News from Nowhere_ 1984 by chenmeixiu


									The Behavior Analyst                   1985, 8, 5-14                             No. 1 (Spring)

                          News from Nowhere, 1984
                                     B. F. Skinner
                                  Harvard University
   My title may have led you to think that              He brought the cups back to the table,
I am going to talk about books. News                 sat down, and held out his hand.
from Nowhere is a nineteenth-century                    "My name is Blair," he said. "You are
utopia written by William Morris, the in-            Burris?" I said I was. "You are the official
ventor of the Morris chair, an example of            historian of Walden Two-am I right?"
which graced every college dormitory                    "Well, not official. Mr. Frazier doesn't
room in my day. A comment would be                   think much of history."
appropriate because this is a centennial.               "But unofficially," he said, "you must
Just one hundred years ago, Morris                   keep some kind of record." I admitted
founded the Socialist League. It was so-             that I did. "Good. That's enough. I am
cialism with a fairly small "s," the uto-           hoping to join Walden Two. I have an
pian socialism ofSt. Simon, Fourier, and            appointment with the Admissions Com-
Robert Owen. Seven years later he pic-               mittee this morning. I'll tell them most
tured an idyllic life under socialism in his        of what they want to know, but there is
book. The other book you may have ex-               one thing I prefer to keep to myself. Yet
pected me to talk about is, of course,              I feel it ought to be on the record. May
Nineteen Eighty-Four, the twentieth-cen-            I ask you to keep a confidence?" I said I
tury dystopia by George Orwell. It de-              saw no reason why I should not. "Good.
scribes what can happen to socialism no             The fact is that in order to join Walden
matter how well intentioned its origin. It          Two I have had to kill a man."
is not very much like News from No-                     "Oh, wait!" I said. "That's not fair. I'm
where. But I am not going to talk about             not a therapist or priest -you had no right
books. My title simply means that in this           to ask me to keep that kind of confi-
year of 1984 I bring you news from a                dence." I was quite angry.
different nowhere, or rather I am asking               He laughed. "It's not quite the way it
an oldfriend to do so.                              sounds." He drew out his wallet and
                                                    started to take something from it. But
   My name is Bumfis. I live in an exper-           then, holding one corner of the wallet by
imental community called Walden Two.                thumb and forefinger, he let it fall open.
In 1948 I published an account of how I             It looked a little like the skin of a small
discovered that community and came to               animal. "I shall enjoy throwing that
join it. I have been living there ever since.       away," he said. Then he took a clipping
I am told that you may be interested in             from the wallet and handed it to me. On
hearing something of what has happened              it he had written "Times, London, Jan-
there-particularly, about a man who                 uary 22, 1950." It began: "DEATH OF
joined the community in 1950.                       GEORGE ORWELL. Eric Arthur Blair,
  I had noticed a newcomer to Walden                better known to millions as George Or-
Two, in part because he seemed to be                well, the author of Animal Farm and
noticing me. He was tall and thin and               Nineteen Eighty-Four, died yesterday of
growing a beard that was still in a rather          tuberculosis ...."
motheaten stage. One morning as I was                  I stared at the man across the table.
having breakfast he brought his tray to             "You are George Orwell?"
my table and said, "May I?"                            "No!" he said, laughing. "I was. But,
  "Yes, of course," I said, and he put the          you see (he pointed to the clipping), I've
tray down.                                          killed him. A body was found missing
  "I'm going back for a cup of coffee.              from another ward in the hospital. I had
May I take your cup and top it up?" I               left. I learned that kind of trick in the
said that would be very good of him.                Spanish War."
