Psychology Honors 121
The Empirical Reality of Walden Two 1
B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two is the fictitious account of an eclectic group’s visit to a modern utopian community started by psychologist T.E. Frazier. Authors often depict “perfect societies” in novels, as the subject holds wide appeal and great creative opportunity. Aldous Huxley envisioned a Brave New World; Lois Lowry wove the tale of The Giver. What sets Walden Two apart from such books? Simply stated, Skinner’s work truly does not seem as if it belongs in the fantasy or fiction genre, as the others do. The novel reads as an actual experiment, albeit one performed in a text-only version of the world. The author perfectly follows the steps of a scientific investigation throughout the plot, meeting nearly all goals of the scientific enterprise. This approach leaves readers practically incapable of brushing the novel’s bold statements off as fiction: to do so feels equivalent to denying a proven reality.
For a positive future, it is only
common sense that a generation of healthy children must be raised. A stable family unit and personal attention
seem logical ways to rear successful young people. Yet statistics show that in 2003, approximately
37,000 marriages and 21,000 divorces occurred in
treatment of children in schools adds even more difficulty. Despite pre-existing differences in personal preferences, subject aptitudes, and upbringings, for instance, the system calls for children to move along a determined national curriculum of academic acceptability. At age five, one enters kindergarten. At age seven, one learns cursive writing. At age eight, one begins multiplication and division. Children, however, are not robots. To ask for concrete scholastic progression and interest is simply delusional.
Two’s Frazier recognizes this fact, of course. He understands that strict adherence to
academic proficiency testing does not effectively extract potential from
children, and he notes that the typical family unit of
symptoms treated in that case, such as lack of focus and inability to socialize, never manifest in Walden Two due to specialized upbringing. The conclusions of this “experiment” in childrearing clearly hold applicability to practical problems facing society.
Throughout Walden Two, Frazier’s main antagonist, a philosopher named Castle, finds the labor practices of the community possibly the most challenging concept to grasp and accept. As explained in the text, the residents work a mere four hours per day, an idea unfathomable to a workaholic such as Castle. Yet if a person receives eight hours of sleep per night and works a typical forty hour week, two thirds of their Monday to Friday life is gone. Add factors such as travel time, managing house, and keeping funds in order, and that “free time” begins to dwindle even lower. People hold jobs to earn paychecks, which they use to buy goods and services necessary to live. Is this not constructing a time-consuming middle man? Walden Two eliminates that middle man by having members work for labor credits. If a person attains the required labor credits, it provides them food, board, health care, education, entertainment, and most anything else he desires or needs. The jobs available pay certain amounts of labor credits depending on the desirability. Therefore, one who works an “unpleasant” job such as sewer maintenance will receive denser compensation than one who tends the flower garden, unlike real society, in which a singer makes more money than a farmhand will ever see. In this manner, people can combine that which they personally love doing with tasks they are happy to complete since the pay is hefty, thus balancing their “income” to do their proper share.
the residents love their community, they never feel burdened by work. It is something they enjoy. According to WebMD.com, a “difficult job
environment” is a leading cause of chronic stress, which can result in
cardiovascular issues, heightened infection susceptibility, and depression,
among other ailments. Frazier also
bypasses the rifts and barriers often created by social classes, as no single
job is favored over the others. Once
again, as Skinner writes in Walden Two,
the psychologist identified a problem, the inadequacy of
The virtual destruction of government in the colony of Walden Two certainly rouses the suspicion of people who vehemently defend democracy. People argue that free will, the ability to decide what happens in the world around them, is a born and essential right. Yet as Frazier points out, the “everyday man” does not know what is best for him, governmentally speaking. The common person is not properly educated to dictate policies or predict the effects of the votes that he casts. Would such a person demand to instruct the surgeon correcting his heart malady? He certainly would not think himself fit to say, “I think you ought to dig a bit deeper with that scalpel, Doc, really slice into that artery, it is no good!” Why, then, does this man with no political experience or
sociological perspective want so badly to tell his leaders which actions to take? Frazier creates a regularly rotating system of Managers who lack the greed and self-interest of the stereotypical politician, due to behavioral engineering. They do what is best for Walden Two, and in turn, Walden Two does its best for them. The community relies heavily on symbiosis in that manner. In the end, the colony’s “government” has minimal impact or ability to make waves. After all, the main undertakings of a governing body are economic, foreign, and human rights policies. Walden Two is incredibly self-reliant, rarely needing to trade or heavily interact with outsiders. As already explained, money regulations are not necessary. Finally, to infringe upon someone’s rights simply would not occur to a resident. The rearing and conversion processes instill respect and upright behavior in citizens. Thus, one of Frazier’s experiments again yields results that support his hypothesis on cultural improvement.
When B.F. Skinner wrote Walden Two, he did not merely compose a novel. He created the framework for a perfectly viable utopian society. He utilized the exchanges of fictional characters to acknowledge, and promptly quash, any doubts that a reader may have. The tenets of the scientific enterprise and investigation provided a sturdy base for Skinner’s experiment, a reality trapped in the world of fantasy. Walden Two illustrates profoundly the untapped, yet logical, possibilities of behavioral psychology. The book can truly change the manner in which one views his own culture, and more importantly, his idea of life’s meaning.
1 The MLA system was followed for this paper.
Skinner, B.F. Walden Two
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