Ayn Rand Vs B.F. Skinner and the Rise of the Anti-Mind Collectivist Rabbles
In a previous post I discussed the importance of culture- and of establishing and supporting an individualist culture- in a
society. I argued that a “culture is the barometer of a society’s degree of morality and freedom. A society’s culture, objectively speaking, is the totality- the result or even the remnant- of the intellectual accomplishment of its members. It is not required for every social member to fully accept or embrace a nation’s culture.”
For this post I will try to illustrate how statist intellectuals destroy man’s freedom and rights by first distorting the concept of culture- and of language. The best way to destroy a valid concept is not actually to directly attack it, but to distort or misrepresent it. This sinister, wicked method was deftly applied by a number of anti-reason, anti-freedom philosophers and political witch-doctors in the past. For instance, Immanuel Kant didn’t destroy Reason by directly attacking it, but by distorting it. He did this by conceptualizing his own anti-reality metaphysics, his anti-mind and anti-reason epistemology, and anti-morality ethics. Unlike religious mystics before him, Kant didn’t declare that Reason is nonexistent. He simply argued that Reason is ‘limited’ and that it is valid only so long as it deals with this world. Remember that Kant presented two kinds of worlds- the noumenal world, which is unknowable but is the the world of “real” reality, and the phenomnal world, which is not real but it is where man’s mind perceive reality, which is a distortion.
The same method was applied by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels when they distorted the concepts of freedom, equality, cooperation, and man’s nature. According to these anti-freedom, anti-rights duo, equality can only be achieved by abrogating private property and by establishing man-made institutions that guarantee and facilitate the ‘equal distribution of wealth’ to every social member. This statist principle is guided by the following dictum: “from each according to his ability, to each needs.”
In the past century political philosopher and Harvard academic John Rawls applied the same method by distorting or destroying the concept of justice. Rawls, one of the most admired thinkers by the leftists and modern-day liberals, introduced the anti-concept of social justice or redistributive justice. The main thesis or gist of his ‘intellectual’ work postulates that justice is served only through the use of state powers to guarantee and serve the well-being of the least advantaged. In reality, this is done by taxing or punishing the most productive and successful members of a society simply because of their productiveness and success. Does justice demand the sacrifice of some group of people in order to serve the welfare and well-being of the least advantaged? No explicit, direct answer was given.
Also in the past century, a highly influential, most admired thinker in the field of psychology and behavioral science used the same semantic and distortive method to destroy the concept of culture, and ultimately, the ‘Autonomous Man’. To be more specific and clear, I call this dishonest, distortive strategy the ‘Skinner Method’. Like his philosophical and intellectual ancestors, Skinner attempted to destroy the concept of “culture” by attacking language. In today’s term this technique is called ‘Orwellian method’.
Observe the most common and the first method used by statist, evil philosophers in destroying man’s mind, freedom, rights, and independence: the destruction or distortion of human language. They used this method simply because they clearly understood the power of Language in setting or distorting order in man’s mind. Language plays an indispensable role in man’s perception, concept-formation, reason, thought, volition, judgment, values, concepts, memory, independence, self-esteem.
The best way to destroy man’s mind is to pollute language. It was said that words automatically convey meaning. The reality is, a word is like a canvass that contains shades, and it is these shades that convey meaning. Every word or term has its own corresponding definition. The primary role of definition is to set order in man’s mind by distinguishing a concept from all other concepts and thus to keep its units differentiated from all other existents. Words and terms convey specific concepts that give such terms their exclusive conceptual identity or characteristics. Thus, the word “culture” is not the same as the word “tradition”. The word “justice” is not synonymous to Rawlsian “social justice.” In fact, if examined very carefully, these two terms are at odds with each other.
To destroy a specific word (e.g., equality, justice, reason, freedom, rights, or culture), one only has to pollute or corrupt such a word with arbitrary concepts in order to destroy its validity and objective meaning.
With respect to Skinner’s epistemological method, Ayn Rand best described it in full, graphic detail in her timeless, still relevant critique of Skinner’s book titled Beyond Freedom and Dignity. The Skinner Method consists of the following processes:
- Substituting metaphors for proof, and examples for definitions.
- Setting up and knocking down straw men.
