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Walden Two | Themes


In a preface written in 1976, B.F. Skinner states Walden Two is about health, education, and welfare, a response to the large amount of federal money devoted to the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In their 2009 article on Skinner and his utopian vision, psychology professors Deborah E. Altus and Edward K. Morris echo this observation by classifying three major themes in the work: economics (wealth), health (mental, physical, and environmental), and wisdom. These are the same themes Thoreau originally addressed in Walden.


Skinner clearly lays out the labor and managerial policies at Walden Two. Everyone, regardless of ability or training, contributes to the community in what is essentially a barter fashion. Desirable jobs, such as library work or artwork, receive fewer labor-credits than undesirable work like disposing of waste. This system awards those with favorable duties the joy of the work itself as part of the compensation. Those doing less favorable jobs receive more time off, for instance. The overall economic structure avoids competition and attempts to equally distribute opportunity and access to resources. This promotes a far less stratified society, with no "haves" and "have-nots."

The work day Skinner lays out in Walden Two is harmonious with Thoreau's concept of labor. He felt too much work was unproductive and each small aspect of a process should be done with appreciation. As Frazier shows in the story, this measured approach to labor leaves more time for creative endeavors that would be harder to pursue in a competitive economy. As he mentions in the preface of Walden Two, Skinner felt in America there was far less leisure than was healthy for a functional society.


In the Walden Two community, physical health is addressed even before conception. Couples suffering from any serious maladies are prevented from bearing children. Infants are reared in highly controlled environments resembling aquariums in which the temperature and humidity are controlled and toxins are kept from entering. Adults are encouraged to stay active, and this is achieved in part by the work requirement.

Mental health is maintained when everyone has work geared to their skills and interests. Also, since the atmosphere is not competitive and not tied to strict work schedules, there is less stress and more time for personal pursuits.

In Walden Two there are many daily practices that show concern for the health of the environment. One is the natural manner in which the sheep graze, which maintains the lawns. Some buildings are made of panels and a dirt mixture, people share living quarters, and eating schedules are staggered so resources are not wasted. It is in some ways similar to Thoreau's Walden, in which he created his own cabin and tended to the environment. He was also concerned with mental and physical health and preferred a vegetarian diet and extensive walks. Skinner indicates the importance of walking and physical activity in Walden Two, as much for the mental as the physical benefits.


So much of the story emphasizes the importance of learning, both formal and informal. Education is free to everyone, and there are always opportunities to strengthen one's weaknesses or develop one's intellectual or artistic abilities. Overall, however, the goal is not to uplift any particular individual. It is to hone skills that will benefit the community as a whole and make it mindful of the needs of the whole. This communal, noncompetitive approach to society is at the heart of Walden Two. Thoreau himself felt strongly wisdom was not a product of formal learning. It was through introspection each individual attained great insight. Thoreau also proposed by living naturally one could become more objective by being free of the trappings of society.

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