Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Zombies for Sale

Scotus Week continues here in the States, and while the main event (the healthcare reform ruling) won't come cartwheeling into the ring until tomorrow, Monday's first act caused a considerable hubub. There was the surprising draw match in the matter of Arizona v. United States, but what raised my eyebrow (and blood pressure) was the United States Supreme Court's reversal of the Montana Supreme Court's decision in Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Attorney General of Montana. In a nutshell: the Supreme Court still believes its Citizens United ruling was a fine thing, and that a state government with a contrary law on its books needs to get with the program.

You've certainly heard enough wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the Supreme Court's pernicious decision that the United States would be better off as a de facto oligarchy, so I'll try not to do any more bitching here. But I do bitch about it. And sometimes my bitching enters the ears of younger folks who, for whatever reason, aren't constantly wringing their hands and reloading's frontpage every twenty minutes. Occasionally these kids will ask me what I'm screaming about and want to know the reason why Citizens United tends to make people hysterical.

What's the story with Citizens United? Well, it basically entitles tremendously wealthy entities to make indefinitely tremendous political expenditures. In order to keep pace with their opponents on the campaign trail, politicians will be cuddling up even closer to business interests in exchange for donations.

Well, gosh! But what do all these donations buy? Well, they buy. You see, it takes a lot of. Hmm. Well. This is a good question.

Let's get our facts together here with some help from!

According to a breakdown of campaign expenditures in 2008, of the $6.53 million spent on communications in the 2008 presidential elections, about $3.6 million went towards "broadcast media," i.e. television spots. And whoever spends the most money on television adverts is probably going to win the election. Small block quote from part of an election roundup:

The historic election of 2008 re-confirmed one truism about American democracy: Money wins elections.

From the top of the ticket, where Barack Obama declined public financing for the first time since the system's creation and went on to amass a nearly two-to-one monetary advantage over John McCain, to congressional races throughout the nation, the candidate with the most money going into Election Day emerged victorious in nearly every contest.

In 93 percent of House of Representatives races and 94 percent of Senate races that had been decided by mid-day Nov. 5, the candidate who spent the most money ended up winning, according to a post-election analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The findings are based on candidates' spending through Oct. 15, as reported to the Federal Election Commission.

Continuing a trend seen election cycle after election cycle, the biggest spender was victorious in 397 of 426 decided House races and 30 of 32 settled Senate races. On Election Day 2006, top spenders won 94 percent of House races and 73 percent of Senate races. In 2004, 98 percent of House seats went to the biggest spender, as did 88 percent of Senate seats.

There's a rarely-discussed subtext here, and a question that isn't usually posed. Why does this happen? Why in the world should the candidate with the most television commercials win the election? That's not how the system was built, was it? 

Why would TV adverts (or robocalls and and junk mail campaigns for that matter) be the determinants of a presidential election if the voters -- whose civic obligation it is to participate responsibly in said election -- are keeping abreast of current events, the accompanying issues, and the candidates' positions on them, like good citizens are supposed to do?

And it is not difficult to keep track of this stuff. The debates are all televised. We have armies of journalists following both campaign trails and investigating both candidates' histories, and they're all trying to one-up each other in bringing new information to the public's attention. And let's not forget that we're living in an age when finding a candidate's (any candidate's) stance on an issue of concern is as easy as typing (for instance) "romney on emissions" into Google and clicking the "search" button.

What person who knows his* own convictions, has determined which issues supersede the others in their importance to him, and has done his homework on the candidates, their backgrounds, and their pledges would be swayed in one direction or the other by an unctuous attack ad? For that matter, why would he need someone calling him or knocking on his door to remind him to cast his vote on election day?

Because these people don't determine our elections. Elections in America are determined by Americans. God help us.

Political campaigns spend oceans of cash on television adverts because all the data indicates that elections are determined by what strategists euphemise as "low-information voters:" the tens of millions of reality TV-watching, Budweiser-drinking, food court-plodding dunderheads who can be counted on to agree with whomever speaks loudest and to vote for the guy whose campaign ad they saw most recently (if they vote at all) because they can't be bothered to be distracted from their distractions. These are the people the campaigns need to reach in order to win, and they can do so most effectively by buying up more commercial time than their opponents.

Political organizations wouldn't be spending millions on flimflam if they didn't have very good reason to believe that the voting-age citizens upon whom an election depends are extremely susceptible to flimflam.

Yeah, well. What do you expect? People are stupid.

No! Shut up! They don't have to be. But we build them that way, and so they are.

