Book: Walden Two - First published 1948
Author: B. F. Skinner (1904-1990)
Connection with ABC-TV’s LOST: The official LOST website links the book to episode 101 (the pilot), but says there are similarities in many of the episodes. Like the show, the book focuses on a community that is given direction through the principles of behavioral science.
Review of the Book
In my review of Aldous Huxley’s Island, I mentioned how Huxley based his idea of Utopia on the syncretism of eastern religion and modern science. In Walden Two (a nod to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden), Skinner paints his idea of a Utopia forming from the applied science of behaviorism without the need of the spiritual.
The premise is that, given the right environment, we can flourish and live up to our potential. If only our lives were a series of carefully controlled positive experiences, under the close watch of behaviorists and aided by modern technology, we would come closer and closer to a utopian world. He stresses the importance of positive reinforcement over negative reinforcement. Most people think of Christians as negative. But the Bible, while not dismissing the need for “Thou Shalt Not,” puts much more emphasis on the positive “Love Thy Neighbor.” Jesus was not afraid to point out the pitfalls in this life, but He emphasized the positives of Faith, Hope and Love, which is the “fulfillment” of the Law.
Skinner was an atheist who believed that the way to the Golden Rule was through science, not religion. While impressed by Jesus’ “intuitive” ideas on how a society should function, he was not impressed on how his followers have tried to carry this out. (It has been true that organized Christianity over the years has followed political expedience instead of living out the principles that Jesus taught.) It is the nature of politics that the elite must be seen as having the answers, which gets in the way of scientific experimentation. There must be room for trying new ideas in order to find the best answers for improving society.
How relevant are Skinner’s ideas about government today! Both Parties, no matter how they talk about “change,” are touting many of the same old ideas and often exaggerate about what has and has not worked. Human government was never intended to bring about Utopia, and Skinner is at least right in declaring that governments will never bring about the necessary changes. Government has been established by God to reward those who do good and punish those who are a threat to others (Romans 13:1-7) — not as a replacement for God. Our Lord is Jesus Christ, not Caesar or the State. Keep that in mind when you go to the polls in a week and a half.
What bothers me most about the Walden Two ideal is that it dethrones God and sets up “science” in His place. Science has done some wonderful things. We are able to work more productively and with less effort than ever before. The big push for safety and ergonomics has greatly improved the lives of workers. Even behavioral science, which Skinner emphasizes, has made great strides. But where is Utopia?
Attempts at utopian communities have consistently failed, although many have tried. The pattern seems to be that control is usurped by one person or a small group, which leads to disaster, just like it has on LOST. This is our nature after the Fall–wanting to be like God. We have deceived ourselves into thinking we can do a better job with creation than He. No, the salvation of mankind will not come through science and the ingenuity of humans, but by Jesus Christ Himself. Some day He will come and set up His Kingdom and all will be as it should be. But He also wants us to experience Utopia in our hearts now, even in the midst of a fallen world.
There are no Walden Two’s–no oases of utopia in a mixed-up world. But God does want to establish an oasis in your heart that can provide refreshment not only to yourself, but to those around you. (John 7:38)