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3 Skinner’s Utopian Vision and the Issue of Control academic and public reactions to Skinner’s societal proposals suggest that the behavioral psychologist was correct in assuming that he would incense many people. His social thinking, as expressed relatively cautiously in Walden Two and explicitly in nonfictional publications, has been attacked on many grounds by a multitude of critics.In the 1950s and 1960s,well-known critics, such as the humanist Joseph Wood Krutch, the psychologist Carl Rogers, the philosopher Arthur Koestler, and the linguist Noam Chomsky, all argued against Skinner’s call for a society run by behaviorists. Public debate about Skinner’s ideas lagged behind considerably. It was only in the early seventies, peaking with the 1971 publication of Beyond Freedom and Dignity, that Skinner and his controversial ideas were a topic of intense public discussion. By then, many people had heard of the Aircrib (a cubicle designed by Skinner to provide maximum comfort for babies), the so-called Skinner box (an apparatus used in his experiments), and the concept of teaching machines (machines providing positive reinforcement for students as they go through a process of programmed learning).At the peak of his fame, Skinner’s picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine on September 20, 1971, with a feature story presenting his provocative ideas in an article entitled “Skinner’s Utopia: Panacea, or Path to Hell?” For a short time,Skinner became the “hottest item on national and big-city talk shows.” Within a month, “millions of Americans had read or heard about B. F. Skinner and Beyond Freedom and Dignity” (Bjork 192). Amid this newfound fame, Walden Two was suddenly read and taken seriously . Skinner had had considerable trouble even finding a publisher for his novel,causing a three-year delay in publication (Skinner,Matter 44).Between 1948 and 1960, only nine thousand copies of Walden Two were sold, while eight thousand were sold in 1961 alone. By the early 1970s, annual sales approached a hundred thousand (Bjork 162). 01.1-40_Kuhl.indd 31 3/29/05 4:00:30 PM 32 . b. f. skinner’s walden two These new readers were presumably not interested in Skinner’s skills as a novelist but read Walden Two in search of statements about behavioral engineering and the role Skinner envisioned for behavioral engineers. In the ensuing debate, the question of what Skinner is really saying has taken center stage, almost to the exclusion of how he says what he says. For many of the communards who were inspired by Walden Two, however, the fictional aspects of the novel—like its complex guide figure and the charming little details in the depiction of the rural community—were quite important. For the communards, Walden Two could not be reduced to a treatise on behavioral engineering as applied to society. These two widely divergent readings of Walden Two, both of which were to be found among the novel’s enthusiasts , led to considerable misunderstandings within the communities trying to use Skinner’s utopian novel as a model. Despite the fact that much of the debate surrounding Skinner was virtually ignored in the communities movement,an understanding of the criticism is important, if only because much of what went wrong in the Walden Two communities can be explained in light of the points brought forward by Skinner’s critics. Most critics take issue with all of Skinner’s basic assumptions: First, his denial of the existence of individuals as free agents; second, his advocacy of control for the good of society; and third, his contention that (behavioral) science can produce values. The Attack on Skinner’s Notion of the Nonexistence of the Individual Skinner’s early attempt to put himself in line with American utopianism and thought did little to placate his critics. The title Walden Two—in reference to Thoreau’s Walden, a classic of nineteenth-century American literature with utopian implications—leads readers to expect a text that is somehow a successor to Walden or otherwise closely related to it.9 However, there is a stark contrast between the important role Thoreau assigns to the individual and the virtual dissolution of the very concept of individualism in Walden Two.Walden is a one-man utopia focusing on inner reform (Meyer 7),whereas Walden Two is in direct opposition to inner reform. Indeed, inner reform is an impossibility if there is no such thing as an inner person that could be reformed. 01.1-40_Kuhl.indd 32 3...


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