From Christ to Skinner:
The History of Western Civilization is Based on a Psychological Problem.
Copyright 2013, John Manimas Medeiros
The riginal teaching of the Gospel Message is a scientific message: that bad stewardship does not result in punishment by an angry God but logical consequences by the laws of nature. The Gospel message is not about Heaven and Hell, but about life and ultimate reality in real, physical universe. Heaven and Hell are the old, ancient religion, probably originating in pre-history.
I see an error in reasoning, or emotional reaction, in the belief that when God speaks to us, God can only talk about or be concerned wirh moral behavior, being rewarded for obedience and being punished for independent thought or independent action.
Error in reasoning, or emotional reaction, that if we receive the Gospel Message as being scientific information, useful information to help us survive and thrive, everything about religion is overthrown – there is no more God. God is removed and there is no basis for moral beliefs or moral principles. None of this follows logically. One can retain their religious beliefs about the existence of God, or a God, and about moral principles, while re-framing the Gospel message in order to receive the message as a scientific message.
Error in reasoning, or emotional reaction, that because we enjoy rewards and try to avoid punishments that this is the entire repertoire of human desire and motivation – life is comprised of reward and punishment, and society is about rewards and punishments, or about enrichment and deprivation, always competition for scarce resources. Winners get rewarded, losers are punished by the experience of being deprived of what they wanted.
This theme follows throughout the history of Western Civilization and American history. The modern theory of behaviorism is deliberately misrepresented and misunderstood the same way the message of Christ is deliberately misconstrued to be a continuation of ancient fears. People who hear about B. G. Skinner’s explanation of human behavior, even psychologists with Ph. D. degrees, criticize behaviorism by saying: “I reject the idea that the only reason we do things is for a reward, and I don’t believe it is morally right to control people’s behavior by giving them rewards.” This is an atrocity against Skinner and against the commitment of the field of psychology to improve human understanding of human nature and human behavior. Once again, people get stuck on the concept of a “reward,” which is universally interpreted as money or food, or sex or power. But this is not what behaviorism teaches and demonstrates. People hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see, and they see pigeons getting corn or children getting dessert, and they get fixated, as always, on the desire for rewards and the fear of punishment or deprivation. The story of siblings who each want the largest piece of cake, or largest slab of beef, is repeated endlessly. But the core principle of behaviorism is not that we act in order to get a reward. The principle of behaviorism is that We repeat a behavior which we remember in the past was followed by success.
This is the immense power of words, and the profound importance of the differences between two words that sloppy thinkers treat as having the same meaning. Success, you idiot! Success is what governs human behavior, because we are logical and we learn from experience. And because success has a million definitions, and is not as simple in meaning as “reward.” When one opens the fearful mind to the lesson of behaviorism, in freedom, then one sees that Yes of course we do what brought success the last time we did it, and especially if that behavior brought success many times in the past. And success is broadly defined. It could be success in that I used to lie but now I told the truth, and that is my success. I ate too many sugary foods for years and was overweight and felt bad, and guilty, and now I got my eating under control and I feel very happy with this success. I was frequently in conflict with my neighbor over seeds that feel from her tree, but we met with a mediator and we resolved the problem successfully. Our dinner party was a success (because people enjoyed themselves and made new friends). The new rifle kept getting jammed, but the old hunter took it apart and told us to change one small piece of the firing mechanism and then the rifle became a great success for our company. For many years I could not manage to find happiness in a romantic relationship, but after I went to therapy for about a year I found both new friendships and romantic relationships that made me feel like a success. Are you catching on, now? There are no pigeons getting corn or teenagers getting chocolate morsels and people getting a trophy mansion or a trophy spouse. There are and always will be crass and materialistic motivations, but the meaning of behaviorism, the meaning that is profoundly important and profoundly true, is that reasonable and generally healthy people repeat the behaviors that result in successful achievement of a socially accepted goal. This is what the word “socialization” means. As children we sometimes behave in ways that are anti-social. Our parents teach us what we often call “manners.” Say “thank you” when you receive something from another person; don’t be selfish, share, especially with those who have less than you do; don’t tell another person that they are ugly or fat or skinny or stupid. We learn how to behave toward others, and we reinforce patterns of pro-social behavior over time not just because our parents told us to do so, but because the behaviors actually do cause us to experience social success. Whether the human goal is simple and physical, like a girl who wants to be able to run faster, or a scientist who wants to learn more about stars, or spinach, we repeat past behaviors that resulted in success. We enjoy both tangible and intangible rewards, but behaviorism never taught us that being human means we do everything for a material reward. And as far as using behaviorism, or “applied behaviorism” in order to improve human society, Skinner did not recommend that we get a cheeseburger every time we do something good. He recommended that we structure our laws and customs, our social practices, so that people are rewarded with success when they do what we believe is good, and they do not experience success when they do what we believe is bad. This viewpoint is entirely consistent with the concept of morality, altruistic behavior, and law abiding behavior, as well as concepts of patriotism, civic duty and civil society. People just don’t like the concept of other people knowing why they are behaving. People are fixated on the idea that we are simple animals who do good to get lunch and do bad when Satan has captured the soul. We vigorously resist self-knowledge. This is what happened when Christ taught natural science two thousand years ago, and when B. F. Skinner taught natural science during the twentieth century. The tragedy of human self-definition is that so many humans insist that to be human means to behave like a junior-high school soap opera and nothing better is possible. Skinner, and Christ, tried to show us that something better is possible.