This is a talk for another time, though.

You have to admit it's a very nice little game that's been arranged, though. You have a cadre of humungous multinational businesses and industries whose products, services, and collateral runoff make and keep Americans dull, disinterested, and tranquilized. (Whether this is by design or as a side effect varies on a case by case basis and is another conversation entirely.) Thanks to the Citizens United ruling, these entities can pump as much money into presidential campaigns as they please. The election effort becomes a contest between candidates to curry favor with enough of these entities to afford to broadcast their "messages" (vote for me because vote for me) to the largest percentage of the same masses that said entities have systematically zombified and rendered otherwise inaccessible. Whoever buys the most zombie votes then assumes his new position of power, which he uses to repay his obligation to the entities by helping them achieve a further consolidation of their power.

You'd almost suspect it had been orchestrated, like some sort of political Magic: the Gathering combo. But it's more likely that things just tend to work out for people when they're already controlling most of everything.

* Yes, yes, I know I use the male pronoun as a default, and I'm aware that it's exclusive on the implicit assumption that the voting "person" is male. But "his or her" is clunky and "their" is incorrect. Someday I will switch it up and default to female pronouns for a while.

Monday, June 18, 2012

More Busy, More Bullets

  • As the weather grows sunnier, so becomes my general mood. Seems some of my anxious subterranean sludge started creeping up to the surface last week. OH GOD WHAT HAPPENS AFTER AUGUST WHERE WILL I WORK WHERE WILL I LIVE and OH GOD HOW DO I GET PEOPLE TO GIVE A SHIT ABOUT MY BOOK remain persistent questions and stress sources, but I think I'm coping with them somewhat more gracefully than last week.

  • Speaking of the book: Mistah K of Hardcore Gaming 101 (and architect of the Castlevania Dungeon), your favorite DIY archive of video game oddities and forgotten classics, recently posted an exceptionally thorough review of The Zeroes on Amazon. I'm pointing it out primarily because I wish I'd gotten him to write the damn product description. I could never figure out how to describe it without going on and on and on and bogging it in details or otherwise not saying enough. (As you can see I erred toward the latter.) In my defense, when your mindset during the whole process of writing the book is BE AS MUNDANE AS POSSIBLE, it becomes very hard to compose enticing dust jacket copy. (It's a book about nothing! You'll love it!)

  • The Zeroes also appeared on NotRock Records' blog a couple weeks ago. Full disclosure: NotRock Records is headed by filmmaker, drummer, and Jedi master John Fisher, whose name appears on the book's dedication page. (Fortunately, John is a lot better off and a much better fellow than most of the people who appear in the book.) You'll also read that his one of the bands in which he's been involved (Insouciant) is on an indefinite hiatus, which is bullshit. (Sorry, John.)

  • The spring star Arcturus is setting; the summer star Vega is rising. I'm pretty sure we've looked at the Summer/Northern Triangle in an earlier post, but why not glance at it once more?

  • Speaking of: the summer solstice is only a few days away! From here on out we're only bound for winter. To help stave off the preemptive seasonal depression, Comics Over Easy will begin a series of regular updates the day after the solstice. (I hope.)

  • Have you ever watched a primrose blossom at sunset? I'd have said me neither two days ago, but...

7:40 p.m.

8:53 p.m.

8:55 p.m.

8:56 p.m.

9:01 p.m.

(Sorry for the poor photo quality; my camera isn't the greatest, I have no idea how to change the settings, and it was low on battery power.)
That flower remained in bloom the next day, and then wilted and fell off that evening. Two more mature buds blossomed the day after.

I'd never seen a flower pop open before. The gentleman who takes care of the grounds at this place tells me that later on in the summer we can expect several buds popping open every night. Cool.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Busy, so Bullets

  • I don't know why I draw comics; it's such an inefficient use of my time. Oh, a gag! I'll think. I should make a comic about it! This will occur in the span of about five minutes: inspiration, idea, formulation. The process of writing, boarding, penciling, scanning, shopping, assembling, and polishing a comic page can take ten to twenty hours, and by then the joke never seems as funny as it did. Then a dozen people spend a minute looking at it, punch a new URL into their browser, and forget about it after four or five clicks.

    I am a masochist.

    I'm gonna be updating the comics page on a regular basis for a few months, and wanted to kick things off with something special. The next time I decide to do anything special, somebody needs to deliver a mild corrective shock to my genitals. This has become way more involved than it needs or deserves to be, and I'll be relieved if I can wrap it up by this time next week.

