web space | website hosting | Business Web Hosting | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting


A Hindsight on Skinner's Beyond

by Richard Rose


from the March-April 1972 edition of The Campaigner (7 MB PDF image-file)

page numbers from source included to facilitate comparison


A cursory examination reveals that when Skinner tries to play his favorite stage role, "scientist," he merely acts out a disorder endemic to all behaviorists cum unreconstructed Pavlovians: running at the mouth. One could say that this affliction has been dogging the profession from its earliest days. Hopefully, behaviorists will find that the following description of their colleague rings a bell.

"In trying to solve the terrifying problems that face us in the world today, we naturally turn to the things we do best."(1) Thus begins B. F. Skinner's latest offering, calling forth the cozy sentiments of the 1940's musical hit song "Doin' What Comes Natcherly," above whose vapidity no subsequent Skinnerian sentence ever rises. He continues, "We play from strength, and our strength is science and technology,"(2) thereby wrapping himself in the respected mantle of the savant. The question for immediate clarification is whether when Skinner speaks, royally, of "our strength ... science and technology," he speaks for science -- or "Big Brother."

A Discredited Pseudo-Science

A cursory examination reveals that Skinner's "science" is none other than the godchild of the discredited John V. Watson, who over fifty years ago fathered the American school of behaviorists -- practitioners of psychology minus the mind, i.e., mindless psychology. Watson wrote, "Behaviorism claims that consciousness is neither a definite nor a usable concept."(3) Denying the existence of consciousness and its subject, mind, he insisted


that "Psychology follow a single paradigm," namely, that the rule, or measuring rod, which the behaviorist puts in front of him always is: Can I describe this bit of behavior I see in terms of "stimulus and response?"(4)

Accompanying Watson's invertebrate S-R ontology was a corresponding lower order sensibility: "You, as a psychologist, if you are to remain scientific, must describe the behavior of man in no other terms than those you would use in describing the behavior of the ox you slaughter."(5)

Aware of Watson's discrediting, Skinner denies he is a revenant bearing Watson's warmed-over hypotheses. "I do not consider myself an S-R psychologist." The pretext for Skinner's protest that he worshippeth not the S-R divinity, as the cock crows thrice, is that later in his life "the basic notion of an operant emerged."(6) He expatiates: "An operant ... is a class of responses, and a response is a single instance of that class." The "operant" is only an "R" after all, and Skinner's newly emergent "operant" is simply "old priest writ large." Accordingly, when Skinner concedes that S-R psychology "is approximately seventy years out of date," hoping thereby to distance himself from it, the senility he concedes is his own.

Inasmuch as Skinner represents not only a virtual plagiarism of Watson, but (hard as that may seem) an impoverishment on that "original," the criticisms that decades ago consigned Watson to the midden heap apply now with all the more force to Skinner's padded pretenses. There is absolutely


nothing new in Skinner's version of Watson's S-R psychology and in fact considerably less. For example: Skinner's rejection of drive theory and of attempts to discover the correlations between neurophysiology and "observable" behavior. Thus a refutation of the Watsonian system strikes with all the more force at the Skinnerian.


Watson's scientific pretenses were long since dispelled by scientists such as Freud and Koehler. Beginning in the 1890's Freud began a succession of discoveries which revolutionized man's understanding of the determinants of consciousness. These are conveniently summarized in his later work, The Future of an Illusion. There he discusses the various aspects of his own discoveries of the psycho-physical parallelisms, discoveries that tended toward major partial solutions of fundamental problems of mind-body interactions such as had been struggled with by the great philosopher-scientists since the time of Descartes. Freud's key contributions concerned the location of mind within the science: psychology, and bear on Kant's fundamental discovery of the necessarily universalizing action of mind on particular experience. For man to transcend the invertebrate "consciousness" of particular experience, man's psychic organization had to evolve a structure appropriate to the comprehension of the physical world and his increasing mastery over it. This parallelism, the implicit dialectic of being and consciousness, underlies Freud's scientific thought-in-general.

Freud devoted a major portion of his life to the investigation of the class of universals or Gestalts known as neuroses, those self-organizations of mental processes which he showed to be plausibly appropriate universalizations of individual particular experience. In his later years Freud discovered that the species-correlative of the individual neurosis was religion, i.e., socialized neurosis. He outlined the central mediating role the family played in the socialization or internalization process of the social neurosis, most particularly during childhood. In so doing he "discovered" the unconscious, that is, more accurately, he founded the science that elaborated its interactions with its "other," human consciousness.

Freud demonstrates that the Unconscious/Conscious dialectic is the


internalization of the dialectic between human individual needs and social needs, for him the "ego" versus civilization. But while recognizing the Rousseauian antinomy, Freud also realized, paralleling related discoveries in sociology by Emile Durkheim, that "civilization" (Freud's falsely universal euphemism for bourgeois society) necessarily exerts an external coercion on the individual, forcing him to subordinate his needs to those of society.

Unlike Rousseau, Freud realized that individual man's relation to nature was not a direct one, but mediated through society in the concrete form of the family and related sub-structures. Hence man's personification of the forces of nature in religion, religion being simply science viewed from a historically less advanced viewpoint. Man personified nature because that was his only effective relation to it, that is, through other persons. He thereby was able to make himself at home in a threatening natural universe by peopling it with congenial beings.

Even today sections of mankind in a relatively advanced state of childishness people the universe with paternal gods, as in the religion of patriotism -- the secular worship of the fatherland. This tendency is succinctly summarized in Freud's thesis that religion corresponds to man's sense of weakness. The secret of the strength of religious ideas is seen to be that of the strength of human wishes in the face of helplessness.

Unlike empiricists such as Bertrand Russell, who are only able to understand religion, viz. Christianity, as a historical conspiracy against reason, Freud to his great credit understood the significance of religion as a historically necessary positive or integrative force in what would otherwise have been a chaos of antagonistic anarchist egos (in bourgeois society). Freud's discovery that religion was the neurosis of a society had its inverse application in the life history of individuals, namely, that neuroses as a necessary product of "civilization" were the private religions of the individuals. The individual's "own" religion enabled him to preserve his identity amid the chaos of contradictory particular social experiences. To satisfy his material and spiritual needs -- socialized needs -- man had to elaborate for himself a persona which would guarantee his social identity on some level, his fundamental identity because of his dependence on others.


It was within this context that the entire corpus of Freud's breakthroughs with regard to the various aspects of consciousness and unconsciousness -- dreams, slips, taboos, neuroses, etc. -- are to be located. He showed that, in bourgeois society, what is left of each individual's creativity tends to express itself through "sneak" ludicrous efforts to shove its mangled remains into circulation through degraded but at least concealed, therefore socially acceptable, forms.

It is no coincidence that the counter-cultural revolution, alias the cultural counter-revolution, expresses itself predominantly through music. Advanced victims of capitalism's mind-destruction deludedly suppose music to be the art-form which makes no statement concerning man; that therefore they can locate Early Stone Age passions in it without fear of discovery, hence without necessity for defensive censorious activity by the "super-ego." Such individuals would cringe to see translated into a prose more readily accessible to their formal-verbal consciousnesses the same approximate notions they twitch to with Pavlovian compulsiveness when mediated through rhythmic/melodic forms. They are like those ordinary mortals in the Teutonic myth who, not having eaten of the dragon's heart, cannot fathom the rede of the birds.

Gestalt Psychology

Discoveries of psychophysical parallelisms similar to those of Freud were made by the school of Gestalt psychologists. Like Freud they were concerned with discovering a solution to the problem: how is it that man's mind could be appropriate for comprehending and acting upon the world when based on the most limited of particular experiences of that world. Freud had elaborated how social consciousness, "civilization," was not a mere mechanically summed aggregate of the consciousnesses of its member egos. Rather, it was an opposing "other" of unique structure and force. Particular experience was not interpreted as a pure "in itself," but as determined particular interpreted according to the exigencies of an internalized "universal" or "a priori," the neurosis, So, too, Gestalt psychologists such as Wolfgang Koehler discovered respecting cognition or even perception, what had been thought to be discrete perceptual parts were in fact also determined particulars within a cognitive or perceptual whole, In short, that here, too, empirical coherence could


be obtained only by postulating the non-additivity of parts within a whole, and also the epistemological priority of the whole to its parts, contradicting a fundamental axiom of empiricism.

Koehler emphasizes that behaviorism -- and in this it closely resembles its so-called arch-rival, introspectionism -- manifests a religious belief in the existence and priority of things-in-themselves the fundamental postulate of empiricism. Both behaviorism as a so-called objective science and introspectionism as a so-called subjective science, reject mental organization as the scientific object for psychology, viz. reject the study of the necessary structuring properties of "O," the human "organism," that mediate, universalize, between particular stimuli and particular responses. The one, introspectionism, is simply biased toward the "pure" stimuli; the other, behaviorism, toward the responses -- each within a common radical-empiricist worldview.