The fundamentalists and racists don’t understand that the American Civil War is one of the best demonstrations of Marxism in all of human history. Dialectical materialism and socialist realism are essentially the viewpoint that moral and social values grow out of economic relationships. The economic culture of the southern slave-driven plantation served as the justification for bizarre and wildly contrived moral arguments, including the craziness that all great civilizations are based on slavery, the Bible promoted slavery and God promoted slavery and some human beings were not really human but they were animals that looked like humans, and, fortunately, could work harder than any white man cared to. Having ten lazy and comfortable nobles live off of the hard labor of two or three hundred slaves was perfectly normal and right. What’s the problem? This is the essence of dialectical materialism in plain English. Although philosophers go on about synthesis and antithesis and much additional obscurities, the kernel of Hegel’s philosophy, for ordinary people, is that we do not invent or discover religion first. Human society does not begin with an important message from God. Dialectical materialism, as well as a lot of average anthropology, teaches us that humans get themselves organized economically first, then thoughts of the cosmos and the natural forces behind the hunt and the harvest generate religious ideas, fears, awe, admiration and a deep desire to be connected to the forces of Nature rather than just being a casual victim like the trees and dead bodies that float down a river during a flood. Traditional agricultural societies worship the sun and rain and father sky and mother earth and the amazing capacity of a female to produce within herself a miniature replica of her genus and pop it out into the world to keep it going around. Hunters sit around the fire and create religious traditions and mythology, as well as good natural science, out of the stories of what happens when a single human, or a coordinated team, struggle to subdue an animal that has long pointed teeth, slicing bacteria-infested claws, respectable muscles and lightning speed. Everything appears to be animated by forces that are not seen, by powers that cannot be described in words. Spirits. Together with sounds heard in the pitch black of a moonless night, sudden movements that one might have seen, or might have imagined, build the edifice of ghosts and gods, angels and devils, strange and terribly cold things that live in caves, or under the water, or in the air and often hidden within the mist that floats over a bog or a swamp. Fires that fly out of the earth. Fires that bolt down from the sky. The world is wonderful and hard to know, but we can survive, and our experience – the knowledge collected by the elders, can help us to be in the right place at the right time, to make decisions that bring success, and avoid the wrath of the gods or the capricious forces of nature. Thus, the religion flows from the experience that grows out of the settled economy. How we get what we need teaches us how the world works, including the many powers and forces hidden from our limited instruments of detection. There are spirits in the world that want us to behave a certain way, and thereby moral law and religion grows like a seed dropped by a bird, seemingly coming from nowhere, or from heaven, but it actually came from a natural process, from the ass-end of the human family, dropping out onto the ground according to how and where we got our food. One can reject this viewpoint, but it is bad idea to reject both history and science simultaneously. We do invent our values in accordance with our economic practices. Our laws and religious beliefs are designed to support how we live. And, that is why when we change how we live we have problems with our old religions, because they no longer support how we live. Some people, uncomfortable with the dissonance and disagreement, start to build a new, compatible religion (liberals), and some go insane because they are convinced that violation of the old rules and icons assures permanent and total loss (fundamentalists).