  • Source of anxiety: the looming possibility that budget cuts will cost me my position and my room at this place. I'm blanching at the prospect of throwing myself at the mercy of the job and housing markets all at once, but it might be unavoidable. Philadelphia isn't that expensive a place to live -- but finding a job that can pay for rent/utilities/food without exhausting me and destroying my will to write/draw/live likely won't be easy.

    Just for kicks, I opened up Craigslist Philadelphia and browsed their Writing/Editing section. It's always laugh: 30% or so full-time copywriting/editing gigs at pharmaceutical companies (requirements: three years' full-time experience in a copywriting/editing gig at a pharmaceutical company) and 70% hey write blog posts for my web startup for free, please.

    What a lousy time to be a writer. Today you're simply expected to be cool with just giving your work away in exchange for "experience" and "exposure" --  airy pseudo-currencies which might maybe perhaps possibly someday help keep a roof over your head, but until then remain worthless. And evidently a lot of writers think this is a fair trade. After all, if there was a shortage of people willing to sell their labor for nothing, you might see people raising their asking price.

    When you sell yourself short, it's not only your own value that depreciates.

    (No, The Zeroes isn't selling enough copies to pay my bills. Thanks for asking. Also, stop fucking asking. It's not funny.)

  • Greater source of anxiety: what happens when I slow down?

    When will I slow down?

    I slowing down?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Question of Control

A few weeks ago I finally finished B.F. Skinner's About Behaviorism (1976), a book I never imagined I would actually read. Though I originally picked it up to use as a reference/inspiration in a short novel I've been drafting, before long I got really into it. It's still too early to announce my conversion to radical behaviorism, but I can can say that I spared far more salt on Skinner than Freud and the other psychoanalysts, and I find his ideas a lot more compatible with the the other sciences than the theories (which he would disdain as "mentalist") that have dominated the empirical and philosophical study of human beings since antiquity.

What I'd like to share with you tonight is one of the final chapters in About Behaviorism, coming on the heels of all the explanations and descriptions of contingencies, operants, reinforcers, referents, etc. (Even so, there's not much jargon, and it shouldn't be hard to extrapolate its meaning when it does appear.) Since it's such a provoking read and I couldn't find any complete etexts, I went ahead and transcribed the thing. (Sorry for any typos.) It's worth the time it takes to read, so please! Read!

(The libertarian/liberal outrage directed at Skinner's work generally protests not only its insistence on the non-existence of freedom and free will, but the possibility that its ideas could be adopted by the Maos and Stalins of the world and integrated into the machinery of oppression. For my part, I just hope the partisans of gamification aren't taking any notes.)

(Also, Courier is ugly and I've only been using it for excerpts because I've been using it for excerpts. From now on we use Georgia.)

The Question of Control

A scientific analysis of behavior must, I believe, assume that a person's behavior is controlled by his genetic and environmental histories rather than by the person himself as an initiating, creative agent; but no part of the behavioristic position has raised more violent objections. We cannot prove, of course, that human behavior as a whole is fully determined, but the proposition becomes more plausible as facts accumulate, and I believe that a point has been reached at which its implications must be seriously considered.

We often overlook the fact that human behavior is also a form of control. That an organism should act to control the world around it is as characteristic of life as breathing or reproduction. A person acts upon the environment, and what he achieves is essential to his survival and the survival of the species. Science and technology are merely manifestations of this essential feature of human behavior. Understanding, prediction, and explanation, as well as technological applications, exemplify the control of nature. They do not express an "attitude of domination" or a "philosophy of control." They are the inevitable results of certain behavioral processes.

We have no doubt made mistakes. We have discovered, perhaps too rapidly, more and more effective ways of controlling our world, and we have not always used them wisely, but we can no more stop controlling nature than we can stop breathing or digesting food. Control is not a passing phase. No mystic or ascetic has ever ceased to control the world around him; he controls it in order to control himself. We cannot choose a way of life in which there is no control. We can only change the controlling conditions.


Organized agencies or institutions, such as governments, religions, and economic systems, and to a lesser extent educators and psychotherapists, exert a powerful and often troublesome control. It is exerted in ways which more effectively reinforce those who exert it, and unfortunately this usually means in ways which either are immediately aversive to those controlled or exploit them in the long run.

Those who are so controlled then take action. They escape from the controller -- moving out of range if he is an individual, or defecting from a government, becoming an apostate from a religion, resigning, or playing truant -- or they may attack in order to weaken or destroy the controlling power, as in revolution, a reformation, a strike, or a student protest. In other words, they oppose control with countercontrol.

