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." 5 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."
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