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Walden Two

B.F. Skinner

Chapters 10-13

Chapter 8-9

Chapter 14-16

Summary

Chapter 10

At lunch, Frazier explains that Walden Two uses modern technology in order to avoid unpleasant, unnecessary, and uninteresting work as much as possible. Some of the food consumed by Walden Two is harvested from the plots of local farmers who, for whatever reason, are unable to harvest their own crops.

The visitors are then driven to the dairy, where a Manager explains its workings in detail. Frazier tells the group that, since Walden Two is not entirely self-sufficient, it must sell some goods to the neighboring communities. Mrs. Meyerson joins the group and they tour the weaving, metalworking, and wood-working shops, which seem well-maintained but strangely empty. Mrs. Meyerson, Barbara, and Mary separate from the main group; later they find Mary demonstrating a new stitch to some Walden Two members. Burris notes that no one thanks Mary for her contribution. They make dinner plans and return to the main building.

Chapter 11

While waiting for the others to gather for dinner, Burris and Castle notice a bulletin board listing daily events. At dinner, Frazier brings up the question of leisure time: if Walden Two members spend only four hours a day working, what do they do with the rest of their time? Frazier argues that Walden Two is the perfect environment in which to develop artists, and indeed a new "Golden Age." Burris replies that artistic genius must be at least partly in the genes, and among one thousand people there is only a small chance of finding an artistic genius. But Frazier claims that artistic genius is a product of environments, not biology. The group moves to the concert, a production of choruses from Bach's B Minor Mass--except for Steve and Mary, who go to a dance.

Chapter 12

The next morning, the group tours Walden Two's schools. They start in the nursery. There, babies are kept in heated glass cubicles for their first year of life. The cubicles keep the babies warm without the bother of clothing and protect them from irritation. Castle wonders whether the babies lack "mother love," and Frazier replies that the babies receive mother love, "father love," and all other kinds of affection in abundance.

Chapter 13

Children from ages one to three are housed in a separate wing. They have group sleeping areas that are similar in principle to the infants' cribs. The visitors see a small group of children leaving for a picnic and Castle wonders whether the other children are jealous. Frazier says that jealousy is largely unknown at Walden Two; in a planned community, competitive emotions are useless. Such emotions have been eliminated via "behavioral engineering."

Commentary

In Chapter 11, Frazier, Castle, and Burris discuss two important issues: the use of leisure time and the role of environment and biology in the development of "genius."

In modern American society (as much in our time as in Skinner's), leisure is tainted with images of laziness and sloth. In the 1950s and '60s, Herbert Marcuse argued that modern capitalist society sustains itself on what he called "surplus repression": the extraction of labor from the workforce at levels that are far above that which is needed to sustain a comfortable and happy life. He argued convincingly that American society had built a set of cultural and social norms, based on but much more pervasive than the "Protestant work ethic," to justify and maintain such surplus repression. It is these norms against which any community that attempts to reduce the amount of labor must struggle. Frazier's depiction of a new "Golden Age" of artistic genius at Walden Two may be a grand exaggeration, but it is nonetheless crucial to his arguments. He must show that the kind of life that is being built at Walden Two, with its communal ownership and four-hour work days, is a productive and happy one, and one that even rivals the artistic and technical accomplishments of advanced capitalist society.

Burris and Frazier also discuss relative contributions of environment and biology to artistic genius. Burris's contention that genius is genetic is flatly denied by Frazier. Like Skinner, Frazier is a radical behaviorist: except inasmuch as genes provide the most basic of blueprints for the human organism, they have no relevance to behavior. The only important things are the environment and one's past experience with it.

In Chapter 12, we are introduced to childcare at Walden Two. The way children are raised in Walden Two is a radical departure from traditional societal practice. Infants are not raised by their mothers, but by volunteer caretakers in a communal nursery. Furthermore, they are raised in enclosed cubicles in which temperature and humidity can be tightly controlled. Skinner actually raised one of his own children, Deborah, in a similar device. For him, it was an effective solution to the problems of a mother who was less than enthusiastic about the day-to-day effort of caring for a newborn and a father who was busy building an academic career. Although he tried to manufacture and sell the device on the mass market as the "Air-crib," he had little success. Few mothers--aside from Deborah's--were ready to commit their children to such a device.

Chapter 13 contains one of Skinner's baldest statements about radical behaviorism, one that has received a great deal of criticism. Frazier claims that emotions such as jealousy and frustration can be eliminated from society through the use of behavioral conditioning. If one believes, as Skinner did, that all behavior except for the most basic perceptual capabilities and motor reflexes is conditioned, then it is easy to accept this as possible (even if one has reservations about how easy it would be to achieve in practice). But one of the reasons for the decline of behaviorism since the 1950s is that many behaviors, including emotional reactions to complex stimuli, appear to be innate and largely unchangeable. Social context and personal history have a great deal to do with how those reactions are expressed, but the goal of eliminating what appear to be basic emotions--in a way that does not at the same time destroy the individual's ability to function--seems increasingly unrealistic.

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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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