A condition may be reached in which these opposing forces are in equilibrium, at least temporarily, but the result is seldom an optimal solution. An incentive system may reconcile a conflict between management and labor, nations may maintain a balance of power, and governmental, religious, and educational practices may be effective just short of defection, apostasy, or truancy, but the results are by no means well-designed social environments.

Ethics and Compassion

We speak of a benevolent ruler, a devoted teacher, a compassionate therapist, and a public-spirited industrialist, as if their behavior were symptomatic of inner traits of character. When we ask why a person is benevolent, devoted, compassionate, or public-spirited, we find ourselves examining the effect his behavior has on others. (The Utilitarians referred to effects of this sort in defining utility as "that principle that approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question," but this was the approval or disapproval of a third party, not of the party immediately affected by the action.) The consequences responsible for benevolent, devoted, compassionate, or public-spirited behavior are forms of countercontrol, and when they are lacking, these much-admired features of behavior are lacking.

The point is illustrated by five fields in which control is not offset by countercontrol and which have therefore become classic examples of mistreatment. They are the care of the very young, of the aged, of prisoners, of psychotics, and of the retarded. It is often said that those who have these people in charge lack compassion or a sense of ethics, but the conspicuous fact is that they are not subject to strong countercontrol. The young an the aged are too weak to protest, prisoners are controlled by police power, and psychotics and retardates cannot organize or act successfully. Little or nothing is done about mistreatment unless countercontrol, usually negative, is introduced from outside.

Countercontrol is no doubt not the only reason why one person treats another person well. We might act in such a way that another person is reinforced and reinforces another in turn. The human genetic endowment may include some such tendency, as parental care of the young, for example, seems to illustrate. Darwin pointed to the survival value of altruistic behavior, in a passage I shall quote later, though only very special kinds of innate behavior seem to be involved. In any case, the way one person treats another is determined by reciprocal action. We gain nothing by turning to feelings. It is often said that people comfort the distressed, heal the sick, and feed the hungry because they sympathize with them or share their feelings, but it is the behavior with which such feelings are associated which should have had survival value and which is modified by countercontrol. We refrain from hurting others, not because we "know how it feels to be hurt" but (1) because hurting other members of the species reduces the chances that the species will survive, and (2) when we have hurt others, we ourselves have been hurt.

The classical concept of humanitas was defined as a set of virtues, but any feeling of virtue could be thought of as a by-product of conduct. A man who practiced humanitas was confident in the sense of being usually successful; he treated others well and was as a result well treated by them; he played an active part in government; and so on.

An "important determinant of moral behavior and a major component of character development" is said to be "willingness to follow rules," but a person "wills" to follow a rule because of the consequences arranged by those who state the rule and enforce it. The distinction between rule-governed and contingency-shaped behavior is missed when a test of "socialization" is said to "assess the degree to which a person has internalized the rules, values, and conventions of his society." People punished each other long before behavior was called bad or wrong and before rules were formulated, and a person may have been "socialized" by these punitive contingencies without benefit of rules.

People do begin to call behavior good or bad or right or wrong and to reinforce or punish accordingly, and rules are eventually stated which help a person conform to the practices of his community and help the community maintain the practices. A person who learns these rules and behaves by explicitly following them still has not internalized them, even when he learns to control himself and thus to adjust even more effectively  to the contingencies maintained by the group. Social behavior does not require that the contingencies which generate it should be formulated in rules or, if they have been formulated, that a person should know the rules. It is extraordinarily important, however, that social practices be formulated.

We sometimes say that we acted in a given way because we knew it was right or felt that it was right, but what we feel when we behave morally or ethically depends on the contingencies responsible for our behavior. What we feel about the behavior of others depends on its effect on us; what we feel about our own behavior toward others depends on the action others take. The bodily conditions known or felt may be particularly conspicuous when the sanctions are strong. A person who has been exposed to the promise of heaven and the threat of hell may feel stronger bodily states than one whose behavior is merely approved or censured by his fellow men. But neither one acts because he knows or feels that his behavior is right; he acts because of the contingencies which have shaped his behavior and created the conditions he feels.

