Walden Two - The Good Life?
Walden Two – The Good Life?
The year 1948, when B.F. Skinner first published Walden Two, was a time of prospect and uncertainty. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the United States experienced an unprecedented era of prosperity and served as a “beacon of hope” to the rest of the world. However, slowly were the limitations and contradictions of the American society becoming revealed. B.F. Skinner, in his novel, portrays an ideal society in which the contradictions of modern society are corrected through “the behavior of science”.
The Science of Behavior – Radical Behavorialism and Positive Reinforcement
Skinner’s theory of Radical Behavioralism acts as the basis of Walden Two. It states that the behavior of an organism, including humans, is influenced not by subjective thought or emotion, but the objective environment to which it is exposed. By exposing different environments to an organism, it is possible to bring about a certain behavior. Specifically, providing a desirable situation or removing an undesirable one is “positive reinforcement”, whereas providing an undesirable situation or removing a desirable one is “negative reinforcement”. It is precisely this positive reinforcement which is the “Science of Behavior” and “behavioral engineering” that is applied to Walden Two.
The “Good Life” and the Spirit of Experimentation
Walden Two’s goal is to achieve the “Good Life”. The Good Life, among many things, includes the “minimum of unpleasant work, the exercise of talents and abilities, intimate and satisfying personal contacts, and relaxation and rest” (148, 149). Simply put, it is a life of happiness. At the same time, Walden Two is based upon a vibrant spirit of experimentation. Everything in life can and must be improved to become better. From the little things like improving glasses for tea or transparent dishes for more efficient dishwashing to broader areas, the possibility of betterment is considered. By undergoing an empirical trial and error, it is possible to determine what can enhance the current state. And here, a Science of Behavior rooted in empirical experimentation is constantly being put into practice to realize the Good Life.
Conception of Human Nature
The fundamental concept of human nature underlying the activities of Walden Two, related to the notions of the Science of Behavior, is very unique. The democratic sense of individual freedom states that humans are inherently good and possess the capacity to act upon their liberty. However, this understanding fails to take into account the primary role of the environment in influencing human behavior. Thus, the conception of individual freedom is denied. Rather, through behavioral engineering, individuals simply feel that they are free. Provided adequate and sufficient conditions, individuals are able to be happy, and they will have a desire to continue that happiness. Therefore, the individual need not and should not seek to actively participate in affairs in so called democratic ways. Rather, all that is needed is the pursuit of happiness through careful and delicate employment of behavioral engineering by specialists and experts. In a sense, the only concern for Walden Two is the end results of achieved happiness, disregarding the means and processes.
Government and Law
The Board of Planners acts as the highest form of government in Walden Two. They are the “brains” responsible for formulating policies, interacting with the outside world, and serve particular judicial functions, although this aspect is not elaborated. The Board is comprised of 6 members, 3 male and 3 female. In addition to their main duties, through which accomplish 600 labor-credits, they must also engage in physical labor to fulfill the remainder of the annual labor-credit requirement. This is so mainly because, among many reasons, they need to understand the needs of the members to better serve them. Planners serve 10-year tenure, and new Planners are selected by incumbent ones from a recommended list of candidates from Managers. Ordinary members do not vote for Planners.
In addition to the Board of Planners, there are the Managers. These are experts who operate as individual ministers in specific areas such as Food, Health, Foreign Relations, and so on. For the same reasons as the Planners, Managers also must participate in menial labor. Again, Managers are not voted by the members; individuals specializing in certain sectors work up to become one.
The Walden Code is the community’s sole legal system. It acts as a constitution by providing fundamental basic codes of conduct for socially desirable behavior for the members. Upon accepting membership, people agree to abide by the Walden Code, and its observance is endeavored through behavioral engineering. Once again, although members can appeal for the revision of a particular code by supporting it with evidence, the very decision to do so lies upon a unanimous vote of the Planners and a two-thirds vote of the Managers. But in the same constitution, there is a rule that prohibits members from arguing about the Code with other members.
Though Walden Two it is an experimental community, its members do participate in local governmental elections of the outside. However, the vote is not based on personal preferences. Rather, the Board of Planners recommends to the members on which candidate to vote for; thus a single, unanimous set of ballots are cast, which is dubbed the “Walden Ticket”.
The economic system of Walden Two seeks to create a productive society by maximizing efficiency, eliminating unpleasant work, and diverting the individual’s energy into leisure. Instead of a system of monetary exchange based on currency, a “labor-credit” system is operated. Members of Walden Two receive a certain amount of labor-credits by working, which can then be used to access all the goods and services of the community. In general, a single labor-credit equates to 1 hour of work. However, the amount of credit allotted differs according to different types of work. For example, an hour of difficult, unpleasant tasks such as cleaning sewers has a higher value than a rather easy one such as gardening (46). At the same time, values on labor are adjusted occasionally if a particular job is avoided or preferred to a great extent, which ensures there is no great disparity between jobs. Members are also free to choose to engage in different jobs each day, with the exception of specialized ones such as a doctor.