6                                  B. F. SKINNER

   "You faked your death? But why?"           mean a man with a bomb. People have
   "Orwell was an unhappy man. A bitter       never liked their governments for very
man. Have you read 'Such Were the             long and have changed them, but they
Joys'-about his frightful schooling?          have only put other governments in their
Have you read Down and Out in Paris           place. It wasn't until the nineteenth cen-
or Keep the Aspidistra Flying- how aw-        tury that anyone seriously proposed that
ful it was to be poor? Have you read An-      governments simply be disbanded. How
imal Farm or Nineteen Eighty-Four- the        to disband them was the problem.
specter of the totalitarian state? He had        "The early anarchists wanted a peace-
no hope. No reason to live."                  ful change. I think you can even say that
   "And so you killed him. But why come       for Marx. Arrange for a just distribution
here?"                                        of the proceeds, and voluntary agreement
   "I read your book, and I saw some-         could replace authority. A temporary
thing that I thought you and Frazier had      dictatorship might be needed, but it would
missed. I came to tell you how to do a        wither away. But then the terrorists took
better job, but I like what I see and I've    over. Destroy the present government
decided to stay, if you'll take me. I was     whether or not you have anything to put
looking for a chance to live a happy life,    in its place. Anarchy no longer meant the
and I may have found it. So here I am.        absence of government; it meant disor-
And now I have another favor to ask." I       der, chaos."
looked at him, a bit worried. "Take me           "But not in Walden Two," said Blair,
to your leader."                              "What's the secret?"
   The old cliche disturbed me. He meant         "You simply turn from one kind of law
Frazier, of course. Frazier had founded       to another."
Walden Two and was still living there,           "I'm afraid you'll have to explain that,"
but he was far from a leader. He had          said Blair.
concealed his part in Walden Two as far          "Human behavior is selected by its
as possible. He not only disliked history;    consequences. At first it must have been
he buried it. He was no longer a Planner.     selected by the physical environment, but
Anyone less like a leader would be hard       later people could talk about conse-
to find.                                      quences. They could give advice and warn
   Of course I took Blair to meet Frazier,    each other of danger. They could avoid
and the discussions that followed cov-        exposure to the consequences by taking
ered a period of more than twenty-five        the advice of those who had been exposed
years. Somehow I managed to be present        to them. Eventually they formulated rules
at most of them and took notes. At first      of action, and that led to the laws of sci-
I would hurry back to my room to put          ence. It was Francis Bacon who pointed
down all I could remember, but even-          to a similarity with the laws of govern-
tually I carried a notebook. Later, when      ment, but he missed an important dif-
pocket recorders were available, I often      ference.
used one. I think I can guarantee the ac-        "The laws of governments and reli-
curacy of what follows.                       gions are useful. They tell members of a
                                              group how to avoid punishment (without
  What had impressed Blair and brought        being punished), and they tell the group
him to Walden Two was the lack of any         how to punish consistently. The great
institutionalized government, religion, or    codifiers of social practices have been
economic system. That had been the            justly honored. It was the administration
dream of nineteenth-century anarchism,        of laws that caused trouble. Those who
but it had gone wrong. Evidently it had       found themselves in possession of ad-
gone right in Walden Two.                     ministrative power could never resist us-
  "You are the perfect anarchist," Blair      ing it to their own aggrandizement. To
said to Frazier one day.                      justify themselves, they invented myths-
  "I'll agree," said Frazier, "if you don't   like the divine right of kings, priests, or
                          NEWS FROM NOWHERE, 1984                                        7

the possessors of wealth. The effect was        the-job contingencies are no better than
wholesale exploitation.                         in capitalist countries and probably worse.
   "In the nineteenth century something         They breed just as much alienation. Wal-
else began to be understood. The prob-          den Two is state ownership without a
lem was not only exploitation. People           state. Its members are not employed be-
were behaving more and more by follow-          cause there is no employer. They come
ing rules and less and less because of the      into direct contact with the world, as peo-
natural consequences of their behavior.         ple did before there were governments,
It was Max Weber who pointed to the             religions, or industries. They have im-
bureaucratization needed to enforce rules       mediate reasons for behaving-and they
and Karl Marx who emphasized the                behave in ways which not only support
alienation of the worker from the natural       their way of life but give them the sense
consequences of his work.                       of satisfaction that comes from effective
   "At the start of his career, Marx got it     action."
right. The working classes were suffering          "Marx took offfrom Hegel," said Blair,
more from alienation than from exploi-          "but for Hegel alienation was something
tation, as bad as that may have been. Of        that went on inside a person. That doesn't
course Marx put it all in terms of feelings     seem to make sense."