A theological question of some antiquity is this: Is man sinful because he sins or does he sin because he is sinful? Marx raised a similar question an he answered it this way: "It is not the consciousness of man that determines his existence; rather it is his social existence that determines his consciousness." William James followed suit in the field of emotion: "We do not cry because we are sad; we are sad because we cry." In all three formulations an important detail is lacking: nothing is said about what is responsible for both the state and the behavior. And if we are asked, "Is a person moral because he behaves morally, or does he behave morally because he is moral?" we must answer, "Neither." He behaves morally and we call him moral because he lives in a particular kind of environment.

Countercontrol is not too hard to explain when control is immediately aversive -- for example, when it is exerted by punishment or the threat of punishment. There are presumably relevant contingencies of survival: when unable to escape, organisms which attack a predator successfully have a competitive advantage. But when the aversive consequences of control are deferred, as in exploitation, countercontrolling action is less likely. Most of those who had great wealth used it without being subject to very much countercontrol until the nineteenth century. It has been said of Hegel that he was one of the first to realize that a modern system of trade and industry had "spontaneously arisen from the workings of rational self-interest" and that law and government were now necessary, not merely to protect the society and its individual members, but to control the unlimited greed for personal wealth that new productive techniques had unleashed. This could only be done, he believed, if a general sense of decency pervaded society. A few emendations are needed. To say that trade and industry "arose from the workings of rational self-interest" is simply to say that men discovered new ways of acquiring money and goods. Their "greed" was unlimited in the sense that there was no countercontrol. Hence the need for laws restricting trade and industry, but these required legal action by injured people rather than a "general sense of decency." It is not enough to cite the behavior from which we infer a sense of decency, as it was not enough to cite the behavior from which we infer the compassion of those who have helpless people in their charge. We must look at countercontrolling contingencies.

Man has been said to be superior to the other animals because he has evolved a moral or ethical sense. "By far the most important characteristic of human beings is that we have an exercise moral judgment." But what has evolved is a social environment in which individuals behave in ways determined in part by their effect on others. Different people show different amounts and kinds of moral and ethical behavior, depending upon the extent of their exposure to such contingencies. Morals and ethics have been said to involve "attitudes toward law and government which have taken centuries in the building," but it is much more plausible to say that the behavior said to express such attitudes is generated by the contingencies that have developed over the centuries. An attitude toward government as distinct from behavior can scarcely have survived for centuries; what have survived are governmental practices. Legal behavior depends on more than "an attitude of deference toward government" as the role of government depends on more than an "accomplished fact of power," and to say that "law is an achievement that needs to be renewed by understanding the sources of its strength" is to point directly to the need to understand and maintain governmental contingencies.

One of the most tragic consequences of mentalism is dramatically illustrated by those who are earnestly concerned about the plight of this world today and who see no help except in a return to morality, ethics, or a sense of decency, as personal possessions. A recent book on morals is said to show hope rather than despair because the author "perceives a growing awareness of each man for his fellows; an increasing respect for the rights of others," and he sees these as "...steps toward a secure world community, based on ever-widening realms of relatedness and empathy," and a pastoral letter insists that our salvation "lies in a return to Christian morals." But what is needed is a restoration of social environments in which people behave in ways called moral.

Blaming people in order to shape ethically acceptable behavior has an unfortunate result. Samuel Butler made the point in Erewhon, where people were blamed for physical but not moral illnesses. Compare two people, one of whom has been crippled by an accident, the other by an early environmental history which makes him lazy and, when criticized, mean. Both cause great inconvenience to others, but one dies a martyr, the other a scoundrel. Or compare two children -- one crippled by polio, the other by a rejecting family. Both contribute little to others and cause trouble, but only one is blamed. The main difference is that only one kind of disability is correctable by punishment, and even then only occasionally. It is tempting to say that only one person in each case could do something his condition, but should we not say that we could do something besides blaming him?

To attribute moral and ethical behavior to environmental contingencies seems to leave no room for absolutes. It suggests a kind of relativism in which what is good is whatever is called good. One objection to this is that it refers to reinforcers but not to the maintained contingencies in which they appear. We also tend to object when what another group calls good differs widely from what we call good, if our practices conflict. But an environmental account is not relativism in that sense. The "boo-hurrah theory" of ethical emotivists was an appeal to feelings sharply localized in time and place and unrelated to any apparent reasons for ethical and moral standards. Ethical and moral contingencies of reinforcement have their own consequences, to which I shall turn in a moment.

The Struggle for Freedom

Man's success in freeing himself from the irritations and dangers of his physical environment and from the punitive and exploitative aspects of his social environment has been perhaps his greatest achievement. It has left him free to develop others kinds of behavior with highly reinforcing consequences -- in the sciences, arts, and social relations. At the same time it has given him the feeling of freedom, and perhaps no feeling has caused more trouble.

