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Walden Two

B.F. Skinner

Chapter 23-25

Chapter 20-22

Chapters 26-28

Summary

Chapter 23

Frazier, Castle, and Burris discuss Walden Two. Frazier claims that what distinguishes Walden Two from all previous utopias is that it exists in the modern world. It avoids all political and economic solutions to the problems of society, depending instead on a "science of behavior." Walden Two members vote in local elections, but they all follow the recommendations of the Planners. Religion has little place at Walden Two. The community has non-religious Sunday meetings that serve some of the same community-building functions as traditional religious meetings. Castle criticizes Walden Two for avoiding the problems of the outside world instead of helping to fix them. Frazier replies that the only way to really know what the solutions are is to try them out in a well-controlled environment first. That is exactly what is being done at Walden Two.

Chapter 24

Burris asks Frazier whether Walden Two's young people are at risk of being drawn to the attractions of modern life. Frazier replies that the children of Walden Two are shown the consequences of every seemingly positive aspect of the outside world: for every movie palace or mansion, they are taken to a jail, or the dilapidated home of a house cleaner. Burris, not convinced, wonders whether some kind of indoctrination is needed to maintain the community. No, says Frazier; in fact, indoctrination and propaganda are the best way to ruin a community. It is much more difficult to discern the true problems of a society when they are hidden by the false sense of satisfaction that results from propaganda. Because propaganda makes experimentation difficult if not impossible, it goes directly against the principles of Walden Two.

As the conversation is winding down, Steve and Mary wave happily to Castle, Burris, and Frazier from the far side of the building. It is clear that they have been accepted to Walden Two.

Chapter 25

Around 4 o'clock, Burris decides to tour Walden Two on his own to determine whether its members are really as happy as they seem. He starts at the Ladder, eavesdropping on the groups of people that have gathered in its alcoves for tea. He hears friendly gossip, a discussion of the advantages of a democratic military, the quiet of a chess game, a women reading a children's book to a group of girls, and a man complaining about the harvest. At his last stop, he is invited by three young women to sit and talk. When they learn that he is a college professor, they quiz him about the faults of the university system. He escapes as quickly as possible. Soon he finds himself in a lounge where string players and a pianist are playing for a small audience. The pianist turns out to be Frazier.

Commentary

Chapter 23 presents a grab bag of ideas about the place of Walden Two in the world. Of particular interest is the discussion of religion. Religion, like morality, is explicitly reduced to its function in society. Here and elsewhere in the novel it is lumped together with advertising and government as merely another way of controlling human behavior. As such, it has no place in Walden Two, where the only condoned method of controlling human behavior is a scientific one.

Although a criticism of society at large is implicit throughout Walden Two, it is stated directly in Chapter 24. Modern capitalist society has had some dramatic successes, but they come at a cost. These costs are often hidden, but they can easily be discovered if one is willing to look.

Chapter 24 also contains an important discussion of propaganda. Frazier's enthusiastic discussions of "cultural engineering" earlier in the novel come dangerously close to endorsing brainwashing or indoctrination, methods of societal change that were especially distasteful to Americans in the wake of World War II. Thus, it is important that he takes a firm stance against them here. His arguments against propaganda are not, however, the moral discussions one might have expected. He does not speak of the people's freedom or of their "right to know." Instead he takes a radically utilitarian view: propaganda is simply unuseful. It masks the signs and symptoms that are crucial to the effective application of a science of behavior to society.

Burris's reconnaissance in Chapter 25 gives us a brief respite from what by now may seem like endless discussions between Frazier and Castle. It also gives us one of our first and few chances to see Walden Two in Frazier's absence. Indeed, this is Burris's primary motivation. He wants to know what Walden Two looks like when it is not being used as the backdrop for one of Frazier's arguments. His tour adds a human side to our conception of the community, a side that often seems to be lacking in Frazier's description of it.

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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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