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Introduction b. f. skinner’s Walden Two is arguably the most influential and hotly debated fictional utopia of the twentieth century. In the early summer of 1945, Skinner envisioned a society finally set free from war, suffering, and personal unhappiness. The psychologist’s utopian vision as such was not unique, but his proposed technique for achieving the good life was: drawing on his laboratory experiments with rats and pigeons, Skinner thought that to change society effectively one had to change human behavior itself. To do this he suggested employing the techniques of behavioral engineering. Although Skinner had done research almost exclusively on animal behavior at the time he wrote Walden Two, he was confident that the startling results his studies had produced in this area could also be applied to humans. Skinner’s experiments suggested to him that animal and human behavior is always dependent on outward influences and that,contrary to popular belief, positive reinforcement is much more effective in handling behavior than punitive control, with its destructive side effects. Therefore, the perfect society should make extensive use of positive reinforcement in all areas of life. This led him to envision a society designed by behavioral engineers, who would condition people to live and enjoy the good life while being freed of such emotions as aggression, jealousy, or competition. Whereas Skinner was convinced that he had found the key to world peace and happiness, almost nobody else seemed to think so in 1948, when the novel was first published. Far from being praised or even debated, the book was simply ignored. Walden Two only began to sell more than a dozen years after its publication. By then, Skinner had become a renowned scientist who 00.i-xiv_Kuhl.indd 9 3/29/05 3:55:28 PM x . introduction was taken seriously in the academic world. His claim that human behavior can be studied scientifically and altered at will, which he had already expounded in 1945 in Walden Two, began to have considerable influence on many areas of thought in the 1960s and 1970s. His ideas not only became the foundation of a school of psychology but also had an immense impact on social reform in the United States and other western countries: if everything humans do, think, and feel is “learned” by responding to events in the outer environment, the possibilities for societal influence on individuals are endless. The treatment of juvenile delinquency, mental illness, and learning disabilities,the instruction children received in the public school system—all were affected by the apparent effectiveness of employing the techniques of behavior modification. Yet Skinner’s ideas were far from universally applauded. Although the soundness of his scientific work was seldom questioned, his far-reaching conclusions about human nature were repudiated by numerous influential critics.Noam Chomsky,Carl Rogers,Joseph Wood Krutch,and Arthur Koestler have repeatedly argued that Skinner’s behavioral engineering reduces humans to laboratory rats and controlled robots, stripping them of dignity and free will. Skinner’s refusal to pay attention to anything but observable behavior was thought to threaten a concept at the very root of western civilization : the individual endowed with inalienable rights and personal responsibility . His conclusion that societal survival could be ensured only by making conscious use of the techniques of controlling behavior to induce people to behave for the good of the group was rejected as totalitarian, as was his assertion that scientists could objectively arrive at values that ought to be adopted by society. As a result of the ongoing debate about Skinner’s controversial ideas, which peaked in 1971 with his publication of Beyond Freedom and Dignity, interest in his early utopian novel—his only work of fiction—rose steadily. Quite suddenly, Walden Two was taken seriously. Skinner gained fame during a time of social unrest in the United States. In the late sixties and early seventies, thousands of young people refused to follow the beaten path and set out to form intentional communities. With the heyday of behaviorism and communal living coinciding, it is perhaps not astonishing that Walden Two inspired some readers to try out Skinner’s concept of the good life.In the 1960s and 1970s,while Skinner’s controversial ideas were being widely debated, roughly three dozen intentional communities located almost exclusively in the United States proclaimed themselves to be Walden Two communities, or at least strongly influenced by Walden Two. 00.i-xiv_Kuhl.indd 10 3...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780252091650
Related ISBN
9780252029622
MARC Record
OCLC
811409117
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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