
Four Stars (not five) because it’s a comically bad book in many regards. But it’s redeeming features, not to mention its audacity and originality far out pace it’s obvious shortcomings.
Walden Two by B.F. Skinner is one of those books that you, at the same time, love and hate. Personally, I thought that the idea was a ridiculously interesting concept in and of itself, and Skinner made a valiant attempt to implement it in a fictional novel, but ended up with a pile of literary shit powdered with intellectual diamond dust. I’m sure that both parts of my analogy can easily be explained; Skinner is a Psychologist and not a creative writer. I have to say, I think I liked the book but the story telling was extremely formulaic, bland and just outright boring most of the time. I still want to finish it but don't know if I can bring myself to do it.
The story, which was written shortly after World War II, follows a college professor, and a group of unlikely companions, in modern (1950’s) America who end up touring a small rural commune for two weeks. Skinner illustrates his controversial utopian society in which a planned economy, social engineering, arts, leisure, and community loyalty are stressed, and democracy and the value of a full workday among other things are rejected. The problem I had with the characters is that the 3 characters that had the majority of dialogue were too polarized; there was the protagonist (Prof. Burris) who started out as indifferent and slowly became partial to Walden two, and then there was Prof. Castle, who’s role throughout the whole book was to challenge Frazier and Burris, and who frequently accompanied Burris, and then there was Frazier, the leader and founder of Walden Two, who emulated Skinner.
The book isn’t entirely without merit though, the actual commune was insanely well thought out. Through a point system for jobs rather than currency, and a series of other improvements of efficiency for numerous tasks, and social engineering, members only work an average of 4 hours a day, and the community focuses on arts, while maintaining self dependency.
Although I still never finished the book, because of it’s bland writing style, slow pace, and formulaic, predictable nature, I would still recommend it as at least worthwhile even if it doesn’t have any other redeeming qualities. I still want to finish it myself, but don’t know if I will, unless of course I have to for school.
I don't much like B.F. Skinner's radical behaviorism, but I enjoyed his novel, Walden Two, assigned by Professor Alan Jones for his seminar, "Utopia and Society", at Grinnell College. My appreciation may have been exaggerated by having just read More's Utopia and Zamyatin's We, neither of which were easy reading, More because of my ignorance of his times, Zamyatin because of the turgidity of the translation. Compared to them, Skinner was a breeze, his book a pleasure.
Behaviorism began in Germany as a movement in psychology which eschewed occult inner states for testable, objective factors. Originally, this included medical reference to the human organism and, specifically, to neurology. Skinner went a step further, confining himself to gross, public behaviors. This made more sense, of course, in his time when neuroscience was in its infancy.
The problem people have with Skinner is that we all live out of our inner states, the volitional part of which involves the moral dimension of our lives, our choices and decisions. Skinner seems to take that away and, with it, our worth, substituting the spectre of social manipulation and conditioning. That certainly is reason to approach him and his ilk with caution. The point of this critique is less that they are wrong, scientifically speaking, but that they might be right enough to significantly succeed.
But the critique goes deeper than this. There is, in fact, no occult inner life. The personal ego is a fiction. Everything we experience, whether or not primarily referred to public phenomena under ideal observational conditions, is public in the sense that its meaning and signification is accessible by reference to our shared languages, broadly defined to include all forms of semiotic and symbolic expression. The self, the ego, is a linguistic construct with primary reference, in our culture at least, to individual human bodies. If there is such a thing as a truly private, personal experience unmediated by public languages, we cannot express it--indeed, we cannot even know it. This is not to say that there is nothing more or less private, just that even our most private experiences gain whatever meaning they have by reference to the public phenomena of language. One might keep a secret forever, but one could also tell of it and others can understand.
The issue, then, is the manipulation of persons, preferencing ideal observational conditions and the creation of these conditions at the expense of human autonomy and volition.
One time, I threw this book out a window. That should probably tell you how much I detest it. It was required reading for a class, and I fully acknowledge that this "review" is basically just venting the resentment and bafflement that still lingers.