- Mentioning a given notion as controversial, following it up with two or three pages of irrelevant small talk, then mentioning it again and treating it as if it had been proved.
- Raising valid questions (to indicate that the author is aware of them) and, by the same technique, leaving them unanswered.
- Overtalking and overloading the reader’s consciousness with overelaborate discussions of trivia, then smuggling in enormous essentials without discussion, as if they were incontrovertible.
- Assuming an authoritarian tone to enunciate dogmatic absolutes-and the more dubious the absolute, the more authoritarian the tone.
- Providing a brief summary at the end of each chapter, which summary includes, as if they had been proved, notions not included or barely mentioned in the chapter’s text.
Ayn Rand was, without a doubt, the master of philosophical detection. It was Ayn Rand who first detected and then exposed the evils of Skinner’s philosophy. In describing the ‘Skinner Method’ (again, my own term), Ayn Rand said: “All of this (and more) is done grossly, crudely, obviously, which leaves the book pockmarked with gaping craters of contradictions, like a moon landscape and as lifelessly dull.”
Here I will focus only on Ayn Rand’s critique of Skinner’s view of culture. In her article titled The Stimulus and the Response: A Critique of B.F. Skinner, Ayn Rand described Skinner’s work in the following manner: “The book itself is like Boris Karloff’s embodiment of Frankenstein’s monster: a corpse patched with nuts, bolts and screws from the junkyard of philosophy (Pragmatism, Social Darwinism, Positivism, Linguistic Analysis, with some nails by Hume, threads by Russell, and glue by the New York Post). The book’s voice, like Karloff’s, is an emission of inarticulate, moaning growls – directed at a special enemy: “Autonomous Man.””
Skinner believed and argued that a culture, which he defined as the “customary behavior of people”, should be managed or engineered by behavioral scientists like him. If Plato believed that a society should be ruled by philosopher-kings, Skinner argued that a society, or the entire global community, should be ruled or managed by “technologists of behavior” or “scientists.”
In regard to this issue, Ayn Rand offered the following spot-on criticisms:
A mystic code of morality demanding self-sacrifice cannot be promulgated or propagated without a supreme ruler that becomes the collector of the sacrificing. Traditionally, there have been two such collectors: either God or society. The collector had to be inaccessible to mankind at large, and his authority had to be revealed only through an elite of special intermediaries, variously called “high priests”, “commissars,” “Gauleiters,” etc. Mr. Skinner follows the same pattern, but he has a new collector and supreme ruler to hoist: the culture.
A culture, he explains, is “the customs, the customary behaviors of people.” (P. 127.) “A culture, like a species, is selected by its adaptation to an environment: to the extent that it helps its members to get what they need and avoid what is dangerous, it helps them to survive and transmit the culture. The two kinds of evolution are closely interwoven. The same people transmit both a culture and a genetic endowment – though in very different ways and for different parts of their lives.” (P. 129.) “A culture is not the product of a creative ‘group mind’ or the expression of a ‘general will.’ . . . A culture evolves when new practices further the survival of those who practice them.” (Pp. 133-134 .) Thus we owe our survival to the culture. Therefore, Mr. Skinner announces, to the two values discussed – personal good and the good of others – “we must now add a third, the good of the culture.” (P. 134.)
What is the good of a culture? Survival. Whose survival? Its own. A culture is an end in itself. “When it has become clear that a culture may survive or perish, some of its members may begin to act to promote its survival.” (P. 134.) Which members? By what means are they able to grasp such a goal? No answer.
Mr. Skinner stresses repeatedly that the survival of a culture is a value different from, and superior to, the survival of its members, of oneself or of others – a value one ought to live and die for.
Why? Mr. Skinner is suddenly explicit: “None of this will explain what we might call a pure concern for the survival of a culture, but we do not really need an explanation. . . . The simple fact is that a culture which for any reason induces its members to work for its survival, or for the survival of some of its practices, is more likely to survive. Survival is the only value according to which a culture is eventually to be judged, and any practice that furthers survival has survival value by definition.” (P. 136.) Whose survival? No answer. Mr. Skinner lets it ride on an equivocation of this kind.