(he was not a full-fledged behaviorist,            "It makes perfectly good sense," said
alas), but it is easy enough to put it right.   Frazier, with his usual bluntness. "When
It all comes down to consequences-to            people began to talk about their behavior
contingencies of reinforcement. The             one person could ask another 'What are
worker who is said to feel 'powerless' has      you doing?,' 'Why are you doing that?,'
nothing to show for his work but his            'How do you feel?.' Those verbal contin-
wages, nothing that is his that he has done.    gencies gave rise to consciousness or self-
The worker who is said to feel 'estranged'      knowledge. Hegel said that alienation fol-
from society is spending too much of his        lowed when 'consciousness divided itself
day untouched by social contingencies.          into subject and object.' A behaviorist
What it means to say that the worker is         would say that alienation follows when a
'depersonalized' is a little harder to ex-      person is divided into two selves -an ob-
plain. A person or self is a repertoire of      serving and an observed. Psychiatrists use
behavior. The repertoire shaped and             the word alienation in more or less that
maintained by daily life is rich and var-       way. All behavior begins as uncon-
ied. The repertoire shaped and main-            scious -the product of contingencies of
tained by a factory is small and stale. It      reinforcement. We share unconscious be-
does not compose much of a person.              havior with the other animals. Behavior
   "Marx made all that clear but dropped        becomes conscious when society gives us
it when he began to emphasize exploi-           reasons to examine ourselves. There is
tation. Exploitation was a better ground        also a division between controlling and
to fight on. It is not hard to persuade a       controlled selves. Behavior shaped and
worker that he is underpaid. It is harder       maintained by its immediate conse-
to rouse him to action because he feels         quences is not only unconscious, it is un-
estranged, powerless, or depersonalized.        rational, unreasoned, unplanned. Social
The issue of exploitation could also be         contingencies breed self-management.
dramatized-as a struggle between cap-           We make our own rules and follow them.
italist and worker, between bourgeoisie         Those are extraordinary gains, but they
and proletariat.                                nevertheless alienate us from immediate
   "Ironically, the socialistic or commu-       contact with the great genetic reinforcers
nistic systems that corrected for exploi-       or the conditioned reinforcers based on
tation with a more equitable distribution       them."
of the proceeds left alienation un-               "That still doesn't sound like Marx's
changed. The proletariat in a communist         alienation," said Blair.
country may share the wealth, but the on-         "Marx was talking about a special set
8                                   B. F. SKINNER

of cultural practices, a special set of rea-   manding contingencies of positive rein-
sons for behaving- namely, wages. They         forcement, and we feel free.
defer the natural reinforcing conse-             "And we also get credit. The contin-
quences of craftsmanship, if they do not       gencies may be maintained by the com-
destroy them."                                 munity, and a behavioral engineer may
                                               have designed them and changed them
   In the 1 960s Frazier and Blair watched     from time to time in the light of expe-
another version of anarchism-the so-           rience, but the consequences are none-
called hippie movement. Young people           theless directly reinforcing. There is no
turned against government. They broke          alienating intermediary; hence, we enjoy
laws, trashed, and called the police "pigs."   a strong feeling of personal dignity or
(" 'Make love not war' was almost right,"      worth."
said Frazier. "But it should have been
'Make love not laws' ".) They turned from          Frazier had a curious contempt for la-
the religion oftheir families to uninstitu-     bor-saving devices. "Naturally we avoid
tionalized Eastern mysticism. They              exhausting or dangerous work if we can,"
turned against industry, begging or living      he said, "but we go too far. There is
on checks from home. Like the nine-             something in operant conditioning that
teenth-century anarchists, they proposed        is important to health and happiness even
to destroy the present system before de-        when the consequences are not very rein-
ciding what to put in its place. To Fra-        forcing or even slightly aversive."
zier's irritation, they formed "commu-             "But it's human nature to avoid work,"
nities" of a sort. They had their gurus:        said Blair.