Part of my ire is that Walden Two is presented as a novel (albeit blandly written with no care for depth of characters, emotions, or plot), and man, do I as a reader detest poorly-written fiction that's ultimately trying to argue something. (Well-written fiction that tries to argue something? I fully approve! Check out Derrick Bell's Faces From the Bottom of the Well for a golden example.) Storytelling-as-a-way-of-teaching-or-explaining is an ancient tradition. I'm all for it! But you have to have a good story for it to work. There's no story here, so it just felt useless and manipulative to me to have Skinner present his argument in a story form.
Not being able to point out the flaws in his arguments (and having to witness straw man arguments representing the opposition) made this a frustrating read. Being that I was a woman of color reading this in the year 2003, so much about this book felt irrelevant to the world I live in. You know, the world where women are not just men with ovaries, where I wouldn't trust a privileged white man in power to assure me that everyone is equal because race is irrelevant, and where heteronormativity is toxic and actively critiqued. Just in regard to reproductive issues: oh, after giving birth to four children, a 23-year-old woman still enjoys both youthful "body and spirit"? OH REALLY? A woman's body doesn't change irrevocably with pregnancy? That having given birth multiple times might not have changed how she relates sexually to her partner, or how she relates to her own body? Pregnancy complications don't affect a woman mentally? Sure, some of this might be culturally conditioned, but most of it, I suspect not.
Two cheers for Skinner for being able to imagine a community where no child goes unloved or hungry, where people are more than commodities or workers. I want a world like that too. But Walden Two is just flimsy, and yeah, I value democracy and individualism and have not been convinced that those values are the root of catastrophic failure in our society.
My psychology professor informed us that Skinner at first intended to be a writer. I think the world is blessed in many ways that he changed his mind. My review of the novel (one star) is due to judging it as a work of literature, which is how he wrote it. It sucks. What he should have done was put forth a pamphlet of about 30 pages called "The Walden Two Manifesto" and described the construction, regulation, behavioral principals, etc, that make up the community. Lots of very interesting, progressive, creative, and - best of all - feasible ideas. He thought he could make a demonstration of the feasibility through literary exposition, and failed miserably. There's actually a decent amount we could learn from his ideas, if only they weren't trapped inside atrocious writing.
Though I usually wait a few days before reviewing a book to properly let it steep in my murky mind, I could not wait to get my hands inky with Walden Two.
B.F. Skinner, a figure somewhat reminiscent of the incredibly talented and wonderfully intelligent Aldous Huxley, was a pioneer of Behaviourism: the position that all human behaviour is shaped and defined by a certain set of sociopolitical, economic, cultural and genetic factors. We could consider the science of behaviour the final blow to the postulations of the likes of Hobbes and Locke regarding our state of nature — the assertion: there is no state of nature, merely a conditioned behaviour. The novel ultimately upholds, as well behaviourism, determinism.
I am almost ashamed to say that I have not yet touched Skinner's academic works, yet I believe Walden Two to be a synthesis of sorts, of his research, the final compression of the behaviourist view into Skinner's hopes regarding its application and influence.
Walden Two depicts a society governed by these behaviourist principles — not a brave new world imagined by the likes of Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury — but a utopia encompassing the 'Good Life' sought after by philosophers as far back as Seneca. I will not go into lengthy details of its functioning except to say this: Skinner manages to masterfully challenge the widespread belief in democracy and instead offers the image of a 'good' despot, an invisible dictator whose power decreases the more he exercises it. This is but one of the myriad interesting ideas included in this account of what I can only take to be Skinner's dreams of a new, more functional take on Thoreau's social experiment, the original Walden.
We are all accustomed to dystopia, but over to you, discover for yourself a utopia that will leave you immersed in reflection long into the early hours of the morning.
A horrible experience. I started out wondering why the professor (not going back to look up his name) was so hostile and testy towards Frazier, the architect behind the meant-to-be utopia, Walden Two. Some pages later, I wanted to punch him in the face myself. You realise pretty early on that this is not a novel at all, but merely a framework for an odd philosophy, delivered as dialogue, and in the most patronising and self-righteous way. When I started having more than one objection, reservation or question per sentence, I knew this work and I had to go separate ways.
