What a fascinating thing! Total control of a living organism! — psychologist B.F. Skinner
The corporatization of society requires a population that accepts control by authorities, and so when psychologists and psychiatrists began providing techniques that could control people, the corporatocracy embraced mental health professionals.
In psychologist B.F. Skinner’s best-selling book Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), he argued that freedom and dignity are illusions that hinder the science of behavior modification, which he claimed could create a better-organized and happier society.
During the height of Skinner’s fame in the 1970s, it was obvious to anti-authoritarians such as Noam Chomsky (“The Case Against B.F. Skinner”) and Lewis Mumord that Skinner’s worldview — a society ruled by benevolent control freaks — was antithetical to democracy. In Skinner’s novel Walden Two (1948), his behaviorist hero states, “We do not take history seriously”; to which Lewis Mumford retorted, “And no wonder: if man knew no history, the Skinners would govern the world, as Skinner himself has modestly proposed in his behaviorist utopia.”
As a psychology student during that era, I remember being embarrassed by the silence of most psychologists about the political ramifications of Skinner and behavior modification.
In the mid-1970s, as an intern on a locked ward in a state psychiatric hospital, I first experienced one of behavior modification’s staple techniques, the “token economy.” And that’s where I also discovered that anti-authoritarians try their best to resist behavior modification. George was a severely depressed anti-authoritarian who refused to talk to staff but, for some reason, chose me to shoot pool with. My boss, a clinical psychologist, spotted my interaction with George, and told me that I should give him a token—a cigarette—to reward his “prosocial behavior.” I fought it, trying to explain that I was 20 and George was 50, and this would be humiliating. But my boss subtly threatened to kick me off the ward. So, I asked George what I should do.
George, fighting the zombifying effects of his heavy medication, grinned and said, “We’ll win. Let me have the cigarette.” In full view of staff, George took the cigarette and then placed it into the shirt pocket of another patient, and then looked at the staff shaking his head in contempt.
Unlike Skinner, George was not “beyond freedom and dignity.” Anti-authoritarians such as George—who don’t take seriously the rewards and punishments of control-freak authorities—deprive authoritarian ideologies such as behavior modification from total domination. [Continue reading…]