As I pointed out in Chapter 4, operant behavior under positive reinforcement is distinguished by the lack of any immediately antecedent event which could plausibly serve as a cause, and as a result it has been said to show the inner origination called free will. Reflex behavior has its stimulus and is therefore called involuntary, and negatively reinforced operant behavior is emitted in the presence of the aversive conditions from which the behavior brings escape. Under these conditions we do not speak of what we want to do but of what we have to do to avoid or escape from punishment. We may, through an "act of will," choose to submit to punishment, but only because other consequences of which there is no immediately antecedent cause make our submission "voluntary."

The important fact is not that we feel free when we have been positively reinforced but that we do not tend to escape or counterattack. Feeling free is an important hallmark of a kind of control distinguished by the fact that it does not breed countercontrol. The struggle for freedom has seemed to move toward a world in which people do as they like or what they want to do, in which they enjoy the right to be left alone, in which they have been "redeemed from the tyranny of gods and governments by the growth of their free will into perfect strength and self-confidence." It would appear to be a world in which people have fulfilled themselves, actualized themselves, and have found themselves, in the sense that these words are used in existentialism, phenomenology, and Eastern mysticism. It is a world in which the control of human behavior is wrong, in which "the desire to change another person is essentially hostile." Unfortunately the feeling of being free is not a reliable indication that we have reached such a world.

The fact that positive reinforcement does not breed countercontrol has not gone unnoticed by would-be controllers, who have simply shifted to positive means. Here is an example: a government must raise money. If it does so through taxation, its citizens must pay or be punished, and they may escape from this aversive control by putting another party in power at the next election. As an alternative, the government organizes a lottery, and instead of being forced to pay taxes, the citizen voluntarily buys tickets. The result is the same: the citizens give the government money, but they feel free and do not protest in the second case. Nevertheless they are being controlled, as powerfully as by a threat of punishment, by that particularly powerful (variable-ratio) schedule of reinforcement discussed in Chapter 4, the effect of which is all too clearly shown in the behavior of the compulsive or pathological gambler.

Control is concealed when it is represented as changing minds rather than behavior. Persuasion is not always effective, but when it is, it breeds little or no countercontrol. We persuade in part by describing potentially reinforcing consequences. A well-known ecologist has discussed the possibility of making industries pay for the right to pollute air, land, and water. This requires either legislation or voluntary agreement by industry, and "in our kind of democracy" either is possible only "by persuasion, by creating a favorable climate of public opinion." Journalists and those who control the mass media my play an important role. Another appeal to persuasion led to the following comment in the London Times:

Now it is the majority that never had it so good, and it is democratically determined to maintain that situation. "We must persuade . . . persuade . . . persuade . . ." says Mr. Jenkins. "Our only hope is to appeal to the latent idealism of all men and woman of good will." But that is evangelism, not politics. . . . It is hoped that in his subsequent speeches Mr. Jenkins will discuss the political techniques whereby the majority can be controlled.

The control of behavior is concealed or disguised in education, psychotherapy, and religion, when the role of teacher, therapist, or priest is said to be to guide, direct, or counsel, rather than to  manage, and where measure which cannot be so disguised are rejected as intervention. Social proposals often carefully omit any reference to means: we need, for example, to make "better utilization of human resources," the control involved in "utilization" not being specified.

The embarrassment of those who find themselves in a position where they must recommend control is exemplified by the Declaration of Principles issued by the Stockholm Conference on the Environment held in 1971. The first principle begins, "Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality, and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for future generations." No other species has rights and responsibilities in this sense, and it is difficult to see how they could have evolved as fundamental human traits or possessions under natural selection unless we regard them as controlling and countercontrolling practices. To assert a right is to threaten action against those who infringe it. Thus, we act to restrain whose who force us to act (and who thereby reduce our feeling of freedom), or who take more than their share of available goods, or who foul the world in which we live. We justify and explain our behavior when we claim the right to restrain them. Those who defend human rights point to measures to be taken against those who infringe them. The Bill of Rights, for example, protects the individual against certain kinds of legal action.

Man "bears a solemn responsibility" not to control others aversively, not to take more than a just share of goods, and not to foul the environment, in the sense that he will be criticized or punished by those who suffer if he does so. The responsibility is not a personal possession but a property of the (mainly legal) contingencies to which people are exposed. By turning from rights and responsibilities to the behaviors attributed to them or said to be justified by them, and in turning to the social (usually governmental) contingencies which shape and maintain those behaviors, we escape from a centuries-old controversy and move toward possibly effective action.