Having shown the essential methodological unity of behaviorism and introspectionism, Koehler points out that the behaviorist, obsessed as he is with proving man's objectivity (that is, his complete passivity) within what he conceives as a universe of pure things, "forgets that to prove the existence of the independent physical world is about as difficult as to make sure that other people have experiences."(7)

Koehler notes that the behaviorists are engaging in pure delusion when they suppose that they, posing as scientists, can so efface themselves that the world presents itself (to them? to God?) as a pure datum, as though it would not necessarily be affected in the very process of observation, either through the reordering by the observing scientist's perceptual and higher mental processes or palpable changes brought about in the real world by the very process of observation. Thus, says Koehler, when the behaviorists pay religious homage to the pure objectivity of physics they do not understand the elemental facts of scientific method, insofar as they fail to understand that "the material to be observed and the process of observing belong to the same system."(8)

With regard to scientific method, Koehler demonstrates his discovery, similar to that of Freud after the failure of the 1895 "Project": that each scientific "area" has its own specific methods of investigation. The behaviorists fail to realize


what was understood by both Freud and Koehler from different starting points, which is that "psychology as a young science" (the name of a chapter in Koehler's Gestalt Psychology) has need of its own methods which are distinct from those of neurophysiology. If the fundamental laws of human existence are other than the special "laws" of physics and biology, the paradigms par excellence for the behaviorists, the researchers in these latter fields will learn absolutely nothing about human psychological laws by methods appropriate only to those fields. But as Koehler points out, the behaviorists are as incompetent in their understanding of physics as they are of psychology,

For Koehler the fundamental property of mind is its appropriateness to interpreting the physical world, just as Freud's fundamental discoveries concerned the self-structuring of mind to make itself appropriate to the exigencies of mediating its relation to the "physical" world through that of the "social" world, whose lawful and contradictory relations are internalized in each individual.

In particular, man, as distinguished relatively from the lower animals, evinces his superior understanding of the physical world by his grasp of nature-as-a-whole, as contrasted with the stimulus-boundedness of the lower forms of life. In an overwhelming battery of experiments, Gestalt psychologists demonstrated that the S-R psychology of Watson and other behaviorists -- which systematically rejects the organizing properties of the human mind -- could in no way coherently explain processes which require Gestalt conceptions subordinating the particular to the holistic, e.g., the various constancies such as perceived constancies of size, shape, and brightness when physical stimuli are changing within certain limits.(9) According to S-R theory, since it is the particular physical stimuli which are learned, no recognition should occur if "important" stimuli are changed, all the more so when all stimuli are changed, as is indeed the case in a musical key transposition, where recognition nevertheless not only occurs, but the transposition itself may even pass unnoticed. Small wonder Skinner is reluctant to admit the fact that he is an S-R psychologist!

Koehler, even before a similar observation was made by Chomsky, noted that because of such devastating fallacies in the very premises of behaviorism, the behaviorists try to fudge their way out by using the term "stimulus" in as loose a


fashion possible. If pressed, they use a "stimulus" or "stimulus set" -- Skinner's "operant"-- as a quasi-Gestalt in one embarrassing situation while vehemently denying elsewhere they do any such thing.

Even relatively simple perceptual processes break down the pretenses of S-R theory. The Ehrenfels qualities such as "cleverness," "turbidity," "roughness," etc., have been demonstrated to be part/whole, i.e., Gestalt relationships. That is, a liquid which is called "turbid" within one environmental context will be perceived as "clear" in another. Similarly with lower order concepts such as "simple," "regular," "harmonious," "symmetrical," "round," "edge," "beginning," and, of course, "part" itself! Not surprisingly, Skinner also wants to do away with the teaching of perception in psychology departments -- it's too embarrassing for him.

So impoverished, in fact, is the behaviorist system that it is not even adequate to describe behavior among the higher orders of animal life. The beasts refute the behaviorists, says Koehler, by rejecting the stimulus-boundedness of their S-R psychology. Koehler cites Lashley as having "been the first to show that animals 'transpose.' Having been trained to choose, say, the darker of two gray objects, they shift their response when two other objects of the same class are presented."(10) The animals Lashley studied thus learned not a particular stimulus but rather a relation between a part "A" and a whole which consisted of both A and not-A. It was not the physical stimuli which the animals learned but the concept "grayer" or "darker."

To the naive observer it must seem rather astonishing that decades after scientists such as Koehler and Freud had made revolutionary breakthroughs in the understanding of consciousness and its determinants, completely discrediting the pretensions of behaviorism and its founder, Watson, [we? - transcriber] should be treated to a re-hash of this unscientific junk; and that furthermore this god-son of a quack, Skinner, should be reputed "dean of American psychology"!

Let us heed what Dr. Skinner has to say for himself ... and sigh that science and education should come to this.


"As far as I'm concerned, the organism is irrelevant as the site of physiological processes or as the locus of mentalistic activities.(11) Here Skinner puts forward his one claim to "innovation" with respect to his master, Watson, which at the same time perfectly catches the master's spirit. Onto the midden heap of his own mindlessness he tosses his own brain.

Ignoring the obvious implications of this heroic ablation Skinner claims that "My interest is in a science of behavior which is part of biology; it deals with observable events, not with the fictitious or metaphorical apparatus which Freudians feel they observe in the organism."(12) Like the hurdy-gurdy monkey who must bite the preferred coins to see if they are real, Skinner understands "observable events" as "Can I smell it? chew it? bounce it? etc.

Skinner seems to be so totally ignorant of his paradigm, biology, as to suppose that it is concerned with "observable events" in the immediate "sense certainty" sense by which he seems to understand it. The fundamental discoveries of biology have never been "observable events" which were physically "seen" by their discoverers. Darwin never "saw" evolution with his two eyes nor Oparin the spontaneous generation of life. Thus when Skinner says, "as far as I'm concerned both Freudian theory and conditioned reflexology are cumbersome and unnecessary explanatory systems,"(13) his application of Occam's razon strikes less at Freud than his own cortex, which it will be remembered he earlier obligingly removed from a position of importance for him. In fact, by rejecting conditioned reflexology, which is the camouflaged premise of his behaviorism, he simply gives explicit form to this act of self-mutilation.

Criticisms of Freud & Koehler

Not that Freud is immune to criticism any more than Koehler. But the serious criticisms which have been directed toward their major work have tended only to buttress their case against behaviorism all the more firmly.

Whereas for Skinner "it doesn't make any difference" as to "whether things are conscious or unconscious,"(14) Fromm has shown not only the significance of the distinction but also the revolutionary praxis in Freud's formulation of the


distinction -- the demand that the unconscious be made known to the conscious. This was Freud's own formulation of the great Enlightenment program to submit religion-in-general to the critique of reason. But, says Fromm, Freud erred in hypothesizing man as primarily an individual who bears sexual and self-preservative instincts overlain by a secondary social nature. In doing so Freud created "a variant of the classic homo economicus, in this case a homo sexualis." (15) In various of his works Fromm discusses the actual social etiology of what had been viewed as instincts by Freud in what amounted on Freud's part to a half-hearted preservation of l'homme-machine.

Where Fromm criticizes Freud for mistakenly locating in the individual-genetic what is actually derivable through the socialization process, a similar criticism is tendered by Piaget against "Gestalt psychology's static a-priorism." Just as homo sexualis is essentially born with his death and sex instincts as biological givens, despite the secondary social overlay, so Gestalt-Mensch is born with his immutable cognitive categories. Piaget's critique of Gestalt psychology takes the form of a theory of development specifying the major, relatively stable cognitive paradigms which the child successively evolves in the process of becoming a cognitive adult. Thus Gestalt psychology's discovery of the priority of the whole to the part is extended by Piaget to developing-individual-mind-as-a-whole so that all cognitive behavior at a relatively stable moment of a given maturation stage tends to subordinate all the derivative schemata to one principal scheme or paradigm, as if it were a Kantian transcendental ego or "universal of universals" but one having a species-lawful individual history. Piaget's own words are, "The ... schema is...a Gestalt which has a history."(16) As Piaget's scientific biographer puts it, both Piaget and Gestalt psychology "agree that cognitive activities ... are structured totalities from the outset and not, as classical associationism would have it, isolated elements or associative syntheses of such elements. Both theories are holistic to the core."(17)

Chomsky's Attack

A recent, important underlining of Skinner's blundering is set forth in Noam Chomsky's review of Skinner's Verbal Behavior. To appreciate the devastation wrought on Skinner by Chomsky's annihilation of the book, one has only to recall


that all breeds of logical positivism, behaviorism included, reduce "the whole of reality to physical phenomena and a language. "(18) Linguist Chomsky takes away Skinner's "language"!

Chomsky's critique argues that no S-R psychology can explain even the merely formal capacity of human beings to produce and understand an unlimited number of grammatical sentences and distinguish them from ungrammatical sentences, from sentences which are grammatical but nevertheless meaningless, from mere sentence fragments, etc. -- all of which are real capacities of actual human speakers. Nor can S-R psychology explain in a coherent and economical way how an ambiguous sentence is assigned multiple interpretations, or conversely, how several seemingly different sentences have a common underlying syntactical structure or formal semantic interpretation.

The only "language" that could come out of the S-R psychology of Skinner's Verbal Behavior is parrot prattle, the goal of Skinner's reform in education: programmed instruction.

Chomsky demonstrates that not only are Skinner's linguistic qualifications nil, but in fact his so-called "theory of language" is nothing more than a hocus-pocus reformulation of already debunked traditional formulations such as used to be taught in country grammar schools. The key Skinnerian "scientific" vocabulary of stimulus, response, reinforcement, etc., is used so imprecisely and changeably as to be virtually meaningless.