Each member must accomplish 1200 labor-credits per year, which requires roughly 4 hours of work per day. Despite using less time, Walden Two’s 4-hour workdays are much more efficient than the standard 8-hour workday of society; time is used much more efficiently, unnecessary work does not exist, and there is no unemployment including advertisement or banking among many reasons,. These conditions allow the individual to freely use its energy on leisure apart from work.
Walden Two is to a certain extent self-sufficient in that most goods and services are produced autonomously. Nonetheless, it does engage in transactions with the outside world to get hold of unavailable commodities. In addition, its members are allowed to conduct trade with the outside. However, all money, or “foreign exchange”, earned through these interactions belongs to the community.
By maximizing efficiency, eliminating unnecessary and unpleasant work, Walden Two gains a high level of productivity, has no unemployment, and achieves less consumption but higher standards of living compared to the outside society.
The basis for the above-discussed political and economic systems is the various processes that occur in the societal sphere. The following are explanations of these.
From the very early stages of life, an ethical training with the focus on a strong sense of “self-control” is conducted. Self-control, in this sense, means the tolerance to unpleasant emotions induced by the environment. These emotions include anger, frustration, jealousy, and such. Experiments are carefully controlled for, gradually providing various obstacles in the environment to strengthen tolerance on step at a time.
From the moment of birth, infants are put into group nurseries where they sleep and eat in a cubicle that adjusts the temperature and humidity, preventing an exposure to environments which may hinder growth. They are carefully cared for with scientific expertise by voluntary caretakers. As a child grows, there are more such attempts. For example, children find themselves in situations where they have a lollipop or are ready to eat supper, but are restrained from doing so, thereby enhancing their tolerance.
During different periods of age, children are place in different types of housing and dining. As they grow older and grow more self-control, supervision by adults is eventually decreased. In the end, this ethical training revolving around self-control leads people to be efficient, have pleasant social relations in a non-competitive way, by eliminating harmful, unproductive emotions.
Children are raised by the community as a whole. Love is understood as a greater emotion transcending blood relations. All members of the community treat all children with affection as their own, and the children regard all adults as their parents. This practice is beneficial to orphans and childless couples who would otherwise have no such affectionate relationship. In addition, it is advantageous to parents or couples unfit to as well in that they are relieved of the heavy burden of child-rearing. In another sense, it is also good to the child in case of unexpected events such as the parents’ divorce. In the absence of sole parents, people identify themselves with others on the basis of common interests rather than immediate blood ties and base their role-models on various people besides their biological parents. Thus, the individual’s attachment and devotion to the community is enhanced.
Education in Walden Two has a value by itself. There are no standardized curricula or a progressive, ascending grade system. There are teachers, but the nature of the educational system has allowed for the minimum employment of teachers. Also, in this context, the teacher’s role is to simply teach techniques and methods of learning and thinking. This allows children to develop abilities and skills according to their differing interests and paces of development. And depending on differences in individual capacities, children are at the liberty to further develop their abilities and skills by engaging in activities in specific fields of interest, such as by going to the library, workshop, laboratories, and such. Even in the latter stages of life, people simply learn new techniques whenever they feel the need for it. Unlike in most parts of the world, where the motivation to learn is involuntarily shaped by the pressure of parents or society, education in Walden Two actually provides the individual an opportunity to realize himself.
Marriage is sought desirable at an early age, at about 16 years of age, when the female members are ready for child-bearing. There are many reasons for being so. First, there exist no economic barriers that may hinder the success of a marriage. Second, the greatest capacity for love is present in the early years of an individual. In the same line, early marriage prevents the problem that a late one based on sexual taboos can cause. Third, it is successful in sustaining marriages members with similar economic and educational levels. Forth, it promotes sexual equality by allowing women after child-birth to return to society at their most productive period.
But most importantly, there is a belief in the maturity of young adults in deciding marriage. Young people, by experiencing behavioral engineering all their life, have a well understanding of their own emotions and motives and those of others.
Upon wedlock, couples are encouraged to use separate rooms. Through an experiment, it was concluded that married couples using separate rooms were happier and had greater levels of love for each other in that it was more convenient, provided personal privacy, and was healthier.
The science of behavior that is employed to realize the Good Life seems to be effective. People are happy, and they wish to continue to be happy. Although there are visible and substantial accomplishments, its limitations are too great a deal to label it as a complete success. The passive concept of man, the denial of individual freedom, the top-down nature of pursuit of happiness, these issues are of great importance. The individual free will of man and his autonomous pursuit of a life of his own, albeit the difficulties, inefficiencies, and negative consequences it may create, is still the most significant of matters. It does not matter whether the Good Life is realized. The Good Life may only be meaningful if it is accomplished by man’s own hands. Although Walden Two provides an interesting alternative on how to gain happiness, and alhough it is certainly not a “Bad Life”, it is far awy from a real and genuine Good Life.