2.0 to 2.5 stars. Better as a review of Skinner's scientific theories than as an actual novel, this "utopian" novel deals with an experimental community based on solving problems via application of the scientific method. It has been a while since I read this and I may re-read this at some point to see if my opinion has changed.
Brave New World, except low-key and it's presented as a good thing. That would be the short version.
The long version: There's no literary merit to this work. I would guess that a full eighty percent of the book are various dialogues about the superiority of the eponymous community. In the typical scene, some feature of Walden Two is introduced, some character raises objections to it, and then another character corrects him. The writing reminded me very much of Time Will Run Back, which was more clumsily executed, but which at least had the occasional semblance of action, including one or two genuinely tense scenes. Both novels submit the narrative completely to their respective philosophies.
There is nothing wrong with platonic dialogues per se, I've read my share of such works and I've generally enjoyed them. There are two problems with how Skinner executes the idea, however. The minor problem, although it is only minor in comparison, is that he still seems committed to writing a classical novel. For the duration of any dialogue, the narrative is effectively frozen, and as the novel is extremely dialogue-heavy, that means it is frozen almost constantly. The plot moves forward at a snail's pace.
The major problem is his argumentation. Skinner neither knows his opponents nor was he intelligent enough to come up with their objections himself. One character, who is introduced early on as a scholastic philosopher and who is the main spokesperson for every opinion Skinner regards as wrong, fails to bring up objections that anyone faintly acquainted with scholasticism would find painfully obvious. He never questions the central metaphysical, ethical and epistemic assumptions behind Walden Two. He never, for example, challenges Skinners radical empiricism by pointing out that causality implies finality, which in turn implies essentialism, or at least a kind of Providence. Nor does he challenge the ultimately utilitarian purpose of Walden Two by making a convincing or at least an authentic case that the good is not that which feels nice, but that which is fulfilling.
Instead of such big questions, we are treated to inquiries on whether or not it is child abuse to put a child in front of a hot bowl of soup and tell it to wait five minutes, as a test of willpower. That's what the scholastic philosopher argued, that it's child abuse to tell a kid that no, it can't eat the soup now. (That sounds more like the romantic than the scholastic tradition, as do our "scholastic philosophers" panegyrics to democracy; truly, a many-faceted character.) Or, we are told that fashion trends in Walden Two are synchronized with the durability of clothing, which sounds like a nice idea. Or that tea is served in large glasses, so the waiters have to run around less. Also, nice, although I couldn't care less. Furthermore, did you know large rooms are only good for those shallow, noisy partygoers? (Tell that to anyone who ever visited mass in a baroque church.)
There are, I think, two grand ideas among this swamp of petty trivialities. The first concerns free will, although it's so boring I forgot most of it, except that Skinner again ignores compatibilitism and the link between human nature and human freedom, as almost all modern philosophers do. The second concerns the fundamentals of how a perfect society should be organized, namely along rationalistic, collectivistic and scientific lines. The fundamentals, as I said, are never fundamentally questioned, although they do get a lot of platitudes thrown at them, which are skillfully defended with so many so-what's. In Walden Two, children are raised in common, no one has any favorites, everyone works out of an unspecific love for "society", and of course capital is not allocated with the market process, but with the power of love and ignorance of the calculation-problem, by benevolent planners who are conditioned from birth to be good people. Everyone is equal, no one is superior or inferior to another, and all that. I think Rawls would love the place. Furthermore, and more importantly, every social problem is solved not by recourse to tradition, but to scientific inquiry, and with scientific methods, specifically with the conditioning methods that Skinner researched throughout his life. True to form, Skinner looks down on the "wisdom of the elders" and he thinks history is a fun hobby at best.