Stimuli, Chomsky points out, is often used by Skinner in such a way that "stimuli" are driven back inside the organism with a resulting reinstatement of mentalistic psychology in the actually derogatory sense of that term -- this merely renews the suspicion already implied by Koehler, that each behaviorist discovers "man's" -- that is, his own -- mindlessness in a traumatic moment of introspection, thereafter hysterically repressed.

Chomsky demonstrates that when Skinner is sufficiently vague to evade indictment for such embarrassing mentalisms, and yet not so constantly vague as to be utterly vacuous; in these exceptional moments -- and they are indeed rare -- Skinner becomes circular. Unfortunately, Chomsky


diagnoses this phenomenon as a mere quirk in the realm of verbal discourse.

Skinner's Epistemology

Skinner, apparently in the dark as to his actual existential situation and craving for lux if not for veritas, cries out his fundamental scientific postulate, "We need a complete account at the external level."

In Hegel's time it was the phrenologists who sought to give "a complete account" of mind "at the external level." These knuckleheads, whom Hegel soundly rapped in the Phenomenology, seem to have found a new birth in the modern Skinner-heads who feelingly finger the ruguosities on each other's numbskull. Skinner says, "I defined theory as an effort to explain behavior in terms of something going on in another universe, such as the mind or the nervous system. Theories of that sort I do not believe are essential or helpful."(19) The phrenologists at least tried to explain the inner workings by means of the outer bumps. Skinner, on the other hand, argues that the world itself is nothing but the protuberances.

The most staggering of Skinner's delusions -- that he is a scientist -- orbits around the idée fixe that psychology should develop itself according to the paradigm of the natural sciences. "We can follow the path taken by physics and biology by turning directly to the relation between behavior and the environment and neglecting supposed mediating states of mind."(20) Since the higher species distinguish themselves from the circling planets and one-celled forms of life precisely by their possession of those "mediating states of mind," what Skinner is proposing to do by "neglecting" them is to neglect altogether the problem of explaining the special laws characterizing the uniqueness of these higher beings. This is admitted explicitly when Skinner complains that psychology, unlike physics, keeps on "personifying things ... as if they had wills, impulses, feelings, purposes." Skinner blankly supposes that the anthropomorphizing tendencies of ancient physics should be equally eschewed in the study of -- the anthropos himself! Imagine, says Skinner, treating the behavior of human individuals, or even housecats for that matter, as governed by laws other than those contained in Newtonian physics.

But Skinner is lacking even a grasp of high


school physics. Physics too, e.g., atomic physics, was developing elaborate and penetrating theories about internal structures and particles which had never been seen in the physical sense-certainty manner Skinner doggedly demands. If scientists had followed Skinner's logical-positivist advice, they would have confined themselves to mere hare-brained attempts to find statistical correlations between the "observable events" of input and output, eschewing any attempt to formulate creative hypotheses regarding the atom's internal structure to explain those various correlations.

Fortunately for technology, real scientists, as opposed to Skinner, know better. Thus, Skinner merely takes up the posture of Descartes of the Rules for the Regulation of the Mind when he says, "scientific progress comes about by a progression from the more easily answered questions to the more difficult."(21) The reality behind Skinner's cliché is that Skinner demands, or pretends to demand, the solution to problems which could not possibly be solved now, to put matters charitably, Chomsky scoffs at Skinner on precisely this point in noting that Skinner futilely seeks the causation of specific verbal behavior, e.g., what Joe says when the income tax form arrives, when little is "known about the specific character of this behavior"; similarly, says Chomsky, Skinner speculates "about the process of acquisition" at a time when there is little "understanding of what is acquired."(22)

It will be recalled that in this same review of Skinner's Verbal Behavior Chomsky exposed the fraud of Skinner's "scientific objectivity," by exposing Skinner's use of concealed mentalisms of the most imprecise sort. In one of numerous examples to the point, Chomsky notes that "when Skinner uses probability insofar as he means anything at all he is merely substituting the word probability, with its favorable connotations of objectivity, as a cover term to paraphrase such low-status words as interest, intention, belief, and the like."

Skinner's own verbal behavior is thus comparable to the mumbo-jumbo rantings of an advertising executive who scavenges among four centuries of science and civilization culling scrap phrases whose real significance is beyond his ken.

But if Skinner represents the decomposed


leftovers of the incompetent Watson, brought in from the compost pile where they were deposited some decades ago and now reheated in chemically degraded form by Skinner, it remains to cite clinical details as to the organic composition of this pestilential heap and to inquire why anyone in his right mind would be caught consuming this mess, rather than immediately seeking appropriate garbage disposal methods.

Since Skinnerian man is devoid of mind, even the Lockean tabula rasa, one must not dwell too long on a phenomenology of Skinner's mindlessness, since there is literally nothing in it for us. Human behavior is entirely determined by what Skinner calls "the environment." "It is the environment which acts upon the perceiving person, not the perceiving person who acts upon the environment."(23)

But Skinner uses the term "environment" not to refer to what is outside the organism. "Awareness is a reaction to a part of the environment -- like any other behavior -- but it happens to be a part of the environment contained within the organism itself." Skinner's "environment," just as Chomsky noted of his usage of "stimulus control," is an example of the worst sort of disguised mentalism.

Remembering that one of Skinner's fond poses was as a biologist, what biologist would confuse the fundamental organism/environment distinction as Skinner does -- and not be run out of the profession in ridicule? Just as Skinner fondly employs the term "organism" to blur the distinctions among human beings, pigeons, and amoebae -- precisely where the distinctions define the subject at hand -- he follows this up by dismissing as irrelevant the organizing properties of the organism -- be they "mediating states of mind" or mere physiological processes -- precisely when such distinctions are crucial for distinguishing the organism from the thinghood around it.

Skinner's "organism" is in no way differentiated from the subject matter, say, of crystallography. Not only does Skinner blur environment and organism, not only is his organism unorganized, but his remaining notion of environment is no less of a muddle. Sometimes it consists of the world of things, that is, nature without man, e.g., the world at 10,000,000 B.C. or earlier. "Our school systems could bring people even more under control of the


natural environment and less under the control of what other people say."(24) The "prehistoric date is not an exaggeration; Skinner explains the importance of "building dependence on things." He says, "One of the advantages in being dependent on things rather than on other people is that the time and energy of other people are saved."(25)

Skinner is pathetically unaware that man's dependence on "things" is invariably mediated by his dependence on other men, on human society in general, which alters nature by making it nature-for-man, whether in the form of food, clothing, books, rat-cages, pigeon-ping-pong balls, etc. Man's dependence "on things" is no saving of the "time and energy of other people" in another form, i.e., as the appropriation of an aliquot portion of the labor power of human society as a whole, including that of other historical human societies now passed away. Man "dependent on things rather than on other people" is a feral being outside the human species, thus no human being at all.

The only individuals who could envisage "building dependence on things" as an alternative to "other people" are believers in fetishism. Real nature is humanized nature, nature-for-man, known and appropriated only through mankind as a whole. Skinner's fetishism is the degraded religious perception viewed by the advanced victim of capitalism. The closest Skinner comes to recognizing man's dependence on man is his comment (characteristically contradicting his earlier statement that it is better "being dependent on things ... than on other people") that "among the 'things' upon which a person should become dependent are other people."(26)

Not only does Skinner contradict the imperative of his earlier statement, but he has man becoming dependent on man because -- "other people" can be brought under the category of "things." But this particular reduction is no great Skinnerian discovery by any means. It is the quintessential epokhe of every capitalist ego for whom all "goods" have a single "value," their going prices as commodities. Skinner's "science" is on this point nothing but naive commodity fetishism.

When Skinner picks up another pose, "Darwin," he writes like this: "Environment acts in an inconspicuous way; it does not push or pull, it


selects," ignorantly blurring the distinctions between the human environment in which man lives and the pre-human environment of the planet several million years ago. He blurs over the distinction between the purposive characteristics of human social evolution as contrasted with the relatively blind forces operative in the earliest Pleistocene.

Who Controls the Environment?

It is this amorphous environment, which at once contains everything and nothing, by which Skinnerian man's "behavior is wholly determined." (27) But just as he muddied his use of "stimulus" and "environment" as much as he could to hide his charlatanry, so too he falls back on phrase-juggling to hedge his statements about "determination" or "control." Thus, although man's "behavior is wholly determined" by the environment, Skinner proceeds then to contradict himself by asserting that "man is always changing his environment"(28) so that "the individual controls himself by manipulating the world in which he lives."

Skinner attempts to preserve the agreeable predicates of autonomy ("the individual controls himself") while simultaneously vociferously denying their existence. What he attempts to justify, but by the most evasive treatments, is that he would wish most people to be "wholly determined" by "the environment" because "the control of the environment as a whole must be delegated to specialists -- to police, priests, owners ... and so on, with their specialized reinforcers."(29) Being "on principle" opposed to "aversive" methods, no doubt Skinner will protest he is imagining a new kind of constabulary armed with candy canes when he alludes to the special place he has for the "police ... with their specialized reinforcers."

