Walden Two

Criticisms

Hilke Kuhlmann's Living Walden Two possesses many subtle and not-so-subtle criticisms of the original Walden Two which are related to the actual efforts that arose from the novel. One criticism is that many of the founders of real-life Walden Twos identified with, or wanted to emulate, Frazier, the uncharismatic and implicitly despotic founder of the community.

In a critique of Walden Two, Harvey L. Gamble, Jr. asserted that Skinner's "fundamental thesis is that individual traits are shaped from above, by social forces that create the environment", and that Skinner's goal "is to create a frictionless society where individuals are properly socialized to function with others as a unit", and to thus "make the community [Walden Two] into a perfectly efficient anthill".[31] Gamble writes, "We find at the end of Walden Two that Frazier [a founding member of Walden Two]... has sole control over the political system and its policies. It is he who regulates food, work, education, and sleep, and who sets the moral and economic agenda." However, contrary to Gamble's critique, it should be noted that neither Frazier nor any other person has the sole power to amend the constitution of Walden Two. See the "Community governance" section, above.

There are several varieties of behaviorism but only Skinner’s radical behaviorism, has proposed to redesign society. Walden Two has a constitution and is run by a ‘Board of Planners’ and a bunch of specialists called ‘managers.’ All is presided over, in a fashion not made explicit, by the founder, a man called Frazier, who seems to have almost plenary powers. The relevant principles were expounded at length two decades later in a best-seller Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971).

Walden II was criticized in John Staddon's The New Behaviorism.[32] Skinner thought Walden Two an accomplishment comparable to two science-fiction classics: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931) and George Orwell’s 1984 (1949). He assigned all three in his Nat Sci 114 introductory psychology course at Harvard. There is some irony in Skinner’s choice, because Orwell’s and Huxley’s novels are both dystopias. They portray not the supposed benefits of a technological approach to human society, but the evil consequences of either coercive (1984) or stealthy (Brave New World) efforts to control or gentle human beings. On the contrary, Walden Two is supposed to light the technological path to utopia.

Skinner’s Walden proposal is in a tradition that goes back to Plato’s philosopher king: a ‘legislator’ (monarch) and a set of guardians who are wiser than the common people. The guardians “are to be a class apart, like the Jesuits in old Paraguay, the ecclesiastics in the States of the Church until 1870 and the Communist Party in the U.S.S.R. at the present day.” wrote Bertrand Russell, one of Skinner’s heroes, in 1946. Not too different from Walden Two’s Managers and Planners, and Frazier, Skinner’s avatar and leader of the community. Skinner was quite explicit about the need for technocratic rule: “We must delegate control of the population as a whole to specialists – to police, priests, teachers, therapies, and so on, with their specialized reinforcers and their codified contingencies.”[33]


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