The Ten Meaningful Books Challenge: Day Five

Walden Two, by B.F. Skinner (Published 1948)

I think all people dream about a better world. I think most people would describe that better world in similar ways, following similar moral characteristics — a world of peace, a world of abundance, where justice and fairness are the rule, and all peoples are free. I think of the hippies and their search for a way of living that was different from what they knew, John Lennon’s song “Imagine” and the characteristics of communal life of the early Christian societies described in the Bible (Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2, Verses 42-47).

In my junior year of high school, I took a psychology class and was introduced to the concept of behavioral psychology and B.F. Skinner — “one of its leading exponents … Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the author of Science and Human Behavior” … according to the book jacket. Before I read his heavy, more clinical book, I found this book, Walden Two, and was fascinated.

Walden Two tells the story of a fictional utopian commune ordered by a man knowledgeable of behavioral psychology and deliberately applying it in this communal setting to create a society where people’s basic needs are met and they are happy and productive and have plenty of time for relaxation, creativity and intellectual pursuits. My first thought, before I got too far along in the book, was: Isn’t this great! Why doesn’t somebody do this?

While many, if not most, of us dream of a better world, for some it’s just a passing fancy, for some a deep longing, for some a dangerous obsession — in the case of those whose idea of a better world is one that is ordered by their personal dysfunctional desires.

This book made me think about a LOT of things! I’ll leave you with this quote from near the end of the book. A visitor to Walden Two, upon leaving the commune says, “… regimentation, pretty cleverly concealed, but regimentation just the same. A sort of voluntary goose-step. Why should all those people subscribe to a code or submit to the subtle coercions of a Behavioral Manager? I’ll grant you it’s efficient. But I want to be free. No codes, no psychological suasions.”

And, with a thought I still haven’t been able to reconcile: you could use this same quote to rebel against anything – patriotism, fascism, even the teachings of Jesus Christ or any other religion. We all live according to some sort of societal norms. The question always is — who or what is manipulating the society and what does it mean to be free?

My companion piece of music: What a Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong