In his autobiography, Skinner states that Walden Two was an anarchist society because no person was in control and the community was planned in such a way that institutions were not needed. Based on that statement, this article aims to evaluate an anarchist interpretation of Walden Two. The text is divided into 3 parts. The first part presents a definition of anarchism, covering its criticism of domination and a defense of self-managed society (anarchy). In the second part, some convergence points of Walden Two and anarchism are indicated in 3 social spheres (economic, political, and cultural). The last part analyzes the divergences between the community described in Walden Two and an anarchist society, with an emphasis on the issue of Walden Two’s political inequality. It is concluded that the divergences between Walden Two and anarchism are decisive and prevent the community described in Skinner’s book from being classified as an anarchist one, and, therefore, they counter Skinner’s own statement.
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The other justifications given in Walden Two are the following: (a) manual labor works as physical activity, helping with health preservation, and (b) manual activities generally involve natural reinforcement, accompanied by a “sense of accomplishment,” contributing to happiness.
The most common examples of these kinds of discourses are the myth of the free market and the meritocracy, both responsible for maintaining competitiveness as a primordial form of relationship between individuals.
While recognizing Walden Two’s progressive vision for his time, Wolpert (2005) highlighted the maintenance of some sexist bias and also inequalities in relation to race and sexuality. Homosexuality, for example, is not even mentioned in Skinner’s book, suggesting the adoption of a heteronormative bias. In addition, the defense of equal rights between men and women has been found in anarchist literature since the 19th century (e.g., Bakunin, 1866/1972), and it was radically expanded in the early 20th century (e.g., Goldman, 1910/1998b).
Commenting on Nicolaus’s (1979) article, which advocates for a scientocracy (just another name for technocracy) in the context of Skinnerian behaviorism, Edleson (1980) criticized this model of government. Although he does not specifically mention anarchism, his arguments and proposals about the strengthening of self-managing models have remarkable affinities with the discussions presented here. However, Edleson (1980) fails when he does not extend his critique to Walden Two, as he believed that the measures taken in that community would be enough to avoid the concentration of power in the planners’ hands. At the same time, he seems to disregard the notion that Walden Two is also, ultimately, a scientocracy—which was correctly pointed out in Nicolaus’s reply (Nicolaus, 1980).
In a deterministic system, there is no “free choice”—although it is still possible to speak of choice behavior. The “rhetoric of free choice” suggests that individuals do what they wish, without a determination of environmental variables. If there is no free choice, then there are two possibilities: Either the behavior of choice was ignored by the planners (although it remains controlled by unknown variables) or it has been deliberately planned so that individuals “wish” what the planners have decided. The argument presented here follows the second possibility.
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I thank Professors Alexandra Rutherford and Carolina Laurenti for their reading and suggestions that undoubtedly enriched this article. I also thank the reviewers and professors Mark Mattaini and Richard Rakos for their editorial work. Finally, to Professor Dick Malott, I guarantee that in anarchy we will still have neurosurgeons.
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Lopes, C.E. Could Walden Two Be an Anarchist Society?. Behav. Soc. Iss. 29, 195–217 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42822-020-00036-w
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