Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Walden Three

Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless.
B F Skinner - Walden Two (1948)

B F Skinner’s novel Walden Two provides a fictional setting for what he saw as a potentially achievable utopia although he was not so sanguine as to think it ever would be achieved. The book sold millions of copies and certain features of the modern world suggests many influential people are probably familiar with its ideas.

From Wikipedia
Walden Two embraces the proposition that the behavior of organisms, including humans, is determined by environmental variables and that systematically altering environmental variables can generate a sociocultural system that very closely approximates utopia.

Skinner’s basic message is not complex – a non-competitive self-governing and pragmatic society could condition its inhabitants to be contented, possibly even happy. Keeping things that way in Walden Two is the job of the Board of Planners, members of which serve for ten years and appoint their successors. These are the behavioural engineers who oversee managers who manage the various departments. Apart from these roles they are merely ordinary citizens with no special status

Although such a utopia is unlikely to be achievable globally or even long term on a smaller scale, it is possible that Walden Two has spawned a number of ideas in the minds and general outlook of elite global bureaucrats. Let us call these ideas Walden Three.

Popular assent is always interesting because it is a litmus test for power and how power expects us to behave. If a significant number of people passively assent to certain aspects of daily life then there are usually others who benefit, almost always those who planned and engineered matters in the first place. 

To take one possible example as an aspect of Walden Three. Our fake UK democracy based on passive assent makes sense if we accept that it came about by systematically altering environmental variables. An essentially two-party adversarial system is a vitally important environmental variable and there is no doubt that it is manipulated as in the 2011 AV referendum. In Skinner's terms it was manipulated by behavioural engineers. They may not think of themselves as such, but that's what they are.

In which case there is nothing to be gained from plugging radical alternatives because those who plug them cannot do it by systematically altering environmental variables. Our Walden Three democracy ticks the behavioural boxes it is supposed to tick and doesn’t tick those it is designed to leave alone such as meaningful reform. China has something similar if less subtle.

Those who weave assent into our lives are Skinner’s planners and managers, the behavioural engineers who do not necessarily subscribe to what they promote. They may or they may not, but elite Walden Three planners and managers are likely to know what they are.

What we have at the moment is far less formal and structured than Walden Two, and far more complex with a vast array of caveats and exceptions, but the basic controlling structure seems to be fairly consistently applied. It may be fallible, complex and layered but in real life that was inevitable.

What else do we see in Walden Three – what is visible now apart from the failure of UK democracy? We see an educated middle class being replaced by a more adaptable citizen class, a general lowering of expectations towards a more sustainable global citizens' lifestyle. We see the traditional role of parents replaced by official controls and responsibilities. Ultimately, as in Walden Two, parents may have few childcare responsibilities for their own children, it depends on how the Walden Three planners see it.

We see the official view of a safe and healthy lifestyles slowly becoming compulsory. We see even minor forms of dissent controlled by endless disapproval and ostracism. We see well-financed mass narratives obviously engineered to fit exiting narratives and obviously designed to further a prime social objective of global equality for all citizens. Which is why the middle class of the developed world has to go because their lifestyle is not thought to be globally sustainable.

Given the importance of our consumer society and the trillions it spends each year and given the global reach of the modern world, Walden Three seems inevitable. It may even be achievable and it isn’t easy to see how things could be otherwise if we are to have a complex but comparatively stable global society. We do not need a global society of course, but that’s not on the agenda.


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Paddington said...

Do you recall the HHGTG radio show (before Adams' books)? The shoe companies claimed a ray that made people want to buy shoes, when it was actually a natural event.

People who model such things say that a two-party system is a natural long-term consequence of any system which resembles democracy.

Sackerson said...

Safe, healthy - and unfree. Living long, secure and pointless lives. Perhaps the planners will eventually become impatient, wondering why we should be maintained at all.

Sackerson said...

JD responds:

Skinner is described in the Wiki entry as a 'behavioural psychologist' which is very definitely a bogus science.
It was invented by James B Watson in 1913 and comprehensively refuted by Sigmund Koch in 1985.Anyone who still believes such nonsense is a stranger to independent thinking.

Read this-

Among the conclusions in the book is that the quantum theory of physics has completely undermined all scientific theories in every discipline and we can no longer be sure about anything. They also point out that this is such a shocking idea that most have turned away rather than confront it. (p612 in case you are interested)

We are not machines.

A K Haart said...

Paddington - I don't recall the shoe-buying ray, but an aunt of mine may have received an overdose. It must work with dining tables too.

Sackers - that thought has crossed my mind too, especially as automation shows little sign of coming to a halt.

JD - I think there are many who found and still find Skinner's work extremely uncomfortable.

His view of science is interesting. He appears to have seen his work not as theory building but more akin to advice - if you do this you will see this. A powerful but unpopular angle on what science should be.

Paddington said...

Anyone who says that about quantum physics doesn't understand the subject.

Sackerson said...

A reply from JD to AKH:

Your response inferred that I find Skinner's ideas uncomfortable. Not at all, they are not uncomfortable they are just pseudo-science because they cannot be falsified and cannot be disproved in any meaningful way.

It is a pseudo-science based on the idea of 'mechanical philosophy' which was a phrase used in the preface of Robert Boyle's influential book "The Sceptical Chymist"
Gradually over the past three or four hundred years scientists have moved away from 'natural philosophy' to this new idea that people are machines, and science, particularly medicine, continues to think of people as if they were machines.

We are not machines. Our behaviour is not solely determined by external influences, it is as much, if not more dependent on inherited characteristics and 'will' or the inner 'imaginal' world.
Your own experience of everyday life should tell you that :)

Look at the photo here and read what I wrote about the future life trajectories of those two little 'cherubs' -

James Higham said...

Of course they're behavioural engineers.