The academic question of whether we operate under the free volition of will or whether we are determined by forces from outside is actually one that makes our lives miserable or not so much, depending on those in power and how they decide to answer it. Today in the West we are governed by a group who perhaps unknowingly are influenced by the determinist guru from Hell, B.F. Skinner, prime mover of the Behaviorist school of psychology. Skinner took determinism to a whole new low, and there it lays, soaked up by intellectual bottom-feeders to this day. It is our hypothesis that such creatures who feed on Skinnerian Behaviourism are so down deep into the pool of stupidity that they are like sightless fish who couldn't see reason if they were hit in the face with it. But perhaps it's a matter of our conditioning to make such comments.
We present a very brief introduction to Skinner and his efforts to bamboozle the public directly below, and we follow that with an even shorter piece on a view that is of the polar opposite, the views of Victor Frankl. We cast no judgements upon the respective theories of the Skinner or Dr. Frankl. No, dear reader, that is up to you and your free will.
Skinner started his career as an English major, writing poems and short stories. He has, of course, written a large number of papers and books on behaviorism. But he will probably be most remembered by the general run of readers for his book Walden II, wherein he describes a utopia-like commune run on his operant principles.
People, especially the religious right, came down hard on his book. They said that his ideas take away our freedom and dignity as human beings. He responded to the sea of criticism with another book (one of his best) called Beyond Freedom and Dignity. He asked: What do we mean when we say we want to be free? Usually we mean we don't want to be in a society that punishes us for doing what we want to do. Okay -- aversive stimuli don't work well anyway, so out with them! Instead, we'll only use reinforcers to "control" society. And if we pick the right reinforcers, we will feel free, because we will be doing what we feel we want!
Likewise for dignity. When we say "she died with dignity," what do we mean? We mean she kept up her "good" behaviors without any apparent ulterior motives. In fact, she kept her dignity because her reinforcement history has led her to see behaving in that "dignified" manner as more reinforcing than making a scene.
The bad do bad because the bad is rewarded. The good do good because the good is rewarded. There is no true freedom or dignity. Right now, our reinforcers for good and bad behavior are chaotic and out of our control -- it's a matter of having good or bad luck with your "choice" of parents, teachers, peers, and other influences. Let's instead take control, as a society, and design our culture in such a way that good gets rewarded and bad gets extinguished! With the right behavioral technology, we can design culture.
Both freedom and dignity are examples of what Skinner calls mentalistic constructs -- unobservable and so useless for a scientific psychology. Other examples include defense mechanisms, the unconscious, archetypes, fictional finalisms, coping strategies, self-actualization, consciousness, even things like hunger and thirst. The most important example is what he refers to as the homunculus -- Latin for "the little man" -- that supposedly resides inside us and is used to explain our behavior, ideas like soul, mind, ego, will, self, and, of course, personality.
Instead, Skinner recommends that psychologists concentrate on observables, that is, the environment and our behavior in it.
"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible."
Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, p.172
Man's Search For Meaning
by Viktor E. Frankl
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl is among the most influential works of psychiatric literature since Freud. The book begins with a lengthy, austere, and deeply moving personal essay about Frankl's imprisonment in Auschwitz and other concentration camps for five years, and his struggle during this time to find reasons to live. The second part of the book, called "Logotherapy in a Nutshell," describes the psychotherapeutic method that Frankl pioneered as a result of his experiences in the concentration camps. Freud believed that sexual instincts and urges were the driving force of humanity's life; Frankl, by contrast, believes that man's deepest desire is to search for meaning and purpose. Frankl's logotherapy, therefore, is much more compatible with Western religions than Freudian psychotherapy. This is a fascinating, sophisticated, and very human book. At times, Frankl's personal and professional discourses merge into a style of tremendous power. "Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is," Frankl writes. "After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips."
