Walden Two is a book by B.F. Skinner, originally published by Hackett Publishing Company, INC. in 1948. This book is about two men who return from World War Two and go to visit a new society being built by a man named Frazier. The men are given a tour of the utopian society, which is called Walden Two. It's a small society, filled with people that seem content with their lives there.
The citizens have 4-hour workdays and nothing in Walden Two costs money. Everything there is based on principles of behaviorism and the principles that humans can be manipulated and controlled through rewards and punishments, although Walden Two does not use that many punishments. Everyone that lives there has been conditioned from a very young age to be a useful and joyful member of the community. Every decision that is made is based on science but the entire society is an experiment.
For example, if people say a certain phrase that doesn’t make other people happy, it will be changed to optimize content and satisfaction. One of the issues in the book is that everyone that visits the society responds to it differently. Some think it is a great world, and some are very against the utopian society and feel as though it is a lab where Fraizer is testing rats. Everything in society is subject to change based on experimental evidence. One of the overarching themes of the book is that everything in society can be and is open to change as long as the right experimental evidence is there to support that. It is also that everything in society is controlled by outside things and that we shouldn't sit idly by and let things be controlled by the outside, we should use the science of behavior to grasp on to these forces, and by doing this, society can be a better place. Operant conditioning relates to modifying voluntary behavior or operant behavior.
This book shows examples of operant conditioning because everything the citizens do has been conditioned by the people who run it. For example, they tweak how people talk. If there is evidence that people don’t like a certain phrase or word, it will be changed or taken out of their vocabulary. The kids in the book are rewarded through operant conditioning to be the best citizens. One of the examples of operant conditioning is how the citizens have tea service in Walden Two. They no longer used cups and saucers because they climbed stairs to get to the place where they drank tea, and the tea would spill if it was in a cup and saucer. They designed special tea pails and square dishes that were easier to transport. This is an example of operant conditioning because people are changing based on their environment and the conditions surrounding them.
The most important thing to Walden Two is to create self-controlled children and to mold kids right from the start of their life. Yet, the way they bring up children is very strange. For example, they raise kids in groups instead of in nuclear families. They communally raise children, instead of small families. This may be because it is easier to control how children are raised if it is in groups, instead of parents that may have different parenting methods. They also work on self-control through positive and negative reinforcement, like with the lollipop example, they want the children to have the control not to touch the lollipop, and if they did it was negatively reinforced. Another way they raised kids that is different then normal society is that they didn’t use open-air cribs but instead climate-controlled air cribs. It feels a bit like a fascist state, where everything is hyper-controlled and manipulated.
This idea came up a lot in different parts of the book. For example when Frazier mentioned genetic experiments and how Walden Two discouraged the “unfit” to have kids. This reminded me of a lot of Nazi Germany and how they did genetic testing on Jews and also forbid people having children with people they deemed “unfit”, like Jews, Roma, and disabled people.
Another critique of this kind of society is that it doesn't allow for individualism because everyone is being molded into “happy” and “perfect” when really, some of the world's greatest art, experiments, and technology come from people not being happy and breaking out of societal norms. I also did not like how the book didn’t have a strong plot. It didn’t feel a lot like a novel because the characters were not well developed and their only purpose was to show how Walden Two works and recruits members.
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