I was on the fence on whether to give this book two stars, because at least Skinner insisted his system would be perfectly voluntary, which should have delighted my libertarian heart. At the end, I decided against it. The freedom of Walden Two is freedom without substance, the freedom to live a happy, mediocre, inoffensive, socially-liberal-but-not-scandalous existence, without God, without meaningful human attachments, with no excess in anything, and nothing to be proud of, as everything you are and everything you do belongs to the loving community. What on earth do these people need freedom for? To pick their favorite sort of ice cream? I know that's what some people think freedom is all about, and I also know explaining to them why they're wrong is like explaining to a child why chocolate is not the greatest thing in the world. As for me, I'd rather live with a pack of wild dogs than in Walden Two. At least dogs howl for their dead, Walden Two probably collectively sighs about the loss of 0,1% of the community and then enjoys the Soylent Green.
I remember liking this book in college and had to read it for a class I took. After reading it we had to write a term paper on what we considered a utopian society. Back in the early 70s I was interested in communes, but I doubt if any lasted due to problems within the commune. All I remember about this book is that the people changed their jobs from one day to the next so they wouldn't become bored.
"We are only just beginning to understand the power of love because we are just beginning to understand the weakness of force and aggression."
B.F. Skinner asks if you knew how to manipulate people into living in an ideal society, wouldn't you do it? We are all products of our experiences and responses to societal conditioning. Wouldn't it be best if we deliberately created a society that conditioned us to live harmoniously and happily?
If readers are looking for a conventional novel, there is a plot here, a beginning and middle and end. But that story is mostly beside the point.
The story is a thought experiment first conceived immediately after WW2. Here an academic psychologist Burris visits another psychologist, Frazier, taking with him a pair of veterans, their "girls," and a philosopher Castle, also an academic. The structure of visitors observing and interacting with members of a utopian community has been used many times. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1907) is an earlier example. The visitors argue against the workability of a society that clearly is working just fine.
In 1970, my first term at the University of Washington, I took a psychology class taught by a recent retiree from the US Navy. The man was a behaviorist, of course, and had spent 20 years training porpoise to commit acts of war. I worked hard in that class, harder than was typical for an intro class. I read and wrote a paper about Walden Two. Mostly what I remembered was the clever way work was set up in this imagined utopia. Everyone had to do at least a little manual labor, but all work was chosen. Payment was in credits and each member of the community had to earn 4 credits per day. Some jobs such as cleaning out sewers earned more than a credit/hour. Some, such as working in a flower garden, earned less than one credit/hour. "Payment" was adjusted if more or fewer workers were needed than takers. I loved that system.
I also recall that the founder, Frazier, was not liked much but was tolerated in his utopia, and was actually not very good at following his own utopian guidelines.
There was a great deal I did not recall after all this time, and mostly that is because Skinner got so much wrong. He is wrong to remove children from one-on-one care by parents. He is wrong in the way he describes "teaching" young children to withstand frustration, and ironically he is wrong to underestimate the impact of "delayed gratification" as a necessary skill for adolescents and teenagers. I would have recognized some of this at the time since I was familiar that group-raising infants in the USSR had proven unsuccessful. Promoting childbearing by age 15 or 16 is not "much better" than waiting to have children when the body is mature. Child-bearing is not something to get out of the way while still a child. And since Skinner is squeamish about religion and extra-marital sex, he fails to address the issues that come with promoting marriage among very young teenagers.
"In a cooperative society there's no jealousy because there's no need for jealousy."
He insists there are no laws in Walden Two, yet there is a Code and violating the Code has consequences. That is law. His Managers and other officials are not government because government is irrelevant unless it is local. Citizens of Walden Two are told how to vote in local elections.
"The majority of people don't want to plan. They want to be free of the responsibility of planning. What they ask for is merely some assurance that they will be decently provided for. The rest is a day-to-day enjoyment of life. That's the explanation for your Father Divines; people naturally flock to anyone they can trust for the necessities of life... They are the backbone of a community—solid, trust-worthy, essential."