According to Skinner, popular opinion invokes a fetish against his proposal for control "as if the answer were necessarily threatening."(30) For after all, says Skinner, although in a scientific laboratory where pigeons are being studied, the "apparatus exerts a conspicuous control on the pigeon ... we must not overlook the control exerted by the pigeon."(31) The pigeon has after all "determined the design of the apparatus and the procedures in which it is used" just as "in a very real sense, then, the slave controls the slave driver."

Skinner's program to reduce the laws of human


nature to those of a de-humanized nature, the de-natured Skinnerian "environment," is continued in his attempted reduction of human freedom to lowest-order terms. "Man's struggle for freedom is not due to a will to be free, but to certain behavioral processes characteristic of the human organism, the chief effect of which is the avoidance of or escape from so-called "aversive" features of the environment."(32)

Skinner "simplifies" the moral question of "freedom" to a form perhaps appropriate for the amoeba. The Skinnerian "freedom" is simply the programmed twitch-reflexes of lower organisms to physical stimuli -- a negative tropism. Accompanying the "simplification" of the problem of human freedom is that of its basis, the human individual self, called "autonomous man" by Skinner, which he also tries to simplify out of existence. As Skinner puts it, "Environmental contingencies now take over functions once attributed to autonomous man.... It is the autonomous inner man who is abolished, and that is a step forward."(33)

The most recent practical effort to abolish "autonomous inner man" is the acute "depersonalization" suffered by new arrivals to German concentration camps. The Dutch Jew Elie Cohen accounts how prisoners suffered "an estrangement from one's ego, an estrangement from one's own body, and an estrangement from the surrounding world."(34) He goes on to describe this as a subject/object split in which one becomes a mere object like other objects. Cohen explains this "acute depersonalization" as "a defense mechanism of the ego" under extreme conditions in which reducing oneself to a depersonalized, vegetable-like state was appropriate to the particular reality of the concentration camp "environment."

In explaining why so few prisoners escaped from the transport trains that carried them from one camp to the next, Cohen notes how successfully the Nazis had abolished the "autonomous inner man": "For years we had had it hammered into us by the SS that we only had to obey orders, that we must not think, that we must not take any initiative, that others thought for us, that we must not take our fate in our own hands -- and consequently I was afraid to make an independent decision. Those who did venture an attempt to escape apparently had sufficient independence of


spirit left to free themselves from this influence at this critical stage."(35)

The irony of Skinner's reduction of freedom to "flight from aversive stimuli" is that it is precisely those in whom the "autonomous man" has been "abolished" who, being for effective purposes vegetables, cannot perform that even seemingly elemental flight, let alone higher expressions of freedom.

The only real coherence in Skinner's thoughts that binds together all the vacuity, triviality, circularity, etc., is his unflagging drive to reduce human attributes to those of things. The abolition of self and freedom necessary to this process is accompanied by an appropriate value-theory which could be characterized as Mindless Manicheanism. His universe is composed of two Grand Classes of unrelated things, the Good Things and the Bad Things. "Good things are positive reinforcers."(36) Their salient characteristic is that "we 'go for' such things." As for the Bad Things, "they are all negative reinforcers, and we are reinforced when we escape from or avoid them."

It should be obvious that what is "good" for one individual will be "bad" for the next. This being clearly the value system of a disorganized anarchy, it is therefore necessary to introduce a contrary and contradictory optimizing principle to attempt to create an organized anarchy. "Presumably, there is an optimal state of equilibrium in which everyone is maximally reinforced." Skinner is reviving systematic contradictions of the English utilitarians Bentham and Mill -- omitting the political principles of these authors, their defense of bourgeois-democratic liberty. These latter he indeed attacks, while at the same time employing the value-theory on which Bentham and Mill premised their defense!

Skinner then introduces a third optimizing criterion which contradicts both his first and the second, to the effect that things are Good or Bad "because of the contingencies of survival under which the species evolved."

These amazing Skinnerian discoveries, each of which contradicts the other, he calls his "science of values" and describes this triumph as the definitive "province of behavioral science," as contrasted with the other sciences. Then, a few pages later, when it is in the interest of his argument to


de-emphasize the value-biases of his "science," he negates all that he has said about his postulated values by insisting that his "technology is ethically neutral"!

The self's loss of freedom in Skinner's system, its reduction in value to that of a thing, and that in turn to an inchoate "ethical" anarchy, has its corresponding "other" or universal loss in the loss of dignity. The self's loss of freedom, its value, could only come about through the abdication of the social basis, the laws or universal guarantees, which insure the realization of its own particularity. In any case, Skinner makes freedom (for him a negative tropism) and dignity (special positive reinforcement) so pale, no one would possibly want to defend it in the form he posits it.

Having thus attempted to persuade the reader that he and other human beings have no self, freedom, or dignity; and, that there are three different methods of valuing things, each contradictory, Skinner now assumes the reader is prepared to accept a still fourth "value." This will be seen in retrospect as the value toward which all the others and related digressions were tending. "A culture which for any reason induces its members to work for its survival is more likely to survive. It is a matter of the good of the culture, not of the individual" (Skinner's own emphasis).

It is to this "value," that is, the survival of a culture regardless of the values it bases itself on, which is Skinner's real "science of values." When Skinner says his "technology is ethically neutral" he is simply expressing his belief that the "law of the jungle" applied to human affairs is ethical neutrality unleashed,

It has been documented what "value-free" technology of behavior the Third Reich developed to induce "its members to work for its survival." As Himmler put it, "What happens to the Russians, what happens to the Czechs, is a matter of complete indifference to me... Whether other nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture."(40)

What the anarchist Himmler shares with Skinner is that both alike hold to the form of pragmatism which sees the particular (the "culture" or "master race") as in irreconciliable contradiction with other particulars. This outlook pervades Skinner:


"Perhaps we cannot now design a successful culture as a whole, but we can design better practices in a piecemeal fashion."(41) Insofar as Skinner has any concrete proposals as to how "to solve the terrifying problems that face us in the world today," they are such "piecemeal" drivelings as one might hear outside the door of a bar at closing time, e.g., "the affluent pursuit of happiness is largely responsible for pollution."(42)

Skinner, like his pigeons, is trapped in the cage of his own world view. As an empiricist, he invariably assumes that what holds for the part is true of the whole. "A child is born into a culture as an organism is placed in an experimental space. Designing a culture is like designing an experiment."(43) No matter what Skinner says, he invariably assumes the universe is his own triviality and street corner wisdom blown large. A pigeon turns a figure-eight; he assumes he can solve the housing shortage; and in no more than one sentence: "Overcrowding can be corrected by inducing people not to crowd"(44) -- doubtless, by the "police ... with their special reinforcers."

Skinner's Religion

To acknowledge Skinner for the fool he is, to trace him in all essential features to the debunked Watsonian paternity, to show that his own novelties merely multiply the disaster -- is to leave unexplained a crucial question without which all else is incomprehensible. How is it that such a clown is reputed to be the foremost psychologist in the United States? Why is behaviorism the hegemonic form of psychology when in truth it is not even psychology at all -- or any other science for that matter?

The beginning of an understanding lies in the secret that the Divinity School at Harvard University has relocated itself in the offices of the psychology department. Skinner revives the Jamesian tradition as Harvard's most distinguished variety of religious experience.

Feuerbach has demonstrated that "heaven" has always been mankind's earthly essence pasted upside down in the stars. The heaven of the behaviorists -- their alienated essence -- they name The Environment. It is even more nebulous than such places generally are -- a plurality of dead objects -- sans mind, sans relations, sans everything. The behaviorist Environment is as


empty as what it externalizes -- their own dead heads.

It was Antonio Gramsci's insight that common sense is simply debased religion. Skinner demonstrates that the converse is also true. Behaviorism is common sense elevated to theology, The rites of the behaviorist mass are celebrated -- the way aspirins are sold on t.v. -- with much brouhaha of retorts and alembics.

The Skinnerian Nirvana is union with the realm of the inorganic, where no self-consciousness or even consciousness exists. The Skinnerian Organism is controlled, as mortal men by the Omnipotent, by a Mysterious Outside Force called Environment.

Men themselves are conceived as helpless ignoramuses who must be manipulated behind their backs on a piecemeal basis by this god, The Environment, and -- the hidden deus ex machina -- the technicians "with their specialized reinforcers."

As Marx observed, fetishism is the crudest form of religion. Animism, animal worship, is at least a step higher: man's god becomes the animal.(45) Skinner's god is located in the thing.

Don Burrus Quixote

In one of the medieval Spanish ballads concerning the national hero, El Cid, it is described how upon his death he was embalmed by a servant and lashed to his war horse with a board stuck up his spine for support. In this manner the Cid's mortal remains were able to assist his Christian survivors in routing a Moorish king twelve days after his decease.

