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Walden Two

B.F. Skinner

Chapters 29-31

Chapters 26-28

Chapters 32-34

Summary

Chapter 29

In the afternoon, a storm approaches and the visitors' plans to go on a hike are cancelled. Steve, Mary, Rodge, and Barbara join a group of Walden Two members who are getting a band together. Castle, Frazier, and Burris are left alone to discuss the "big issues" that Castle has been itching to debate with Frazier. After Castle accuses Frazier of "one of the most diabolical machinations in the history of mankind," they retire to Frazier's personal quarters to speak in private. Burris remains a spectator throughout much of the discussion. In the course of it, they touch on Frazier's role as the designer of Walden Two. Castle sees it as a sort of dictatorship-at-a-distance, whereas Frazier argues that it is the best way for a planned society to work. Castle replies that he neither needs nor wants a planned society; if he had a complete "science of behavior," as Frazier thinks he does, he would throw it away rather than compromise the freedom of humanity.

Castle and Frazier go back and forth on the issue of freedom and democracy. Castle's basic position is that any external control, but especially the kind espoused by Frazier, decreases freedom and the value of human life. Frazier's response is that humanity has always been under the control of external forces. Some of them are hidden or accidental, such as the effects of experiences in early childhood on adult behavior; others, such as the effects of advertising, religion, and government, are more obvious. Freedom from all external controls is nonexistent. The only meaningful way in which we can be free is by being free from punishment and oppression. In that sense, Walden Two is the freest society in existence, because behavior is controlled by positive reinforcement instead of punishment. Furthermore, it has the advantage over the outside world of making behavioral control a science instead of an art.

Near the end of their discussion, Frazier makes an argument against democracy, claiming that it is inherently flawed because it fails to recognize that humanity is determined by its environment. Instead, democracy maintains an outdated faith in the inherent goodness of humanity. Frazier then turn his argument to communist Russia, which he criticizes as being non-experimental, overly dependent on propaganda and hero-worship, and driven by power instead of the desire to improve the lot of humanity.

Chapter 30

Burris thinks to himself that Walden Two's success makes all of Castle's arguments against it seem empty. Frazier leads them back to the Walk and the lounges and recreation rooms that line it. The community is out in full force. The sounds of music, conversation, and children on their way to Sunday dinner fill the corridor. Outside, groups of people are walking and socializing now that the rain has stopped. Frazier turns to Castle and asks, "Now what were you saying about despotism, Mr. Castle?" Castle is embarrassed; Frazier, having made his point, awkwardly leaves the two of them after making plans to have dinner at seven.

Chapter 31

After dinner, Frazier and Rodge leave the group to talk alone. Burris and Castle return to their room, where Castle begins to grade exams that he had brought with him. He has clearly made up his mind with respect to Frazier and Walden Two—that they are Fascist. Burris remains torn. He is attracted to Walden Two, but like Rodge, he has ties to the external world--in his case academic and professional--that prevent him from committing himself to it whole-heartedly. He goes to sleep troubled and undecided.

Commentary

Frazier's argument in Chapter 29 is a brief statement of what Skinner would later dedicate a whole book to. In Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner argued (as himself, not as a fictional character) that we needed to look beyond concepts of "freedom" and "dignity" toward a science of behavior. According to Skinner, the "literature of freedom" is a body of work that has been used to control the behavior of humans in Western society in a particular way. That way of behaving is no longer satisfactory: witness the threat of nuclear war, the destruction of the environment, and increasing levels of crime and social conflict. Problems like these have, if anything, been exacerbated by individual freedoms.

What is needed instead is a government based on the principles of a science of behavior. The goal of such a government should not be freedom alone, but rather freedom from oppression. Such a government could explicitly control the population by non-oppressive means, e.g. positive reinforcement, and thus bring about a better world for everyone.

Frazier's rhetorical ploy in Chapter 30--leading Castle and Burris into the midst of Walden Two as an argument against Castle's claims of despotism--is only the most blatant example of a strategy that Frazier uses throughout the visit. The strategy is to point to the evident success of Walden Two in response to any criticisms raised by Burris or Castle. Many of the policies that Frazier describes could, in principle, result in some kind of oppressive dictatorship, and none of Frazier's arguments to the contrary are completely waterproof. His most convincing argument, and the one he uses here, is Walden Two is not in fact an oppressive society, as can be seen by watching and talking to its members.

It is clear by Chapter 31 that Castle and Burris, who began their visit to Walden Two with similar levels of curiosity and skepticism, have gone their separate ways. Castle is convinced that Walden Two is a Fascist organization. Burris has not yet committed to staying at Walden Two, but it is clear that he is much closer to it than he could have imagined at the beginning of his visit. Like Rodge, he is torn between staying and leaving. This chapter marks the beginning of the endgame, the part of the novel where everyone finally takes sides. It has been clear from the beginning that Barbara and, most of all, Castle, will never be convinced to stay; in contrast, Steve and Mary have been enthusiastic about Walden Two since they first heard of it. But then there are the swing cases, Rodge and Burris, the two characters who have yet to decide between Walden Two and their lives in the outside world.

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May not be important, but...

by Funky-Train, September 03, 2013

On your character summary, you wrote that Barbara Macklin is Rodgers' girlfriend, but they're officially engaged. I think this is a significant detail, because Steve introduces his girlfriend, Mary Grove, informally as "my girl." This shows an immaturity in Steve, whereas Barbara and Rodgers view their relationship seriously.

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