Skinner argues hard for his scientific approach and claims that his invented society is egalitarian about race and gender. What he refers to as"Girls" and women are supposed to be on an even footing, yet we have mostly all men everywhere in charge in this novel. There is a cheerful woman dentist. All the childcare givers are women, though he insists men help too. All the characters seem to be white, and all the girls are pretty—this is actually remarked upon early. Men are "caught" by women—an out of date notion about marriage. ("The man chases the woman until she catches him.") The character Castle is said to be a strong debater, but he is a peevish straw man opponent here, often failing to make his point in arguing with Frazier. Frazier himself is set up as a failure to his own cause, which is probably the most compelling and realistic detail.
There is a great deal to argue with in specifics. I might wish he knew more about biology and anthropology, especially the latter. I am sorry he demeans history repeatedly as mere "entertainment", while freely referencing [Western European white] history to make his case. He is actively hostile to every other scientific field. That last is particularly unfortunate.
Yet I am still intrigued by his underlying question about a perfectible society, by his approach to labor, and his emphasis on cooperation rather than competition. He might have made a stronger case had he focused less on specifics such as his tea carrier and more on how humans have cooperated for millennia. He failed to see the population bomb coming and his setting this confrontation in an agrarian society during summer is a sort of naïve cheat that repeats in many discussions and debates between characters. Remove the favoritism of parents and their poor knowledge of scientific method, remove competition, use behavioral principles and there will be no envy or jealousy. Snap! Problem solved. (I can hear the whining from here.) I found myself repeatedly thinking that his daughter was fortunate that it was her mother who was the primary caregiver.
"In the summer of 1945, B. F. Skinner wrote The Sun Is But a Morning Star, a utopian novel he published in 1948 as Walden Two (Skinner, 1948). An impetus for the book arose over the course of a dinner conversation in the spring of 1945 with a friend whose son-in-law was stationed in the South Pacific as World War II was coming to an end. Skinner mused about what young people would do when the war was over. “What a shame,” he said, “that they would abandon their crusading spirit and come back only to fall into the old lockstep American life—getting a job, marrying, renting an apartment, making a down payment on a car, having a child or two” (Skinner, 1979, p. 292). . . . "Skinner's utopian vision, then, was not about any of Walden Two's practices, except one: experimentation. His vision was to search for and discover practices that maximized social justice and human well-being. This was Skinner's unique contribution to the utopian genre; it distinguishes Walden Two from all the others. As he later exhorted, “Regard no practice as immutable. Change and be ready to change again. Accept no eternal verity. Experiment” (Skinner, 1979, p. 346).—B. F. "Skinner's Utopian Vision: Behind and Beyond Walden Two" by Deborah E Altus and Edward K Morris
2/3 knygos buvo įdomu skaityti. Knyga sukelia klausimų ir norisi diskutuoti. Tai jos stiprybė. Visgi, po grupinio kūdikių auginimo atskirose patalpėlėse, siekiant, kad jie neprisirištų prie vieno suaugusiojo, aprašymo knyga visai nebeatrodė utopiška. Čia kaip nesuprasti esminio gyvenimo dėsnio. Šiais laikais tiesiog neįtikėtina (atrodo, kad visi bent kiek psichologiškai apsišvietę suprantame, kaip svarbu kūdikiui prisirišti prie saugaus suaugusiojo), o ir tais laikais, kai knyga buvo rašyta, turbūt buvo keista. Iš viso Voldeno gyvenimo aprašymo man labiausiai patiko darbų pasiskirstymas ir pastangos nepersidirbti. "Bet, po galais, juk aišku, kad žmonės gali būti laimingi ir, "neturėdami, ko veikti" (citata). Nepaisant to, kad knygoje gyvenimą Antrojo Voldeno bendruomenėje bandoma pateikti kaip utopiją, skaitant į galvą ateina mintis iš kito nemirštančiai taiklaus kūrinio - "visgi vieni buvo lygesni už kitus".