If embalmer Skinner does not have such luck in a similar strait, it is perhaps that after so many years of oxidation there is not much left of the 17th century l'homme-machine to prop up. Yet this is the corpse he brings into battle still. As he puts it, "I short-circuit Kant by going back to the British empiricists."(46)

In the short-circuiting process irreparable brain damage would seem to have been inflicted, since Skinner fails to note that the classical empiricists such as Locke and Hume, even though they strove to show how the individual's knowledge was determined by particular experience, at least never thought for a moment of ignoring the problem of explaining consciousness. What they shared with


Kant, Hegel, etc., was a commitment to explain precisely the relation of man's consciousness to his being in the world. Though Locke and Hume falsely saw the world of particular sense experience as the sufficient determinant of consciousness, a judgment for which they were severely criticized by Kant and Hegel, as scientists they never tried to "solve" the problem by denying consciousness, i.e., denying the problem even existed. The short-circuited Mr. Skinner simply removes the inner content of these philosophers as part of his undertaking.

At times, Skinner implies that his objections to consciousness and subjectivity are of a principled sort, as when he quotes Popper approvingly, "What we want is to understand how such nonphysical things as purposes, deliberations, plans, decisions, theories, tensions, and values can play a part in bringing about physical changes in the physical world." But as often as not Skinner behaves like any academic duke trying to protect his fief from scholarly squatters. "The important objection to mentalism is of a very different sort. The world of the mind steals the show. Behavior is not recognized as a thing in its own right."(47) Harvard psychologist Skinner is ignorant of the fact that one can as little discuss human behavior after having removed the human mind as human breathing after having removed the lungs.

In the seventeenth century, empiricists performed the useful service of attacking those metaphysicians whose preoccupation with the "beyond" suspiciously side-stepped the real problems of the real world. By the empiricists' insistence that man's feelings and ideas arose from the reality of man's being in this world, not the beyond of the next, they undermined the medieval theological doctrine that man must before all else cultivate his soul for the journey to the hereafter and not trouble himself with the misery of the world of the here-and-now and its monarchs.

Skinner -- the same way he tries to pose in the laboratory smock of the physicist or biologist -- also tries to play the revolutionary Rationalist critic of theology. But his sans-culotte is lumpy from the garment he wears underneath, a cassock. Fighting a revolution three hundred years too late can at best be a quixotic deed, and more likely, a counter-revolution.

When Skinner, in the 20th century, fancies he becomes Instant Scientist by mumbling that in a


"scientific conception" of man "a person does not act upon the world, the world acts upon him," his mechanistic translation of the Newtonian paradigm, which was quite suitable for solution of limited problems of celestial and earthly mechanics as could be handled in Newton's time, becomes simply a voodoo-chant when applied not only to human or higher animal life but even physics itself,

As Piaget noted, "Positivism is a certain form of epistemology which neglects or underestimates the activity of the subject... All my studies have demonstrated to me the role of the subject's activities."{48) Neglecting "the activity of the subject" -- that is the real content of Skinner's illiterate homage to the 17th and 18th century empiricists. It is obvious he has no real knowledge of their significance -- he, like any half-literate crank, simply appropriates what gossip he has heard of them, provided these rumors are at the same time agreeable to his own sophistries.

The other aspect of empiricism which Skinner appropriates in his eclectic fashion is that of being-in-itself, the notion that the universe is made of an infinity of atomic facts, things, or events, and that the complex is simply a mechanical composition of these discrete and unchanging facts. It is an outlook that pervades Skinner's work, as that of radical empiricists generally. In this sense, as Koehler noted earlier, underlying both the behaviorists and the introspectionists (such as William James) there is an inherent unity which belies the surface appearance of antagonism, Thus James, describing the foundations of his method in his Essays in Radical Empiricism says, "My description of things, accordingly, starts with the parts and makes of the whole a being of the second order. It is essentially a mosaic philosophy, a philosophy of plural facts like Hume and his descendants."(49)

Skinner, of course, is too much the untutored indifferentist to be so explicit about his philosophy; he would prefer not to have one at all. He reveals it despite himself e.g., the earlier phrase about behavior being "recognized as a thing in its own right," or the manifold passages where he shows his ignorant belief that society is simply the additive property of the individuals in it. "A species has no existence except as a collection of individuals, nor has a family, tribe, race, nation, or class."(50) This viewpoint was refuted by Durkheim and Freud, who showed that it is precisely the real existence of societies, classes,


families, etc., which determine to a significant extent the individual's behavior. The reductio ad absurdum of Skinner's notion, that the properties of the whole are identical to those of the individual, is Skinner's pronouncement that "a citizen" all by himself "may overthrow a government."(51) Such idiocy is simply part and parcel of his observation that "a culture is not the product of a creative 'group mind' or the expression of a 'general will.' "(52)

The Windmills Win Out

It was precisely the idiot tradition of facts-in-themselves, of the whole as a "secondary" phenomenon, which was undermined by revolutionary developments in the best French 18th century philosophy and thoroughly overturned in the revolution in German critical philosophy from Kant through Marx. When Skinner "short-circuits" this critique in order to more passionately embrace the 17th century mechanical materialist corpse, he performs a ritual shared by all modern-day positivists.

The initial repudiation of the empiricist tradition came from its own progeny, the French epigones of Locke. Thus while Condillac merely managed to translate Locke into a statuesque Gallic, his colleague Diderot demonstrated in the d'Alembert dialogues his superiority, two hundred years before the fact, to Skinner and similar retrograde evolutionary lines.(53) In these dialogues he not only den_onstrates, contrary to Skinner's view, the real existence of a species as something other than the individuals in it, but in fact shows that the individual's existence is dependent on that of the species rather than the Skinnerian converse. He furthermore postulates, a century before Darwin, the evolution of the higher species out of the lower on a holistic-materialist basis.

Like the related discoveries of the Gestalt psychologists in psychology and Einstein in physics, Diderot refutes the Newtonian notion that motion exists in the thing-in-itself, demonstrating, on the contrary, that it can only be coherently presented as a part

whole relationship, a point Kant reflected in his unknowability of the thing-in-itself.

As against the incoherence of the logical positivist world of pure, independent facts, Diderot affirmed that "everything is connected in nature"


and that these relations are "known to us practically, by experience." He mocks the reductionist method of the positivists, which attempts to destroy the whole, at which level the problem is located. "Division is incompatible with the essence of forms, since it destroys them."

Nor did Diderot simply understand these matters formally but evinced an understanding of other aspects of general biology besides evolution, and in fact represented in his best works a more coherent method of understanding nature than that refracted through Darwin's Malthusian views, the prevailing form of empiricism in Darwin's day.

Diderot realized on the one hand that the human body was not a pure-and-simple individual but in fact an organized process subsuming innumerable determined beings each with a merely relative independence of its own. Conversely, he noted that the bee-species-individual was not the individual bee but rather the hive as a whole, inasmuch as no specialized individual existed apart from that whole bee-being. A related discovery was made a century and a half later by Eugene Marais in his The Soul of the White Ant, but worked out in greater detail, showing that the characteristic functions of living organisms exist only at the level of the termitary in the case of the white ant.(54)

Diderot advanced the view of a unitary material universe consisting of mutually dependent and interacting hierarchies of matter at various levels of organization, each of which had its own laws which could not be reduced to those of the lower orders, This holistic matter-aggregate, negated as a merely static moment and instead conceived as an unending matter-flow-through-time approximated Diderot's conception of evolutionary materialism, "Who knows what races of animals have preceded us? Who knows what races of animals will come after ours? Everything changes and everything passes away, only the whole endures."

The major shortcoming of Diderot's dialectic is that although he arrives at the insight that "the existence of connected phenomena" is "known to us practically, by experience," he cannot reasonably explain how man could come to comprehend the whole through the moments of his own particular experience. Locke's tabula rasa, the mirror with a memory, was unable to help him. For all the neurophysiological nets Diderot had run to and from the back of the glass, he had no way


to explain how he, Diderot, could understand the whole.

Diderot comes to an understanding of the world which refutes his still essentially Lockean epistemology, but is unconscious of the dilemma. Hume, on the other hand, becomes conscious of the fallacy of Locke's attempt to explain universality but lacks Diderot's holistic outlook. Hume therefore remains the skeptical empiricist rather than becoming skeptical of empiricism.

Self and Freedom

The explosion of heightened powers of subjectivity reflected in all the resonant layers of political and cultural life in the period around the French revolution was in fact due to a sudden awakening of the creative powers which resulted from the new inter-dependency of developing bourgeois society.

What Skinner mocks as the "autonomous man," the concept of self whose reality is diversely described by Rousseau, Kant, and the utilitarians -- that was just the other aspect of the new dependency, the developing collectivity of post-mercantile society.

A distinctive aspect of the consciousness-in-general of a socialist society is that the interrelatedness of the self and the collectivizing society is seen with open eyes, whereas in bourgeois society that fact is religiously hidden. The real basis of individuality is the social division of labor realizing itself in expanded reproduction. The more primitive the society from the point of view of productive organization, the more homogeneous, hence dispensable, particular labor in it. The more advanced the society, the more it must value the individual precisely for his individuality, inasmuch as his unique qualities of labor or conceptualization, realized socially, are of value to the whole society in the expanded reproduction process. For this reason, societies actually in such an expansive, relatively self-conscious phase of their development, elaborate laws or rights to protect the individual and thus the "engine" of its own productive growth.