If survival “is the only value according to which a culture is eventually to be judged,” then the Nazi culture, which lasted twelve years, had a certain degree of value – the Soviet culture, which has lasted fifty-five years, has a higher value – the feudal culture of the Middle Ages, which lasted five centuries, had a still higher value – but the highest value of all must be ascribed to the culture of ancient Egypt, which, with no variations or motion of any kind, lasted unchanged for thirty centuries.
Ayn Rand exposed Skinner as an “arch-materialist” and as a guardian of the status quo.
A “culture,” in Mr. Skinner’s own terms, is not a thing, not an idea, not even people, but a collection of practices, a “behavior,” a disembodied behavior that supersedes those who behave – i.e., a way of acting to which the actors must be sacrificed. This is mysticism of a kind that makes God or society seem sensibly realistic rulers by comparison. It is also conservatism of a metaphysical kind that makes political conservatism seem innocuously childish. It demands that we live, work and die not for ourselves or for others, but for the sake of preserving and transmitting to yet unborn generations and in perpetuity the way we dress, the way we ride the subway, the way we get drunk, the way we deal with baseball or religion or economics, etc.
Thus Mr. Skinner, the arch-materialist, ends up as a worshipper of disembodied motion – and the arch-revolutionary, as a guardian of the status quo, any status quo.
In order to be induced to sacrifice for the good of the culture, the victims are promised “deferred advantages” (indeterminately deferred). “But what is its [an economic system’s] answer to the question: ‘Why should I be concerned about the survival of a particular kind of economic system?’ The only honest answer to that kind of question seems to be this: ‘There is no good reason why you should be concerned, but if your culture has not convinced you that there is, so much the worse for your culture.’ ” (P. 137.) This means: in order to survive, a culture must convince its members that there is a good reason to be concerned with its survival, even though there is none.
This is Social Darwinism of a kind that Herbert Spencer would not dream of. The nearest approach to an exponent in practice was Adolf Hitler who “reinforced” his followers by demanding sacrifices for the survival of the German Kultur.
B.F. Skinner, I say, was a “cultural globalist” (my own term). However, Skinner’s “culture” is utterly bereft of morality and reason, which makes it worse than cultural relativism and moral equivalence. A “culture”, according to him, is just a collection of human behaviors. This gibberish suggests that any culture ought to be preserved and transmitted to “yet unborn generations.” Like the notorious globalists at the UN and the EU and the Marxist internationalists, Skinner sought to “arrange contingencies under which consequences have an effect”. And this “arranger of contingencies, which Ayn Rand rightfully described, is to be a single totalitarian world state.
Skinner was a hybrid mystic of muscle who embodied the junk philosophies of Mathus, Marx, Hume, Kant, and Plato. In fact if Skinner were still alive today, he’d have been the mystic leader of all collectivist-globalist rabbles like the environmentalists, global warming alarmists, and overpopulation fanatics.
To justify his cultural globalist pipe-dream, Skinner warned his book readers about “terrifying possibilities” which the whole mankind must be saved. He wrote: “Overpopulation, the depletion of resources, the pollution of the environment, and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust – these are the not-so-remote consequences of present courses of action.”
With respect to Skinner’s distortion of the concept of culture and ultimate purpose, Ayn Rand further wrote:
But Mr. Skinner envisions a grander scale. He advocates “a single culture for all mankind,” which, he admits, is difficult to explain to the sacrificial victims. “We can nevertheless point to many reasons why people should now be concerned for the good of all mankind. The great problems of the world today are all global. . . . But pointing to consequences is not enough. We [who?] must arrange contingencies under which consequences have an effect.” (Pp. 137-138.) This ” arranger of contingencies” is to be a single totalitarian world state, serving the survival of a single culture, ruling every cell of every man’s brain and every moment of his life.
What are the “great problems” this state would solve? What are the “terrifying possibilities” from which we must be saved – at the price of giving up our freedom, dignity, reason, mind, values, self-esteem? Mr. Skinner answers: “Overpopulation, the depletion of resources, the pollution of the environment, and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust – these are the not-so-remote consequences of present courses of action.” (P. 138.)
If lightning struck Mount Sinai, and Moses appeared on the mountaintop, carrying sacred tablets, and silenced the lost, frightened, desperate throng below in order to read a revelation of divine wisdom, and read a third-rate editorial from a random tabloid – the dramatic, intellectual and moral effect would be similar (except that Moses was less pretentious).