B. F. Skinner was a professor of psychology, recipient of multiple awards and honours for his work, and went down in history as one of the greatest proponents of the behaviourist psychology in which he proposed the so-called "radical behaviourism," a proposal that sees individuals as systems of behaviour — human responses to stimuli from the environment — in which everything we feel is just a reflection of the way we behave. In this way Skinner believed that by shaping the environment we could shape individuals, he believed in the possibility of "behaviour engineering" through "cultural engineering". The book "Walden II" (1948) is a novel that follows the Socratic method (philosophical inquiry through dialogue) and serves the presentation of these engineerings based on a utopian community. It is not a great novel, but it is an excellent presentation of the author's ideas, which makes it an excellent read for anyone interested in the subject.
About its scientific foundation, Chomsky answered Skinner this way, in 1971: "At the moment we have virtually no scientific evidence and not even the germs of an interesting hypothesis about how human behavior is determined". ... ...A análise complete em Português encontra-se publicada no blog VI: https://virtual-illusion.blogspot.com...
Walden 2 se publicó en 1948, sin embargo, todos los temas tratados en el libro siguen siendo incógnitas en el mundo actual. La idea de una comunidad en la que todo el mundo es feliz, trabaja por gusto y es igualitaria, es totalmente utópica. La crítica a la educación y las influencias de la sociedad son acertadas. Me ha llevado bastante tiempo leerme el libro, no solo por la complejidad de los diálogos sino que he necesitado tiempo para comprender el planteamiento del libro. El sistema educativo de Walden 2 me parece fascinante, la idea de una educación no competitiva en el que se fomenta el instinto de aprender. Sin embargo, a pesar de que me gustaría que esta comunidad fuese real, me embriaga el escepticismo, ya que la libertad se ve en peligro en este modelo y es fácil caer en el despotismo, es una comunidad demasiado perfecta que fácilmente puede caer en el despotismo. Es un libro brillante, pero algo denso y difícil de leer en ocasiones. He disfrutado mucho abrir mi mente a nuevas ideas y aplicarlas a la sociedad actual.
Walden Two was assigned to me by a professor who apparently thought Skinner's extremely half-baked notions of what would be a great society to live in had some value to us. I guess they did, because I had a great time writing as furiously sarcastic a review as I could (which I unfortunately can't find), but throughout the book I was astonished that a guy who clearly must have some brains, and who had devoted his life to the study of how people behave, could be so clueless about how they actually act. To cut the thing short, I thought Walden Two completely absurd as a model society from beginning to end. Skinner is looking for the same place as the rest of us, where we can all live freely, productively and with dignity, but he's hiking in the wrong direction and has tied his shoelaces together.
B. F. Skinner? More like B.F. Skin me alive because this thinly veiled "novel" is a rambling waste of time. By the end I decided I would have rather read anthem by ayn Rand six times over instead, and that is by no means a compliment.
I'm treating this as non-fiction and am choosing not to rate it.
This was not a novel. There was no plot. This was BF Skinner manipulating the entire genre of fiction like he would a behavioral contingency, with the sole intention of touting his theory to a wider audience.
The entire novel consisted of a group of six people with differing views on life, exploring and observing Skinner's version of a behavioral utopian society. There was one character, Frasier, who was their "guide" and the rest of the story was dialogue between him and the others where he sells them on his idea. The "novel" is essentially a sales pitch.
That said, Skinner made some great points. It was intellectual (as one might suspect) and a bit dense. But someone who is interested in this from a purely scholarly or curious standpoint might enjoy it. I found it fascinating as a proposal, but NOT as a work of fiction.
When I think of stories about utopian societies -- Brave New World, 1984, The Time Machine, and Gattaca for example -- I really think of a genre that sends up a dystopia as a means of satire. It's like a subgenre of mystery, with a well-worn formula. The protagonist introduces us to an 'ideal' world whose darker implications are only later revealed (the mystery lies in the discovery of what these implications really are). In the end, the protagonist has either escaped, been co-opted or killed, or brought the system crashing down. I began Walden Two expecting the genre to be followed but gradually grew disillusioned as I waited for the shoe which never dropped. Instead, the protagonist (a psychologist) decides the utopians were right all along and sets off to join them. Say what you like about B.F. Skinner, he's an original thinker.