We live according to how we choose to live in the world, and that world, objective in itself, is interpreted, made sensible, and is coherent because of our decisions about how we choose understand it. Within the confines of our senses we make the world as we will. Very little of our world understanding comes from knowledge of the world, something remote from us objectively, and our knowledge, slight and superficial, is almost irrelevant to our lives therein; what matters is how we choose to understand our lives as they are as we decide them to be. We pick and choose our realities and make them sensible inside the realms of the choices we make. Everything could be completely different within our mental lives in an instant if we so choose. Information won't bring that radical change about but only our attitude toward difference and change. Some people are committed to radical passivity as a world-view. Those who are activists committed to such a world view take the position that the many are determined by the active forces of objective conditions, and that the Man himself, having little volition, is malleable, is responsive to the conditions of the world, and can be reformed according to the ways of the objective world. The Behaviorist can change the way people behave by changing the rewards and punishments they receive in response to their actions. Therefore, to change the acts on a man one changes his environment to control his rewards and punishments, turning the man into a large rat in a world lab-maze. Within the ideology of Behaviourism there is a genuine coherence. One can choose to believe it as valid. Many Western intellectuals do accept Behaviourism as valid, and they work within the confines of Behaviourism as social engineers who alter societies, who tinker with social systems, and who plan "lifestyles" for the masses. The organic of the man is replaced with the machine of the social engineer. This is a Platonic Republic under the guiding hand of psychologists. Many in the West accept this paradigm of reality without question. There are victims of society because there is society. If one changes society, then there will not be victims of it. If the Philosopher Psychologists rule, then they will reward and punish justly because they have a true understanding of how people behave under given situations, and the Philosopher Psychologists will choose to engineer society in such a way that utility is achieved.
Man is not responsible for his actions. Man can only respond to stimuli. Depending on the stimuli he will act according to right utility or he will not. For example, if people are living in conditions of poverty in Parisian suburbs, they will by necessity react to the stimuli by acting out violently to the conditions of the stimuli by burning cars and raping and killing those who are seen as the oppressors who force them to live in said suburbs. It is not a fault to react but a natural reaction of dumb beasts and men. To alleviate the suffering of the poor so they do not react violently to social conditions, one does not change the man but the social conditions. No poverty, no criminal reaction to it. No Israelis, then no homicide bombings and world terror. No Americans, then world peace. People only act or react according to the stimuli. There is no good or bad, there is only behaviour.
That choice of attitude is prevalent in the West today. B.F. Skinner, though largely forgotten today by the general public, is highly influential because he is mostly forgotten. The simplified version of his ideology seeps into the fabric of society and is assumed. Because it's not on display for the many to notice it becomes part of the intellectual wallpaper of the West. It's there and we don't notice it even though it surrounds us. We act on the assumptions of Behaviourism, unaware that we could change our opinions about the reality we assume and sustain by the moment. We could be free.
Opposed to the robot life of the masses is Victor Frankl's view of man as a being who chooses his own reason for living and his meaning therein, regardless of his circumstances. While the drowned died all around him in the Nazi concentration camps Frankl was saved: by his will. He might have died inside the camp, and no doubt many men and women and children as free-minded and decent as Frankl did die through no flaw or fault of their own; and if they died they still lived till they died. Freedom doesn't depend on the length of it but on the freedom one has, regardless of the outer circumstances. It's a Stoics position that not all will share, but it is as objective as any. It is a choice one may make if ones so chooses.
Rioting yoots in France choose to act as victims, French dhimmis choose to pander to the phantasies they act out, and all of it could change if only only. Those who choose the infantalised world of dhimmi socialism choose to sustain the make-believe reification of socialism. They choose passivity and the ideology of Behaviourism. They could choose to stand upright.
We in the West have chosen to play the game of Behaviourism. Man is reduced to an barnyard animal state, and the man accepts it. He need not. Until that attitude changes, there will be more terrorism, Islam will continue to prevail, and the Western revolutions of Modernity will continue to decay. That could all change in a moment of awareness that there is a mental game going on in the mind of the general public, and that we are playing against ourselves and losing.