When Skinner attacks the 18th century bourgeois-revolutionary program of freedom, dignity, autonomy, etc., calling for their abolition,


he is calling for nothing less than a return to primitivism. But this fervor for primitive solutions to the problems of capitalism in advanced decay was observed sufficiently in Germany and Italy several decades ago to obviate further desire on the part of any rational persons for a re-run of these experiments. In fascism, the "soul" of "advanced" capitalism expresses itself precisely through the primitive forms of slavery, barbarism, etc., having once disposed of "unscientific" "mentalisms" such as those political liberties which remained prior to its accession. It is hardly surprising that fascism, as the swinging soul of capitalism in its last drag, a Tarzan pelt, will require a Skinner.

Given his atavistic tendencies, it is not surprising that Skinner would represent an at least pre-18th century understanding of the world and attack from that retrograde standpoint the ideals of the bourgeois revolution itself. Indeed, his utterances tend to reflect such abysmal ignorance of civilization as it has been known in its better moments in the last two or three centuries that it is small wonder, perhaps in self-defense for his cultural mongolism, that he regards civilization as an accident. "Accidents have been responsible for almost everything men have achieved to date."(55)

Accidents are the one "degree of freedom" in the Skinnerian system of mechanics --the same pseudo-freedom as in the white-noise "music" of Flushing-John Cage.

Other Critics of Skinner

Of the reviews of Skinner's text by certain of the leading bourgeois newspapers and journals, perhaps the most contemptible is the New York Times' Lehmann-Haupt who averred that there was "no gainsaying the profound importance of B.F. Skinner's new book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity" and that "if you plan to read only one book this year, this is probably the one you should choose." By way of explanation Lehmann-Haupt notes that "Skinner is not nearly so vulnerable as he once seemed" because "he has confronted his many critics with telling counterarguments" so that "the book remains logically tenable."(56)

Similarly, the reviewer for Psychology Today, which also published the book in condensed form in its own pages, and sponsored it as a selection of its book club, demonstrated mental defects similar to those of Lehmann-Haupt, hedged round with, in


the reviewers own words, "pluralism, flexibility, moderation and the capacity to listen" -- those enduring qualities of the conceptual mediocrity. According to that reviewer Skinner is to be congratulated for describing things as they really are. "We may still pay lip-service to the folklore of freedom and dignity, but every person who works for a large institution knows that autonomy, individuality and independence really matter little in his world," a point of view which is precisely that of Skinner. The alienation of the capitalist work-place is used as an argument for removing individual rights altogether. The reviewer goes on to argue that "We are victims of our incredible inventiveness and ingenuity. Loss of freedom is the price we have been compelled to pay for the automobile, the computer, the jet plane, the supermarket,"(57) and so forth. Here, again, is Skinner's notion of science as that which makes man more and more pre_letermined, when on the contrary it is precisely scientific knowledge which progressively frees him from the chains of a heteronomous necessity.

Although Chomsky is predictably successful in his NY Review of Books article in deflating some of the more egregious of Skinner's pretenses, he is unable to make good on his promising opening hint that he would show the significance of Skinner's pseudo-science being promoted at the present time.(58) Instead, Chomsky makes it painfully apparent that he understands the significance of Beyond Freedom and Dignity in only a libertarian-anarchist fashion. Thus "modern industrial society," according to Chomsky, has "tendencies toward centralized authoritarian control," all of which is simply Hannah Arendt's "totalitarian" society drivel rebottled.

He further advertises the limitations of his formalistic critical competence by supposing that because "Skinner's science of behavior" is "quite vacuous," which is indeed the case, it therefore follows that it "is as congenial to the libertarian as to the fascist." Chomsky identifies vacuity with neutrality, the null-state, just as in his theory of language he mistakenly identifies creativity with the infinite generativity of grammatical sentences as a formal competence. Anyone who has read, say, Mein Kampf realizes how specially agreeable vacuity-posing-as-science is to a fascistic outlook. Thus Chomsky catches the gas-oven aromas emerging from Skinner's Beyond as a mere abstract formal possibility. Their location in present and


immediately forthcoming history eludes him.

Before investigating further the reality of Skinner's vacuity, it is useful to note here that neither Skinner nor his various reviewer-adherents or half-critical critics arise out of a void themselves. The thesis that man is mindless has pervaded the American intellectual "environment" for several generations as numerous academicians have introspectively assumed the real world was constructed of the same stuff as their own scholastic fantasies.

As immediately available examples one has the entire structural linguist school of Bloomfieldian epigonoi such as Hockett and his senile cousins. Like Skinner, the structural linguists try to play Toy Scientist by reducing language to their own atomic-phonemic noises and then working ponderously by sort-and-paste methods toward the sentence, hysterically trying to restore by mechanical addition that whole they destroyed in their original reduction. Denying the notion of concepts underlying the semantic interpretation of phrases and sentences, they attempt to explain meaning in terms of an S-R psychology identical to that of the behaviorists, with equally dismal results.

Similar proclivities for mindless empiricism have reigned for generations in American philosophy. William James boasted that his "description of things... starts with the parts and makes of the whole a being of the second order." He eliminated Mind by merging the subjective and objective into an amorphous flow of Experience. James' most accurate observation was that empiricism is a better ally of religion than other philosophies.

Other leading exponents of the long-standing Anglo-Saxon tradition of mindless empiricism out of which a Skinner could spring forth are the Deweys, Quines, Ayers and all their camp followers.

It begins to become less surprising that such an egregious pseudo-scientist could become "America's leading psychologist" when one sees his moral cousins similarly enthroned in other fields. Logical positivism and its specialized reflections into the various disciplines is presently the hegemonic world view among most Anglo-Saxon individuals.

The major intellectual breakthroughs of the


nineteenth and twentieth centuries, notably in the "social sciences," have been either implicitly or explicitly a refutation of the tenets of empiricism in its various forms, including mechanical materialism. Such have been the discoveries of Durkheim, Freud, the Gestalt psychologists, Piaget, Chomsky, Fromm, etc. -- aside from the more obvious extraordinary breakthroughs of Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, and Marx.

It is no coincidence that the best of bourgeois scholarship and physical science has generally taken at least a Kantian-level critical standpoint toward empiricism. No science of human society could possibly be developed on the basis of an empiricist philosophical viewpoint.

The relative limitations of the discoveries of these important non-Marxist scientists remain to be resolved by creative breakthroughs emerging concretely out of more advanced worldviews. A case in point is Chomsky's merely formal notion of linguistic creativity. Chomsky resolves the problem -- unmanageable with an S-R psychology -- of language universals and the child's discovering natural language grammar from an undetermined linguistic input. He does so by recourse to what he calls innate ideas, but which might as well be termed a species-hereditary "a priori." As a pre-Hegelian, Chomsky locates these universalizing structures entirely in the individual human child's species heredity, neglecting, as does Piaget also, the social formation of universals in the child. By the criterion of coherence with what is known otherwise of man, with which their discoveries must ultimately be shown to be coherent, their formulations will necessarily be superceded by others which reconcile the various presently existing incoherences.

From Ideology to Fascism

To explain why logical positivism and its various sub-species remain hegemonic in the United States, it is necessary to expatiate further on the question of the relation of Skinner's vacuity to his present popularity and future "utility." Before these "pragmatic" aspects of behaviorism can be discussed concretely, it is helpful to note in general terms how a fascist movement comes into being.

In a period of profound economic collapse, advanced capitalist states are no longer able to mediate between the various classes and layers of


the population through parliamentary and other democratic-juridical forms, but are instead impelled toward police-state and ultimately fascist forms of government in order to impose the necessary -- from a bourgeois point of view -- "rigorous cost-cutting" solutions to save capitalist property titles in their hour -- or decade -- of need. For reasons documented elsewhere, this is precisely the character of the present decade throughout the entire capitalist sector unless halted decisively by successful socialist revolutions.

The immediate point for consideration is the sociological process by which fascist movements are built up out of the "intellectual" productions of capitalist house servants such as Skinner, even when such persons rightly claim to have no conscious fascist intentions. In this context it must be remembered that it is precisely the house servant's proven qualities of social cretinism which helped him earn favor in the first place, but which also insures that he remains operative at a high level of unconsciousness. This caveat applies with all the more force to a Skinner, the very premise of whose pseudo-science is the impossibility for him of thought.

The question of conscious intentions aside, it is crucial to note a point which would not have been as necessary to make an audience of pro-working class individuals several generations ago. Today the general mindlessness of bourgeois intellectual life has become so pervasive that it has tended to discredit altogether the notion of ideas as a force in history.

A fascist movement does not develop just in the streets. It also develops in the realm of ideas, although these ideas, in truth, are the distillation of the gutter, and must return to whence they came to become a material force.

In ordinary times, the gutter has no use for the syllogisms emanating from certain professorial orifices. In a time of capitalist economic collapse, however, the two related forms of filth hunger for each other. Their symbiosis is an essential aspect in the development of a fascist movement.

The particular form of such academic fascist ideology, as Skinner's, corresponds to the sociological imperative of a fascist movement, to weld together otherwise antagonistic interest groups which are each trying to liberate themselves


in their own alienated terms, as though they were things-in-themselves. This is an imperative for the fascist movement, for which there is no principled, i.e., coherent solution. The fascist movement needs a "philosophy" which, precisely through its eclecticism and vacuity, provides the basis for an irrational unity. The "philosophy" simply picks up whatever scraps of congenial ideas happen to present themselves. The "philosophy" is thus put together on the same opportune basis as is the fascist social movement itself.