Norman 0. Brown with his Freudian                  "And if it is, we know why," said Fra-
permissiveness and Herbert Marcuse with        zier. "Escape from unnecessary work
his mixture of Freud and Marx. Frazier          must once have had great survival value.
may have been jealous, but when I told          When you must spend all day hunting or
him that sales of Walden Two were soar-        gathering, there is a point in saving en-
ing, he was annoyed. "There is no con-         ergy when you can. The mistake is to save
nection whatsoever," he insisted.              it all. Slaves were early labor-saving de-
   Blair contended that there were ves-        vices but difficult to keep in good working
tiges of government in Walden Two.             order. Servants replaced them but proved
"Maybe it's the world of Walden Two            too costly for most people. Now we have
that controls its citizens and not a gov-      machines and robots. They are costly, too,
ernment, religion, or industry, but it         and often unreliable, but technology has
nevertheless controls," he said. "And          brought them within reach of many of
control for the good of everyone is still      us. We no longer wash dishes, we use a
control. Where do you find personal free-      dishwasher."
dom or a sense of personal worth or dig-           "You enjoy washing dishes?"
nity?"                                             "Perhaps I don't enjoy it, but I get
   "Freedom and dignity are feelings.          something out of it that I lose when I put
They are collateral products of contin-        dishes in a dishwasher. It's what Carlyle
gencies of reinforcement. Under negative       meant when he said that all work is noble,
reinforcement we do what we have to do,        even cotton-spinning."
and we don't feel free. We may not feel            "Surely you are not going to defend the
free under positive reinforcement, either,     mills of nineteenth-century England,"
if it is so powerful that it keeps us from     said Blair. "There was nothing noble
doing things we should like to do. The         about tending a spinning or weaving ma-
slave obviously does not feel free, but the    chine fourteen hours a day."
worker does not feel free either if he must        "It was the fourteen hours that was
work so long and hard that he has no time      wrong," said Frazier. "Many women en-
or energy for anything else. In Walden         joy knitting, and I am sure I would too
Two we behave under relatively unde-           if our culture permitted. Many people
                           NEWS FROM NOWHERE, 1984                                      9

own looms and work on them with plea-           Only four hours of work a day on the
sure. There is something about washing          average! Weren't you thinking of saving
and drying a dish that is missing when          labor when you designed the commu-
you put it in a dishwasher. Wash it by          nity?"
hand, and you see it come clean. You               Frazier was always annoyed when any-
have done something. You have had an            one mentioned his role in founding Wal-
effect."                                        den Two. "Walden Two," he said rather
   "You couldn't have told that to George       harshly, "is an environment in which
Orwell," said Blair. "He knew what it           people just naturally do the things they
meant to be a plongeur in a French res-         need to do to maintain themselves (with
taurant."                                       something to spare for the future) and
   "But now you are talking about quan-         treat each other well, and then just nat-
tities again. I'm talking about washing a       urally do a hundred other things they en-
few dishes. A few cherries are reinforcing,     joy doing because they do not have to do
but ifyou must eat a bushel you will find       them. And when I say natuml," he added
the last quart hard work."                      hurriedly, "I simply mean positively
   "But labor-saving devices let people do      reinforced. The labor we save in Walden
more important things."                         Two is the unnecessary labor forced upon
   "How many of them do? Those who              people by a badly-designed environ-
use labor-saving devices-slaves, ser-           ment."
vants, or machines according to the cen-
tury-we call the leisure class. What has            Frazier was concerned about another
it got to show for itself by way of better      way in which people were alienated from
things?"                                        the reinforcing consequences of their be-
   "Only all the literature, art, and music     havior. "Welfare is a form of leisure," he
in the world," said Blair, with some sat-       said, "and it raises the same problems.
isfaction. "It has released writers, artists,   Helping those who cannot help them-
and composers from less productive la-          selves strengthens a culture, but helping
bor."                                           those who can help themselves destroys
   "But the writers, artists, and compos-       it. Everyone agrees that people on welfare
ers were not at leisure. You have iden-         would be better off if they were working.