The declaration of the Stockholm conference contained twenty-six principles. The conference had no military or economic, and very little educational, power; it could only make recommendations. In the English version we find that eleven principles asserted that states, planners, policies, and so on must take certain kinds of action. Five asserted that they should, and three that they shall. Five simply pointed out that action is essential, and one acknowledged a sovereign right. Perhaps it would be unfair to ask more of this particular conference, but it was called to meet possibly the greatest current threat to the species, and it is clear that it made little progress because it could not accept the fact that an essential step was the restriction of certain freedoms.

The Controlling Social Environment

People have suffered so long and so painfully from the controls imposed upon them that it is easy to understand why they so bitterly oppose any form of control. A simple analysis of controlling practices, such as that in the preceding chapter, is likely to be attacked simply because it could be misused by controllers. But in the long run any effective countercontrol leading to the "liberation" of the individual can be achieved only by explicit design, and this must be based upon a scientific analysis of human behavior. We must surely begin with the fact that human behavior is always controlled. "Man is born free," said Rousseau, "and is everywhere in chains," but no one is less free than a newborn child, nor will he become free as he grows older. His only hope is that he will come under the control of a natural and social environment in which he will make the most of his genetic endowment and in doing so most successfully pursue happiness. His family and his peers are part of that environment, and he will benefit if they behave in ethical ways. Education is another part of that environment, and he will acquire the most effective repertoire if his teachers recognize their role for what it is rather than assume that it is to leave him free to develop himself. His government is part of that environment, and it will "govern least" if it minimizes its punitive measures. He will produce what he and others need most effectively and least aversively if incentive conditions are such that he works carefully and industriously and is reinforced by what he does. All this will be possible not because those with whom he associates possess morality and a sense of ethics or ethics or decency or compassion, but because they in turn are controlled by a particular kind of social environment.

The most important contribution of a social environment -- a contribution wholly abandoned in the return to a thoroughgoing individualism -- has to do with the mediation of the future. The brutal prospect of overpopulation, pollution, and the exhaustion of resources has given the future a new and relatively immediate significance, but some concern for the future has, of course, long prevailed. It has been said that a hundred years ago "there were few men alive, whether Utilitarians or religious people, who then thought of the goodness of an act as being in the act itself or in the will that willed it; all was in the consequences, for their happiness tomorrow or the 'life hereafter'; both were matters of future reward." But goodness in the light of which an act may be judged is one thing; inducing people to be good or act well "for the sake of a future consequence" is another. The important thing is that institutions last longer than individuals and arrange contingencies which take a reasonably remote future into account. The behavioral processes are illustrated by a person who works for a promised return, who plays a game in order to win, or who buys a lottery ticket. With their help, religious institutions make the prospect of an afterlife reinforcing, and governments induce people to die patriotic deaths.

We object to much of this, but the interests of institutions sometimes coincide with the interests of individuals: governments and religions sometimes induce people to behave well with respect to each other and to act together for protection and support. Proverbs and maxims, as well as explicit codes of law, strengthen behavior having deferred consequences. By himself an individual can acquire very little behavior with respect to the future in his own lifetime, but as a member of a group he profits from the social environment maintained by the group. This is a fact of the greatest importance because it leads to an answer to two basic questions: How can we call a particular instance of the control of human behavior good or bad, and who is to design and maintain controlling practices?

The Evolution of Culture

The social environment I have been referring to is usually called a culture, though a culture is often defined in other ways -- as a set of customs or manners, as a system of values and ideas, as a network of communication, and so on. As a set of contingencies of reinforcement maintained by a group, possibly formulated in rules or laws, it has a clear-cut physical status, a continuing existence beyond the lives of members of the group, a changing pattern as practices are added, discarded, or modified, and, above all, power. A culture so defined controls the behavior of the members of the group that practices it.

It is not a monolithic thing, and we have no reason to explain it by appealing to a group mind, idea, or will. If there are indeed "seventy-three elements of culture common to every human society still existing or known to history," then there must be seventy-three practices or kinds of practices in every set of contingencies called a culture, each of which must be explained in terms of conditions prevailing before the culture emerged as such. Why do people develop a language? Why do they practice some kind of marriage? Why do they maintain moral practices and formulate them in codes? Some answers to questions of this sort are to be found in the biological characteristics of the species, other in "universal features" of the environments in which people live.