Mr. Skinner’s book falls to pieces in its final chapters. The author’s “verbal behavior” becomes so erratic that he sounds as if he has lost all interest in his subject. Tangled in contradictions, equivocations and non sequiturs, he seems to stumble wearily in circles, seizing any rationalization at random – not to defend his thesis, but to attack his critics, throwing feeble little jabs, projecting an odd kind of stale, lethargic, perfunctory malice, almost a “reflex-malice.” He sounds like a man filling empty pages with something, anything, in order to circumvent the accumulated weight of unanswered question – or like a man who resents being questioned.
Who will be the “designers” of his proposed global culture and the rulers of mankind? He answers unequivocally: the
“technologists of behavior.” What qualifies them for such a job? They are “scientists.” What is science? In the whole of the book, no definition is given, as if the term were a self-evident, mystically hallowed primary.
Since man, according to Mr. Skinner, is biologically unable to project a time span of three months – from spring planting to fall harvest – how are these technologists able to see the course and plan the future of a global culture? No answer. What sort of men are they? The closest approach to an answer is: “those who have been induced by their culture to act to further its survival . . . .” (P. 180.)
It is futile to ask by what means and through what agencies the culture (i.e., the behavior) of birdbrained creatures can accomplish such a feat, because here we are obviously dealing with a standard requirement of mysticism: Mr. Skinner is establishing an opportunity for the high priesthood to “hear voices” – not the voice of God or of the people, but the voice of the culture inducing them to act. But the culture “induces” a great many people to different courses of action, including the people who paint prophecies of doom on rocks by the side of highways. How are the culture-designers (and the rest of us) to know that theirs is the true voice of the culture? No answer. One must assume that they feel it.
Now we come to the grand cashing-in on the book’s basic equivocation. Mr. Skinner keeps stressing that mankind needs ,”more controls, not less”; in a polemical passage, he quotes his critics asking: “Who is to control?” – and answers them as follows: “The relation between the controller and the controlled is reciprocal. The scientist in the laboratory, studying the behavior of a pigeon, designs contingencies and observes their effects. His apparatus exerts a conspicuous control on the pigeon, but we must not overlook the control exerted by the pigeon. The behavior of the pigeon has determined the design of the apparatus and the procedures in which it is used. Some such reciprocal control is characteristic of all science. . . . [Here I omit one sentence, which is an unconscionable misuse of a famous statement.] The scientist who designs a cyclotron is under the control of the particles he is studying. The behavior with which a parent controls his child, either aversively or through positive reinforcement, is shaped and maintained by the child’s responses. A psychotherapist changes the behavior of his patient in ways which have been shaped and maintained by his success in changing that behavior. A government or religion prescribes and imposes sanctions selected by their effectiveness in controlling citizen or communicant. An employer induces his employees to work industriously and carefully with wage systems determined by their effects on behavior. The classroom practices of the teacher are shaped and maintained by the effects on his students. In a very real sense, then, the slave controls the slave driver, the child the parent, the patient the therapist, the citizen the government, the communicant the priest, the employee the employer, and the student the teacher.” (P. 169.)
To this, I shall add just one more example: the victim controls the torturer, because if the victim screams very loudly at a particular method of torture, this is the method the torturer will select to use.
The above quotation is sufficient to convey the book’s intellectual stature, the logic of its arguments, and the validity of its thesis.
As far as one can judge the book’s purpose, the establishment of a dictatorship does not seem to be Mr. Skinner’s personal ambition. If it were, he would have been more clever about it. His goal seems to be: 1. to clear the way for a dictatorship by eliminating its enemies; 2. to see how much he can get away with.
The book’s motive power is hatred of man’s mind and virtue (with everything they entail: reason, achievement, independence, enjoyment, moral pride, self-esteem) – so intense and consuming a hatred that it consumes itself, and what we read is only its gray ashes, with feeble, snickering obscenities (such as the title) as a few last, smoking, stinking coals. To destroy “Autonomous Man” – to strike at him, to punch, to stab, to jab, and, if all else fails, to spit at him – is the book’s apparent purpose, and it is precisely the long-range, cultural consequences that the author does not seem to give a damn about.