tified the kinds of things that may justly      That is often a complaint about exploi-
replace the labor of everyday life, and if      tation -the exploitation of the taxpay-
you will agree that labor-saving devices        er-but the real harm is done to the re-
are to be used only if the labor saved is       cipient. Welfare payments are not
put to such uses, I'm with you. But what        effectively contingent on behavior. The
have the leisure classes actually done?         health-giving side of operant reinforce-
They have turned to the variable-ratio          ment is missing. The helping professions
schedules of gambling systems to give           have been slow to learn that lesson. Nurs-
them something to do; they have sought          ing homes find it easier to do things for
an ersatz sense ofachievement in alcohol        old people than to let them do things for
and drugs; and they have over-consumed          themselves, and by destroying the all-im-
the basic genetic reinforcers of food, sex,     portant contingencies of reinforcement,
and violence. And what is more ridicu-          they make old people sick and miserable.
lous than the way they try to replace the       At the heart of doing anything is some-
labor they have saved and find the sense        thing worth keeping."
of achievement they have lost? Instead
of washing a dish, they do exercises. In-         The schools in Walden Two were no
stead of spinning, they jog."                   longer as I had described them. Teaching
   "I am afraid I'd still like to be a mem-     machines had come into use-at first
ber of the leisure class," said Blair. "But     rather crude mechanical devices, but then
come to think of it, I am. Aren't the           computers. Blair resisted the change at
members of Walden Two a leisure class?          every step.
10                                  B. F. SKINNER

    "You are violating your own princi-        maintain its contingencies forever. Gov-
 ples," he said. "Could anything be more       ernment, religion, and capital can never
 contrived and artificial than the rein-       relax. They not only shape new behavior,
 forcement of operating a machine?             they must keep the contingencies in force.
You've returned to the factory. Students       Education and counseling shape behav-
 should be free to discover things for         ior, but they dismantle the contingencies
themselves."                                   as soon as the behavior is taken over by
   "The greatest mistake you can make          daily life.
in designing education," said Frazier, "is        "When Burris first came here, he saw
to listen to John Dewey and the cognitive      some of our children driving pegs into
psychologists who have taken him up and        the ground and running strings from one
talk about discovery. Of course we learn       peg to another. As Burris put it, Euclid
by discovery. Everything the species           was getting a first-hand experimental
knows was discovered by somebody. But          check. (Wasn't it Gauss who did some-
no one of us can discover more than the        thing like that, triangulating points on
minutest fraction of human knowledge.          three hill tops to see if the angles in a
The rest of what we know we must un-           triangle really added up to 180 degrees?)
cover. It is there to be learned and should    That is all very fine, but it won't get you
be learned as easily and quickly as pos-       very far into Euclid. A good program will
sible.                                         take the average ten- or twelve-year old
   "With the evolution of verbal behavior      through Euclid's Elements in a breeze.
instruction could take the place of direct     Burris was impressed by one of our tem-
contact with the world. The real contin-       porary divagations."
gencies take over after instruction has
taken place. Meanwhile something else is          One day Frazier was having tea with a
needed. For centuries that something was       child when Blair came up waving a mag-
punishment. The student learned -or            azine.
else. Programmed instruction turned to            "Look at this," he said. "Somebody is
the genuine mediating reinforcers of suc-      giving us some help."
cess and progress. A good program first           He would not have broken in so im-
induces students to engage in behavior.        politely if Frazier had been talking with
The behavior is said to be 'primed.' For       an older person, and Frazier was an-
a time, if fractional help is needed, the      noyed. He turned back to the child.
behavior is 'prompted.' Prompts are then          "Pulchrum in parvo," Blair said, in-
carefully removed or 'vanished.' What is       sisting upon Frazier's attention.
left is behavior on its own! Q.E.D." He           Frazier was doubly annoyed. Latin
looked straight at Blair. "Quod erat de-       again. He took the magazine, glanced at
monstrandum," he said, and then, as if         it, and handed it back. "Or, as the rest
explaining, "Which was to be demon-            of us would say, 'Small is beautiful.'"
strated."                                         "Right," said Blair. "You must read
   I was embarrassed. Blair had had a          it." It was a review of Schumacher's little
classical education, and from time to time     book on the advantages of systems of
dropped a Latin phrase or two. He did          moderate size, and the so-called inter-
not need help. Latin was not one of Fra-       mediate technologies he was inventing
zier's strong points. He was showing off.      for use in the Third World. I happened
Blair capped it nicely. "I'd prefer Q.E.I.,"   to be with Blair when Frazier met us the
he said. "Quod erat inveniendum -which         next day.
