Walden Two | Study Guide

B. F. Skinner

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Walden Two | Chapter 19 | Summary

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Summary

After falling asleep and waking with a start, Burris finds his colleagues already dining in the Swedish Room and making jokes about his possible whereabouts. After he joins them, the conversation turns to previous experimental communities. Frazier is indignant when Burris asks him if he can explain the failures of experimental communities in the past. Frazier feels because Walden Two is unique, it can gain little from the workings of other communities, most of which were centered on religion or anti-government sympathies. He says the communities were not founded on "experimental modification" and instead promoted a "philosophy of perfectionism," which he claims is reason enough for failure.

Analysis

Burris here takes on the role of devil's advocate. He is challenging Frazier, who is essentially the advocate for Skinner's "experimental modification." Skinner understood many utopian communities, principally those founded on religious doctrine, failed. Their very social structure ended up distancing them from the spiritual connection for which they strived. For instance, with the Shakers their tenet of celibacy eventually diminished the communities. Financial and leadership issues also were problematic as at Brook Farm or Fruitlands in the 19th century.

Skinner did not hate religion. His own upbringing was stable, but his grandmother struck fear into him with her discussions of hell. This influenced him to find an alternate path to spiritual understanding.

Skinner felt government was necessary and had no nihilistic views. However, he observed the great size of government is because of the dysfunction of the economy. He states in the preface of Walden Two "the only reason we have a vast federal government is that millions of people find themselves trapped in overgrown, unworkable living spaces" (xiv). The community Frazier offers is more functional by nature. It offers sufficient housing, work, and food, reducing the need for anything but a basic governing structure. We continue to see the theme of economics in this chapter and its importance to the stability of the community. It is simpler living that is part of the foundation of Walden Two's success. This echoes Thoreau's message in Walden, in which he feels simplicity is the route to a greater spiritual understanding.

Skinner felt it was not political leadership that would help transform the world. Instead it needed to be wisdom teachers, such as Confucius or Jesus or certain thinkers of the Enlightenment. He was against the amassing of arms since that only perpetuated the hostile relations between nations. Therefore, we now see the theme of wisdom evidenced. Though Walden Two is a secular community, the need for some sort of ethical, moral guidance is necessary.

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