The important thing about a culture so defined is that it evolves. A practice arises as a mutation, it affects the chances that the group will solve its problems, and if the group survives, the practice survives with it. It has been selected by its contribution to the effectiveness of those who practice it. Here is another example of that subtle process called selection, and it has the same familiar features. Mutations may be random. A culture need not have been designed, and its evolution does not show a purpose.

The practices which compose a culture are a mixed bag, and some parts may be inconsistent with others or in conflict. Our own culture is sometimes called sick, and

. . .in a sick society, man will lack a sense of identity and feelings of competence; he will see the suspension of his own thought structures . . . to enter into a more fruitful relationship with those around him as betrayal; he will approach the world of human interaction with a sense of real despair; and only when he has been through that despair and learnt to know himself will he attain as much of what is self-fulfilling as the human condition allows.

In translation: a sick society is a set of contingencies which generates disparate or conflicting behaviors suggesting more than one self, which does not generate the strong behavior with which a feeling of competence is associated, which fails to generate successful social behavior and hence leads a person to call the behavior of others betrayal, and which, supplying only infrequent reinforcement, generates the condition felt as despair. Another writer has said that our culture is "in convulsions owing to its state of value contradiction, its incorporation of opposing and conflicting values," but we may say that the values, here as elsewhere, refer to reinforcers, and that is is the contingencies of which they are a part which are opposing each other.

The society will be "cured" if it can be changed in such a way that a person is generously and consistently reinforced and therefore "fulfills himself" by acquiring and exhibiting the most successful behavior of which he is capable. Better ways of teaching (introduced for whatever reason, possibly only because of immediate consequences for teacher or student) will make a more effective use of the human genetic endowment. Better incentive conditions (introduced for whatever reason, possibly only in the interests of management or labor) mean more and better goods and more enjoyable working conditions. Better ways of governing (introduced for whatever reason, possibly merely in the interests of governed or governor) mean less time wasted in personal defense and more time for other things. More interesting forms of art, music, and literature (created for whatever reason, possibly simply for the immediate reinforcement of those creating or enjoying them) mean fewer defections to other ways of life.

In a well-known passage in The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote:

Obscure as is the problem of the advance of civilization, we can at least see that the nation which produced, during a lengthened period, the greatest number of highly intellectual, energetic, brave, patriotic, and benevolent men, would generally prevail over less favored nations.

The point survives when the appeal to character is corrected by speaking of "a nation which maintains a social environment in which its citizens behave in ways called intelligent, energetic, brave, patriotic, and benevolent." Darwin was speaking of the survival value of a culture.

There are remarkable similarities in natural selection, operant conditioning, and the evolution of social environments. Not only do all three dispense with a prior creative edge and a prior purpose, they invoke the notion of survival as a value. What is good for the species is what makes for its survival. What is good for the individual is what promotes his well-being. What is good for a culture is what permits it to solve its problems. There are, as we have seen, other kinds of values, but they eventually take second place to survival.

The notion of evolution is misleading -- and it misled both Herbert Spenser and Darwin -- when it suggests that the good represented by survival will naturally work itself out. Things go wrong under all three contingencies of selection, and they may need to be put right by explicit design. Breeding practices have long represented a kind of intervention in the evolution of the species, and geneticists are now talking about changing genetic codes. The behavior of the individual is easily changed by designing new contingencies of reinforcement. New cultural practices are explicitly designed in such fields as education, psychotherapy, penology, and economic incentives.

The design of human behavior implies, of course, controls, and the question most often asked of the behaviorist is this: Who is to control? The question represents the age-old mistake of looking to the individual rather than to the world in which he lives. It will not be a benevolent dictator, a compassionate therapist, a devoted teacher, or a public-spirited industrialist who will design a way of life in the interests of everyone. We must look instead at the conditions under which people govern, give help, teach, and arrange incentive systems in particular ways. In other words we most look to the culture as a social environment. Will a culture evolve in which no individual will be able to accumulate vast power and use it for his own aggrandizement in ways which are harmful to others? Will a culture evolve in which individuals are not so much concerned with their own actualization and fulfillment that they do not give serious attention to the future of the culture? These questions, and many others like them, are the questions to be asked rather than who will control and to what end. No one steps outside the causal stream. No one really intervenes. Mankind has slowly but erratically created environments in which people behave more effectively and no doubt enjoy the feelings which accompany successful behavior. It is a continuing process.