was to be discovered."                            "Communities," he said, spealdng very
   Frazier moved quickly to another            carefully, "have always been multum in
point. "The difference between pro-            parvo, if not pulchrum." (I suspect he had
grammed education and the factory," he         been looking in a Latin dictionary.) "They
said, "is the difference between a system      are miniature states. They must be small
that must withdraw its reinforcers before      ifthey are to be experimental. Where else
it can claim success and one that must         is one to start who is not the head of a
                           NEWS FROM NOWHERE, 1984                                        11

 government, religion, or industry? Where       oratory setting was a small sample of dai-
 has any science started, or any art or mu-     ly life. Philosophers and psychologists had
 sic? The trick is to stay small. Walden        begun with massive samples. A few, like
 Two works because it is small. Cities need     James and Freud, had had some success,
 police forces just because they are big,       but only because they were lucky. Happy
 because face-to-face control of decent         accidents had given them glimpses of or-
 personal behavior is impossible. Why be        der. You could not expect to get very far
 nice to anyone in a big city? Why not do       that way. "Small animals in small
 shabby work if your next job will come         spaces," Frazier exclaimed, patting Schu-
 from an ad in the Yellow Pages? Nothing        macher's book, "and beauty is truth, truth
but an organized punitive system will re-       beauty." Blair knew nothing about the
place face-to-face censure and criticism,       research Frazier was talking about, and,
and nothing at all can replace commen-          as a matter of fact, never learned about
dation and gratitude."                          it.
   Frazier began to talk about the Scan-
dinavian countries. Sweden in particular           Frazier, himself, had no qualms about
had achieved an almost perfect social-          inferring general principles from large
ism. Income taxes were around fifty per-        things. "In the world as a whole," he said
cent, but no one seemed to mind. In             one day, "small may or may not be beau-
return, education was free, from kinder-        tiful, but big is certainly ugly. We are
garten through graduate school. There was       getting on toward a population of 5 bil-
free health care for everyone, and special      lion people. What can you do about that?"
housing for the elderly. In short, just about      "You certainly weren't doing very
everything anyone needed. But some-             much," said Blair, "when your young
thing was wrong.                                women were having babies before they
   "It is the acme of rule-governed social      were twenty. You were adding an extra
behavior," Frazier said. "The man who           generation every hundred years. I re-
pays his income tax can look at the happy       member how shocked I was when I read
school-child, the industrious college stu-      Burris's book."
dent, the comfortable aging couple, and            "Burris was wrong, of course," said
say, 'I'm helping them,' but he will never      Frazier. "We were already changing. It is
hear them say thank you. He is alienated        all very well to say that those who are
from the product of his social behavior.        intelligent enough to control their num-
He does nothing that has any immediate          bers should not do so because more in-
social consequences.                            telligent people are needed, but if we are
   "The chances are that the contingen-         to design a way of life that will solve the
cies in his work are also contrived. No         problems of the world at large, it must
one will ever correct the alienation of the     be a way that stabilizes the population.
worker from the product of his labor in         Even when we were breeding too soon,
a large factory, no matter who owns it.         Walden Two was eliminating all the spu-
Like the communist countries, Sweden            rious reasons for having children-the
has not made the 'social good' a strong         social pressures, the need for children as
reinforcer. You have to see a good, hold        helpers in the family, accidental concep-
it in your hand, as citizens of Walden          tion ... and giving everyone who loves
Two do so many times a day."                    children a chance to be with them with-
   The library sent for Schumacher's            out breeding them."
book, and Frazier was as enthusiastic as
Blair, not because nothing but interme-           "Small is not so beautiful," Blair said
diate technologies would help developing        another time, "when it means sameness.
countries but because nothing else would        Too much of the same thing, too many
keep the production of goods a reinforc-        of the same faces. I like to travel. If I had
ing consequence for the worker.                 not travelled fairly widely, would I be as
   Small was also beautiful, Frazier point-     happy as I am now?"
ed out, in the study of behavior. A lab-         "You say you like to travel. Travel
12                                 B. F. SKINNER

agencies and airlines should be sued for      perate struggle for a decent place to live
false claims. Who ever sees what their        and something to live with, they will turn
putative customers see in the advertise-      to the ultimate horror of a nuclear war."
ments? Of course there are still some
beautiful cities, with beautiful buildings       That was not enough for Blair. He could
and museums, but it is no great sacrifice     not see how Frazier's ideology, as he in-
to learn about them from films or books.      sisted on calling it, could remedy matters.