That's right, this is a novel by the behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner, inventor of the notorious Skinner Box (an insidious device that had rats atavistically slapping the button of their own private automat like an OCD sufferer with a heroin addiction). Given the way his yarn spins out, I suppose this work can be considered Skinner's proposal to structure a similar behaviorist heaven-on-Earth for people. I didn't inject a spoiler into my first paragraph mind you… the point -- and fun -- of this book is solely the exposition of "Walden Two's" outre social system.
This book has three major shortcomings: first, as a shill rather than foil for a proposed social system, Skinner's antagonists throw only straw arguments (or no arguments) at the feet of his fictional utopian hosts. For example, in a passage (p. 60) discussing how Walden Two's enforced 4-hour work day equates to an 8-hour day elsewhere, Skinner's guide Frazier argues, "'When a man is working for himself instead of for a profit-taking boss... [w]aste is avoided, workmanship is better, deliberate slowdowns unheard of.… Do you agree?'" "'I should be contentious if I didn't,'" is the response. Teetotaler Skinner likewise seems incapable of conjuring a positive argument in favor of alcoholic beverages (though titillation, relaxation, and taste all come readily to my boozing mind).
A second major flaw resides in the book's datedness, reflecting the mores of 1948 when it was first published (either that, or else a sexist Skinner could not envision or embrace women's equality): "The women!... There's our greatest achievement! We have industrialized housewifery!... Some of our women are still engaged in activities which would have been part of their jobs as housewives, but they work more efficiently and happily." (p. 63) Later, the two women in the tour group are spirited off for a private tour of the things in which ladies (as opposed to gents) might presumably take an interest. Tough luck for them.
Finally, no one can lay claim to mastery of all subject matter, and Skinner's utopian schemes suffer where he proposes reforms to practices about which he appears ignorant. For all I know, there may be many such examples, but two that jumped out to me are his theories about child-rearing and artistic endeavor. Regarding the former, Skinner's surrogate community keeps babies in isolettes on plastic sheeting devoid of swaddle. "Clothing and blankets are really a great nuisance…. They keep the baby from exercising, they force it into uncomfortable postures -- When a baby graduates from our Lower Nursery,… it knows nothing of frustration, anxiety, or fear." (p. 98) Dr. Skinner stops short of dictating a specific SIDS-inducing posture, but he's no Dr. Spock. As for the arts, "There are only a few works of any importance which require more than forty-five minutes" (p. 86); "This [sic - the post-war era? the 20th century?] is not a great age in either art or music" (p. 88); "Leisure. Opportunity. Appreciation…. All you need [to create great art]" (p. 92, apparently accounting for hours of practice and development of both technique and audience but discounting inspiration, stimulation, etc.). I suppose Skinner's tastes must have been limited to short pellets of Scriabin… mechanically administered?
Two stars for interesting ideas here about the definitions of leisure and labor, government, marriage, sex, economics, pacificism, civic participation, and (especially) cultural norms of etiquette, all viewed through the (to Skinner, virtuous) lens of submission to appropriate behavior controls. Walden Two offers insight into the philosophy of its author. Despite Skinner's aspirations, (p. 316: "You must realize that some fool professor is going to assign [this] book as outside reading in a course in political science."), this book doesn't quite live up to the bar set by Thoreau. But it makes a fine bathroom browse.
A utopia founded on the premise that efficiencies of mass production can be applied at community level to deliver a surfeit & thereby create free time, which is the singular luxury underlying all others, enabling the community a rich and rewarding life.
A quick introductory note that I am reviewing this book for its ideas, more than it's literary merit, which I'd agree with others is marginal. You likely won't read this because you want a fun utopia story, but rather because you want to think. (Just the opposite of the motivation you might want to bring to, say, The Fountainhead.)