This is not simply an instance of fortuitous parallelism. Ideas do not exist as disembodied gases detected by instruments in their invisible peregrinations through the atmosphere. Academic ideas, in particular, have intellectuals (or, semi-intellectuals) attached to them -- the publicly certified attorneys for those ideas -- and attached to the attorneys and thus to the ideas of the attorneys, through links of varying strengths, are different strata of the masses. The "criticism of religion," the struggle in the realm of ideas, is only in the delusions of liberals some kind of Socratic dialogue between gods each of whom squats on his own free-floating cloud. Any real struggle in "the realm of ideas" leads to the discrediting of the attorneys who have organized masses of people around those ideas, hence the winning-over of defecting layers of the masses to one's own ideas, leaders, and associated masses.

It has been supposed that fascist movements have no philosophies -- because of the eclectic, vacuous, and pseudo-scientific character of the intellectual output of these movements. It is precisely the opportunist-recruitment imperatives of fascist movements which account for the unstable, eclectic and national or parochial character of their philosophies. Just as demoralized layers of the population are recruited on some basis, any basis, as they become immediately available, so also with the "ideas" of a fascist "program." However degraded they may be from a scientific point of view is unimportant. What counts for the pragmatically functioning fascist organization is, "Does it work? -- will it recruit a few more Brownshirts?"

The salient aspect of any future fascist philosophy, having otherwise acknowledged its seemingly haphazard character, the nation-specific and contemporary accidents by which a Rosenberg comes to be produced out of available German


traditions, a Gentile out of Italian, etc., what all of these philosophies have in common, which is simply another way of expressing their unscientific character, is a degraded concept of man which coincides with then-current self-conceptions of demoralized layers of the population. Indeed, one sees this aIl the more strikingly when the essential Untermensch character of the fascist philosophy attempts to disguise the fact in the wish-fulfillment language of the Uebermensch.

Thus, while the opportunist-recruiting imperatives determine the essential parochial-national character of various fascist philosophies, what they all have and must have is that underlying degraded self-concept. For the thrust of a fascist philosophy, however vacuous or circular it may seem to the formalistically-inclined critic, is to induce the masses it organizes not merely to associate themselves in some unspecific way with the movement representing those ideas, but to prepare in them with a mentality which will make them fit instruments for what that movement must accomplish. The degraded, anti-scientific concept of man is no accidental feature of the fascist philosophy. It is what a fascist society requires of its cadres, both what they do to themselves and, as cadres, to others. The Uebermensch who allow the gassing of Communist, Jew, gypsy, etc., Untermensch degrade themselves by admitting that the same could be done to themselves, that they too are "cost reducible."

But this mental preparation for a vegetable obedience was hardly something created de novo by the Nazis in 1933. The Nazis simply snatched up notions already "in the air" among lumpen layers and their academic soul-brothers, the intellectually degraded professors. The Nazis had simply to organize these ideas into a mass force.

Such conceptions exist in the United States of today no less than the Germany of the 1920's and 1930's -- tricked out, however, in native costumes which give them that "homey" quality craved by the philosophically rootless wherever they are.

These religious conceptions in their most sophisticated, therefore dangerous, form are the various branch sects of the Mother Church of logical positivism. For reasons having to do with its evangelical propensities, to be discussed below, the Church of the Behaviorist is the most aggressive of these sects.


All the sects, like the Mother Church itself, grew out of the centuries-old preparation of the English-speaking soil by the decayed compost of British seventeenth and eighteenth century philosophy.

Logical positivism, the fungous skeleton slithering out of the ex-Humed and un-Locked casket of empiricism, appears in its apotheosis as modern mindlessness, its degradation of man to thing, and its assumption that truth is located in the particular. It is this general form of future fascist "Soul" which already exists as a hegemonic intellectual culture in North American universities and among related layers of the population. It needs but to be turned into a mass force by the welding together on the one hand of the petit-bourgeois layers molded by these ideas, and, on the other hand, the various separatist and particularist groups already half in motion and in many cases already influenced by these ideas in their accessible street corner form.

The mindlessness of logical positivism and behaviorism is an immediately available "resource" for shaping fascist or pro-fascist movements among intellectual-oriented layers of the American population, though other familiar American intellectual products will vie also to make their contribution, e.g., pragmatism. Whether logical positivism itself even in vulgarized form could ever become the explicit philosophy of a fascist movement is not so much the point -- it is the process of mental preparation of cadres and the general population which makes the hegemony of these ideas presently dangerous to humanity.

In an epoch of relative stability of the capitalist economy, when there exists, at least in the advanced sector, a real basis for parliamentary-democratic processes, the professors drone on with these wretched ideas as they have for centuries and the damage, though real enough, is limited. It is precisely in the context of a collapsing bourgeois order that socialists can only view the present hegemony of pseudo-sciences such as behaviorism as of the utmost consequence.

Skinner's Fascism

The pro-fascist mental preparation induced in layers of the population is not simply confined to the broadcasting of these ideas throughout the universities and the public media. Skinner's


behaviorism is no mere abstract propagation of ideas about this fraud and confined only to the university population. He also calls for a program of implementation, a "technology of behavior," which is to be implemented throughout the population, and which has as its end the creation of precisely the form of human mind and social relations which his theories falsely attribute to actual man.

Skinner's theory of mind, his S-R psychology, is not simply a passive theory about what Skinner thinks might be the case but is precisely what he intends to bring into being, men who in effect act as though they "emit" pure responses to pure stimuli. This Skinnerian conception, if realized, would be the suitable general form of man for only one kind of state. It was precisely such conditioned "organisms" (Skinner's preferred "scientific" term for humans) who were sought out by German industrialists during the latter portion of the last World War to work as slaves in the factories expressly located nearby the concentration camps for that purpose. Skinnerian man is none other than the notorious "Kapo."

How we are to get from "here" to "there" can be pieced together from Skinner's various "practical" efforts or of those associated with him.

Skinner's advocacy of doing away with "freedom and dignity" will have come as no surprise to those who understood his pedagogical theories, e.g., his invention, programmed instruction. Man's freedom, in the cognitive sense, is his ability to generate concepts in a manner undetermined by particular stimuli. Intelligence, contrary to the racist professor Jensen, is a social product. When Skinner locates learning as an S-R bond rather than in the concept and characterizes knowledge as an individual product, he is at the same time implicitly destroying the related political aspects, e.g., freedom, dignity, the civil rights of "autonomous man," etc. Any creature whose learning consisted wholly of associations between fixed stimuli and fixed responses would be constitutionally incapable of civilization and a lot else besides.

Skinner himself admits there is no place for creativity in his system because, as a "determinist," he is certain that "nothing can be truly creative" and one certainly "cannot teach creative behavior"; "if it's creative, it has not been


taught."(59) The non-existence of creativity in Skinner's system is just another expression of the non-existence of concepts in it.

Creativity is the concept-forming human mind's relative freedom from stimulus-boundedness. Creativity can be taught, indeed is taught, not as a thing-in-itself, but through the socially mediated process of concept formation, whereby the individual creates the concept anew in a unique way, that is for himself or herself. Creativity is not a one-shot affair of some first discoverer. The "discoverer's" ability to discover the concept in the first place was mediated socially. So is his ability thereafter to realize the concept, which requires the productive efforts of others, and their own creative powers to create "his" concept for themselves.

Or, if Skinner means when he says, "You cannot teach creative behavior" that one cannot teach consciousness of that creative concept forming process, that too is false. To conceptualize the concept-forming process is quite possible -- but not for the S-R psychologist or his programmed-learning victim.

Skinner's pedagogical thinking is as reactionary as the decayed 17th century empiricism through which he mediates it. He openly celebrates the most mindless survivals of traditionalist education with its inculcation of alienated "special skills" which are mysterious ends-unto-themselves: "I certainly believe that something happens when, let us say, you memorize a poem or facts of geography. Techniques of memorizing are common to both and, as special skills, could be taught by themselves, apart from subject matter."(60) By this argument, since "memorizing" is a "special skill" which "could be taught" by itself "apart from subject matter," if Skinner had his way he should have the child learn the "special skill" of memorizing by working on paired nonsense syllables where there are no distracting stimuli. Then the child would learn the only "language" which is coherent with the theory of Skinner's discredited Verbal Behavior. This would in turn induce the proper state of mind for appreciating Skinner's other literature, such as his Beyond.

The best thing to be said for Skinner's writings on programmed instruction in any case is that they are the most explicit statement of the "drill and grill" pedagogical practice of American higher


education as it is presently known, that is, as an ill-disguised form of S-R conditioning of the paired nonsense-syllable variety.

A more overt form of S-R learning techniques, indicative of the kind of teaching Skinner and his fellow behaviorists would like to implement explicitly in educational institutions at large, has been tried out in "laboratory" form at various hospitals for the "severely mentally ill."