And anyway all that is beautiful in the       In the 1970s he became quite feeble and
world is being destroyed by your trav-        perhaps for that reason more pessimistic.
ellers-the natural beauty of our park-        He gave up his room and moved to spe-
lands, ancient buildings eaten away by        cial quarters for those who needed care.
the fumes of buses. How much better it        When Frazier and I visited him there one
would be if we spent our time and money       day, we found him sitting up in bed. He
on making our own world beautiful. And        surprised us by talking about George Or-
when I say beautiful, all I mean is that it   well. He had mentioned him occasionally
will be the kind of place you go to and       and always, of course, as if he were
stay in just because it reinforces going to   another person, but now he seemed to be
and staying in. Our fossil fuels would last   pulling himself together.
hundreds of years longer if people stopped       "When Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-
moving about."                                four," he said, "he thought that sooner
   Frazier was launched on a favorite         or later the world would be pretty much
theme. "Walden Two has solved most of         as he described it. He could not see any
the other problems facing the world to-       hope. It was all too obvious. Put govern-
day," he said. "We consume only as much       ment, religion, and capital together and
as we need to maintain a friendly, pro-       you have the monstrous state, controlling
ductive, enjoyable life. We waste noth-       practically all of what you behaviorists
ing; everything is recycled. We dress for     call the reinforcers. Of course it will use
the weather, allowing the weather in-         them for its own aggrandizement. It has
doors to range widely. We scarcely pol-       no reason to do otherwise, and that is
lute the environment at all. We avoid         that.
hazardous wastes. We do it all and still         "I came to Walden Two looking for
enjoy our lives. Somehow or other the         something else, but have I found it? You
whole world must learn that secret or we      have taught me too much about human
are lost."                                    behavior. Human nature, you say, is out
   "But isn't the whole world going to be     of date. It's the product of a world that
a different problem?" said Blair. "How        in many ways was much more immedi-
long will it let you alone? You're hurting    ately threatening than it is today. In that
too many powerful people. Eventually          less hospitable world, for example, or-
you'll be attacked."                          ganisms evolved in such a way that they
   "And so we start building nuclear          ate as much as possible whenever they
weapons? I grant you we can't do that.        could, especially salt and sugar, which
That is not an intermediate technology."      were then in very short supply. And just
   "I don't want to build weapons, either,"   because that became human nature, we
said Blair. "But what can you do to stop      now produce and eat far more than we
others from building them?"                   need, especially the salty and sweet things
   "Not much, I'll admit. But it would be     that taste so good, and we ruin our health
helpful to find out why they build them.      and are slowly exhausting the arable land
That means finding out why they have          of the world.
so many children, why they consume               "And when, from time to time, famine
irreplaceable resources at such a fantastic   and pestilence decimated the population,
rate, why they allow themselves to make       it was important that the species, like
the world nearly unliveable. Find that out    other species, breed as often as possible.
and you will know why, in one last des-       To make sure that that would happen,
                              NEWS FROM NOWHERE, 1984                                          13

sexual contact became highly reinforcing,             still talking about our genetic suscepti-
as you put it. And now, as a result, we               bilities to reinforcement? Maybe we can't
are filling up the world at a fantastic rate.         change them, but we can build a world
   "In a precarious world, too, those who             in which they will cause far less trouble."
survived and reproduced their kind were               He groaned quietly and threw up his arms
those who fought well, and they fought                in a mock gesture of despair. I knew the
best if signs of the damage they inflicted            sign. He was about to say something he
reinforced successful blows. Signs of                 had said a thousand times, something of
damage became powerful reinforcers, and               which he was utterly convinced, yet
now a massive aggression threatens the                something he had to say again and again
world. And that's a threat for which evo-             because it was so little understood. I
lution could not prepare us.                          switched on my pocket recorder.