I believe he misses a critical point, which is that technology and industrialism, (which tack he eschews in this small scale communal economic model) can create, and indeed even when this book was written, had already long since created and surpassed the incremental multiplier of human efficiency Skinner hypothesizes as needful to enable his utopia. In Walden 2, much effort goes into describing the optimized round-the-clock kitchens which create meals for just 2/3 the work you would in your own home. (...this is approximate, the book is not in my hands.) The kitchens are just exemplary; that saved effort appears in every aspect of work, and adds up to delectable indolence, artistic expression, conversation, enlightenment: all the good things. Well enough. I buy it entirely.
Why then is my point a crux problem for Skinner? Because the fundamental enabler of his nirvana has already been delivered into our hands, and we Have Not Availed Ourselves Of It! Our muscles ARE leveraged, by fuel; we are all many times more productive than our pre-industrial ancestors. Yet instead of writing poetry and eating grapes, we still work all the time, so that we may consume more. Some few individuals check out, work just enough to relax (almost constantly!) in sufficiency instead of slaving to relax in plush luxury for two weeks a year.
I suppose my key conclusion is that Skinner's utopia may well work, but we basically seem not to want it. Is it not there for the enjoying right now? Why are there no takers? I think our work ethic is genetic, possibly vestigial, but nonetheless fundamental. Enough! I gotta get back to work...
One more paragraph: we're not good at the communal part, either. Instead we have leaders, and leaders of leaders, and an autocracy all the way up, with Elon at the top, holding way more burritos and houses and cars than he can ever eat, live in or drive. It's an error in the rules we've built that we can't have incentive and broad sufficiency. Our wealth is badly spread (see Gini curve) and we can't seem to do anything about it. Walden elided this problem, (because it's always been apparent) but why? Maybe because having no concrete recipe to achieve it is just about baked into the definition of "utopia." Unfortunately.
This book was amazing. I was completely seduced by the idea of behavioral engineering and I was ready to move into Walden Two after finishing it! The discussion of free will at the end was fun. I learned lots afterwards reading critiques of skinner's ideas by chomsky and others.
While I doubt the ideas would work in practice, the way of life presented in this story is what techonology SHOULD be used for: giving us more free time to pursue the things we want!
When your utopia based on behavior science is a dystopia for the rest. Probably Skinner hopped that fictionalizing and humanizing his radical behaviorist project may be easier to swallow; hence this book. I found it interesting that these days most of the AI books start with a similar utopia in the first chapter; again, to make their ubiquitous, totalitarian, manipulative, technological, anti-humanist, and so on project more acceptable.
Una maravillosa novela que te pone a pensar, objetar, y que sin duda te dará mucho de que hablar.
Obviamente el contexto es medianamente diferente a la sociedad actual ya que fue escrito en (si no me equivoco) 1948. Lo cual, en contraste con 1984, de ese mismo año, causó una gran polémica, dejando a las personas a una opinión contraria unas de otras.
¿Extremista? Sí ¿Egoísta? Tal vez.
Una novela que disfrutarás ya que se lee fácilmente pero que en contraste querrás volver a leer con mayor detenimiento.
La recomiendo muchísimo. Yo la leí por que uno de mis géneros literarios favoritos son las distopías y por ello pensé ¿por qué jamás he leído una utopía? y me lancé al reto. La verdad valió la pena. Y como llevaba tiempo pensando en lo extraño que era que se escribiera tan fácil sobre destrucción, maldad y egoísmo... pues que contraste que te da.
También en tema de utopía contra distopía recomiendo la película "Tomorrowland", aunque es una recomendación muy personal pero me gustó, aparte de que entra en el contexto de ¿por qué es tan fácil escribir sobre destrucción, maldad, etc.? Y pues ya...
wanna preface by saying i was forced to read this for my psychology class and jesus christ. do not recommend this book is so bizarre. It reminded me of Brave New World and The Giver, and not in a good way. I skipped the last 10 chapters and I missed absolutely nothing. Nothing happens in this book it sucked. Sparknotes said "anyone who is reading walden two should be interested in the ideas it discusses". My fatal flaw with this book is that I have absolutely no interest in the ideas it discusses. I don't care for a society that behaviorally conditions their children and where girls have children at 15-18 and tries to make it seem normal.