The system consists of putting hospital wards on "a 'token' economy. The patients are paid tokens -- actually poker chips -- for the work they do: for cleaning up corridors, dormitories and rooms; brushing their teeth, keeping clean, combing their hair, avoiding aggression -- even for engaging in social conversation.... They can redeem their tokens for candy, clothing, tobacco," etc., and in fact they cannot even "get any food without paying for it with tokens. They can earn the minimal number to buy meals if they are neat and clean at mealtimes."(61) Both the behaviorist doctors and the "severely mentally ill" have come to the same conclusion, says the article -- the slogan of all pragmaticists: "It works."

"True," Skinner remarks, "it is a simplified world," but then again it is one "in which a psychotic person can lead a decent life."(62) Cures thus are thrown out the window; an artificial laboratory situation is constructed to encourage the patient to reduce what remains of his mind to the dimensions of the mental hospital's token economy. Thus do logical positivists solve the world's problem, by alternately shrinking the world and the humans in it.

Another characteristic application of behaviorism's so-called "value-free" technology of behavior, this time in a wider, more ominous context, casts light on Skinner's supposed "liberal" aversion to aversion. A Skinnerian-type New York State welfare plan, scuttled for the moment because of opposition, called for reducing the state's already starvation-level welfare levels drastically, so that clients could not physically survive unless they made efforts "to be good" in various specified ways. This would earn them "brownie" points to help them earn their way, incrementally, back to the previous starvation level.

Though Skinner would no doubt feign horror at


such nakedly "aversive" techniques, it represents precisely the same method Skinner used to get his rats to do S-R conditioning experiments for him; the "bad" aversive "starving" was a necessary prelude to the "good" reinforcement of "correct" behavior.

If the preceding examples were not sufficiently indicative of the drift of the Skinnerian system, Skinner underlines his points further in his discussion of wage labor as a conditioning technique. Wage labor, Skinner says, is "an unhealthy system." If one nods at this point, expecting Skinner to now extoll the virtues of socialism, one is in for a great surprise. What is wrong with wage labor from the Skinnerian point of view, it turns out, is that it involves "some kind of supervision in order to be effective" because there is not enough reinforcement of the worker, i.e., it only comes once a week or more with the paycheck.

A reinforcement technique which does not have these disadvantages, Skinner notes, occurs when the "organism" works on a "piece-rate system." This "schedule," Skinner notes, unfortunately "is so powerful that most labor unions oppose it; it can burn a man up -- exhaust him." But if one does not have any unions to worry about, and one does not worry whether such a schedule will "burn a man up" or not -- the Krupp family in the early 1940's didn't -- one can only with Skinner nod appreciatively that "it commanded productive work. There's no doubt about that."(63) In fact, Skinner says, advertising his talents to those who may be interested, "these are just examples" among the many applications "to economics."

Continuing in this vein, "What we do in the laboratory, of course, is extremely technical, and often complex but it points to systems that would generate almost any level of activity on the part of a worker or student -- anyone, for that matter, who is being reinforced by what he is doing."(64) And this all with poker chips, no doubt, backed up by pokers.

Lest the worker or student worry about the consequences of being worked at "almost any level of activity," Skinner is ready to reassure him or her that it is not work but leisure that is most threatening because it "is a condition for which the human species has been badly prepared." Well, not the whole species. It turns out there is a minority


who over the generations have been biologically selected for their ability to adapt to leisure. The trouble is, it is precisely this select few who have "contributed very little to the gene pool." I.e., it is the genetically degraded non-leisured majority section of the population, the working class, which incessantly copulates and populates, thus creating a situation in which most of the species is only "prepared for short periods of leisure."(65) Thus Skinner echoes the racist views of his mongrel colleagues Jensen and Herrnstein.

In this light, workers, students, and other members of the human race will no doubt understand that Skinner is not raising an empty issue of academic philosophy when he avers, "Perception, needs, purposes, opinions and other attributes of mind have no existence." For the working class, for all objects of capital, that would indeed be the truth, the realization in practice of the Skinnerian system.

Behaviorism's leading Rattenfaenger underscores the conclusion himself. "Survival is the only value according to which a culture is eventually to be judged."(66) Thus concepts of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ... have only a minor bearing on the survival of a culture."(67) Then the Red Scare used to justify the suppression of democratic rights: "our culture ... continues to take freedom and dignity, rather than its own survival, as its principled value, then it is possible that some other culture will make a greater contribution to the future."(68)

True we have our little failings, for "cultures seldom generate a pure concern for their survival -- a concern completely free from the jingoistic


trappings, the racial features ... or the institutionalized practices with which cultures tend to be identified."(69) Skinner speaks from personal knowledge here, as a racist, some of whose best friends are racists. But, as in Nazi Germany, "Why should we not look forward to a master subspecies or race? If culture has evolved in a similar process, why not a master culture?"(70)

He repeats Hitler's "International Jewish Conspiracy" Thesis: "the Nazi 'solution to the Jewish problem' was a competitive struggle to the death. And in competition of that sort the strong do seem to survive."(71) Thus anything goes. "A culture which for any reason induces its members to work for its survival is more likely to survive."(72) The emphasis is Skinner's own. But "it should be possible to design a world in which behavior likely to be punished seldom or never occurs."(73)

True, there may be some problem cases. But "if all this fails, punishable behavior may be made less likely by changing physiological conditions." Then, invoking the spirit of Dr. Kenneth Clark, America's most learned drug peddler since Dr. Timidly Leering's forced exile, Skinner explains how. "Hormones may be used to change sexual behavior, surgery (as in lobotomy) to control violence, tranquilizers to control aggression." Why not, says Skinner, for "we have not yet seen what man can make of man."(74)

Which brings us full circle to what Skinner, in the beginning of his Beyond called "the terrifying problems that face us in the world today," one of which is obviously Skinner himself.





1. B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1971, p. 3. Hereinafter referred to as Beyond.

2. Ibid.

3. John B. Watson, Behaviorism (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1970), p.2.

4. Ibid., p. 6.

5. Ibid., p. ix.

6. B. F. Skinner: The Man and His Ideas, ed. by Richard I. Evans (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1968), p. 18. Hereinafter referred to as Skinner.

7. Wolfgang Koehler, Gestalt Psychology (New York: Liverright Publishing Corporation, 1959), p. 22. Hereinafter referred to as Gestalt.

8. Ibid., p. 21.

9. Ibid., p. 48.

10. Ibid., p. 118.

11. Skinner, p. 22.

12. Ibid., p. 7.

13. Ibid., p. 98.

14. Ibid., p. 7.

15. Erich Fromm, The Crisis in Psychoanalysis (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1970), p. 45.

16. Quoted in John H. Flavell, The Developmental Psychology of Jean Piaget (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1963), p. 73.

17. Ibid.

18. Jean Piaget, Insights and Illusions of Philosophy (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1971), p. 40.

19. Skinner, p. 88.

20. Beyond, p. 15.

21. Skinner, p. 14.

22. Noam Chomsky, "A review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior, " in The Structure of Language, ed. by Jerry A. Fodor and Jerrold J. Katz (Englewood Cliffs; Prentice-Hall Inc., 1964), pp. 575-76.

23. Beyond, p. 188.

24. Skinner, p. 74.

25. Beyond, p. 89.

26. Ibid.

27. Skinner, p. 107

28. Ibid.

29. Beyond, p. 155.

30. Ibid., p. 168.

31. Ibid., p. 169.

32. Ibid., p. 42.

33. Ibid., p. 215.

34. Elie A. Cohen, Human Behavior in the Concentration Camp (New York: Grosset and Dunlap) p. 116.

35. Ibid., p. 44.

36. Beyond, p. 104.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid.

39. Skinner, p. 144.

40. Quoted in Cohen, Human Behavior in the concentration Camp, p. 226.

41. Beyond, p. 156.

42. Ibid., p. 3.

43. Ibid., p. 153.

44. Ibid., p. 4.

45. Karl Marx, "Der Leitund Artikel in Nr. 179 der 'Koelnischen Zeitung,' " in his and Engels' Werke (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1970), Vol. I.

46. Skinner, p. 15.

47. Beyond, p. 12.

48. Piaget, Insights and Illusions of Philosophy, pp. 16-17.

49. William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism and A Pluralistic Universe (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1971), p. 24.

50. Beyond, p. 209.

51. Ibid., p. 29.

52. Ibid., p. 133.

53. Diderot, Interpreter of Nature: Selected Writings. (New York: International Publishers 1963), pp. 49-126.

54. Eugene Marais, The Soul of the Ape (New York: Atheneum, 1969). The introduction written by Robert Ardrey discusses The Soul of the White Ant.

55. Beyond, p. 161.

56. New York Times, Sept. 22, 1971.

57. Psychology Today, Sept. 1971

58. New York Review of Books, Dec. 30, 1971.

59. James, Essays in Radical Empiricism, p. 24.

60. Skinner, pp. 86, 72.

61. New York Times, Oct. 10, 1971, medical section.

62. Skinner, pp. 42-44.

63. Ibid., pp. 37-38.

64. Ibid., p. 39.

65. Beyond, p. 178.

66. Ibid., p. 136.

67. Ibid., p. 180.

68. Ibid., p. 181.

69. Ibid., p. 136.

70. Ibid., p. 133.

71. Ibid.

72. Ibid., p. 144.

73. Ibid., p. 66.

74. Ibid., pp. 65-66.


To website's home page