  "The very human nature that once                       As Frazier so often did, he came to the
barely led to our survival will soon end              point from an unexpected direction.
our survival once and for all. Do you                 "There is a spider that uses its silk to
know that sonnet of Shakespeare's that                make, not a web, but a net. The spider
begins, 'That time of year thou mayst in              hangs just above the ground, stretching
me behold'? It is an old man speaking to              the net with its legs. When an unsus-
his young lover, but it could as well be              pecting insect passes underneath, the spi-
the earth speaking to us all-                         der wraps it in the net with lightning
  That time of year thou mayst in me behold
                                                      speed. It eats the insect and the net, re-
  When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang        cycling the silk. We must assume that
  Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,     that is all a product of natural selection,
  Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds      but it could not have occurred in its pres-
    sang.                                             ent form as a variation. It is the result of
  In me thou seest the twilight of such day           a long series of variations and contingen-
  As after sunset fadeth in the west
  Which by and by black night doth take away,         cies of survival in which simple versions
  Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.    gradually became more complex.
  In me thou seest the glowing of such fire              "The spider can be caught in a net,
  That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,           too -a net made by a member of a dif-
  As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
  Consum'd with that which it was nounish'd by.'     ferent species, with behavior acquired
                                                     through a different process of selection,
  Blair paused. "'Consum'd with that                 operant conditioning. But in a single life-
which it was nourished by.' Could you                time no one person could make a net
say it better? We are to be destroyed by             without help. Too many variations would
the fabulous genetic endowment that has              have to occur and be selected by their
been the glory of the species. And what              reinforcing consequences. Instead, net-
a different reading you can give the last            making evolved as a cultural practice, in
two lines of that sonnet:                            a third kind of selection. Just as operant
  'This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more   conditioning takes us beyond the range
    strong,                                          of behavior due to natural selection, so
  To love that well, which thou must leave ere       the evolution of cultural practices takes
    long.'                                           us beyond operant conditioning.
We see that we are about to perish and                   "The point is that net-making did not
we love life all the more -a life that our           simply evolve through the accumulation
stronger loving will all the sooner bring            oflucky variations. Instead, people talked
to an end." With that, Blair turned his              about nets, how they were made, and why
face to the wall, and Frazier and I quietly          they worked and how they could be made
left.                                                to work better. Cultural practices evolve,
                                                     but they are also designed. Can anyone
   Once outside, Frazier said, "Always the           doubt that when a science of behavior
man of letters! He lacks the scientific spir-        tells us how to design better practices-
it. Love of life! Doesn't he see that he is          and I don't mean better nations, reli-
14                                 B. F. SKINNER

gions, or business enterprises-we can            Since hearing Burris's story, I have
deal with human nature adequately?"           done a bit of checking. Orwell died of tu-
   "But I think what was bothering Blair,"    berculosis in a hospital in London in
I said, "is whether there is time. Can we     January 1950. There is no doubt about
create a culture that has the chance of a     that. His will directed that his body be
future before our present cultures destroy    "buried (not cremated) according to the
us?"                                          rites of the Church of England in the
   Frazier stopped. He seemed to be trying    nearest convenient cemetery. " He was not
to remember something he had intended         a religious man, and his request for a
to say, as if I had interrupted him. Then     church burial was granted only under
he said quickly, "I think there's time,"      considerable public pressure. Who it was
and began to walk again.                      who turned up in Walden Two later that
   I laid my hand on his arm and stopped      year pretending to be Eric Arthur Blair
him. "Do you really believe that?", I said.   or how well you may feel he played the
He pulled his arm free and walked on.         role of George Orwell I am not prepared
   We did not see Blair again. He died the    to say. But his exchanges with Frazier,
next day. His death was announced to          especially those concerning the role of
the community, and Frazier and I, as his      contingencies of reinforcement in daily
closest friends, scattered his ashes in one   life, seemed interesting and worthwhile,
of the orchards. I had kept Blair's secret,   and that is why I asked Mr. Burris to
but two or three times Frazier had called     bring them to you.
him Orwell, and I assumed he had
guessed. But as we left the orchard, he
said, as if it had just occurred to him, "I
wonder who he really was."

To top