Why did the southern plantation owners defend their slave-driven economy and construct an exaggerated concept of “state’s rights” to justify the uniquely cruel practices of their “peculiar institution”? They did not do it only because they were inventing an absurd religion, but also because of recent historical experience: The Trail of Tears. During the 1830s, the Cherokee Indians fought for the right to keep their territory and possibly vote for creation of a new state, a state that would have enabled them to maintain a successful progressive Native American society. Their “state” included territory that overlapped with territorial claims of the established states of Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. The battle between the legal status of the federal treaties with the first Americans who had lived on the continent for millennia, and the colonizing Europeans, continued for several years, involving trips to Washington and persistent re-visiting of the treaty contents and who said what and did the property rights of the colonizers take precedence over the human rights of the “savages.” The neglected truth of this dispute, and the most offensive act of European Americans was the blatant disregard for the plain truth that the Cherokee Nation had complied with European expectations and imitated the European culture more obviously and genuinely than any other group of Native Americans. They lived as farmers and tradesmen. They made more than reasonable efforts to convert their spoken language into a written language, supported by an alphabet, lexicon and equivalent of a modern dictionary. They printed and read a Cherokee Christian Bible. They wore European clothing and lived in houses, not tents or lodges. They took steps to adopt European legal practices, such as recording births and marriages, property deeds and wills. They wrote and published newspapers, created public offices and held elections. They did all this, appearing to outsmart the Europeans and beat them at their own game, but still were betrayed by their European neighbors and President Andrew Jackson. The Federal Government dishonored the treaties with the Cherokee Nation, just as the European Americans dishonored every other treaty with the Native Americans, and ordered that the Armed Forces remove the Cherokee to a strange land to the west, replacing their Eastern North American Forest habitat, farms and hunting grounds with an alien world of dry and hot plains. The march from the Appalachians to the plains of Oklahoma was designed to kill or at least defeat them, and many died on the way from starvation, cold, forced marching with insufficient rest, food or water. THIS is the most veiled cause of the American Civil War. The European colonists, the false Christians and the Federal Government itself taught the Southern Nobility that they were right: their property rights over land and over slaves took precedence over the federal power to make an enforce a treaty. The Union earned the southern rebellion because they had supported its cause against a just and dedicated people. The betrayal of the Cherokees is the greatest and clearest condemnation of American hypocrisy, and another confirmation of the Marxism and socialism that makes the fundamentalists crazy – they so obviously built their absurdly weird religion upon their economic commitment to a slave-driven economy. They could not employ simple logic to admit and address the explosive contradiction between Christ’s practice of radical equality and their psychotically cruel treatment of Africans and their ridiculous social structure of a tiny jobless nobility living off the hard labor of slaves who outnumbered them by at least thirty to one. This is the most extreme example of why one should examine fundamentalist religion suspiciously, because of how the American slave culture twisted moral thought to serve an economic system that denied the humanity and legal rights of the vast majority, claimed that it was right to sell children and parents to different plantations, right to beat a slave to death for speaking to a free citizen of the opposite gender, right to execute a man without a trial, right to deny people access to education. This, if one sees with open eyes and an open mind, is what those socialist philosophers were referring to when they argued that humans create their religious values from their economic system. We design our deities and our moral laws to support how we get breakfast, lunch and dinner, and sex, and children. We don’t like this sociological materialist interpretation of who and what we are. Makes us look crass, certainly less than noble. Lacks the poetry that we feel, so long as we are well fed, and sometimes have escaped the hard work by virtue of the social – economic – structure.
If President Jackson and the Federal Government had assigned greater weight to human rights and treaty agreements with the Native Americans in the 1830s, and resolved the conflict in favor of letting the Cherokee Nation create a new State within the United States, we had a good chance of avoiding the Civil War. We would have instead enabled the gradual replacement of slavery with temporary bonded servitude and transitions to full citizenship by means of education and cultural assimilation. But in the 19th century, in the United States of America, politics meant that the Europeans would take what they wanted by force, and show no respect whatsoever for anyone who had a smaller gun. Does that religion continue? So, we see that the American Civil War is a very good example of people repeating a pattern of behavior – arguing the principle of “state’s rights” – because that behavior was successful in the past. Also, the Americans have used war successfully numerous times, so they continue to use war to get what they want. Again, they do not use war because it is really a moral course of action, although they do argue that it is, but because it has been successful for them. Most people strive to do what is good because doing good is an accepted definition of success. If success was not defined as doing good, it would not be done. People continuously deny this truth because they believe that doing the right thing means doing something that is impractical but moral, as in acting against one’s own best interests on earth because that will get one a good place in heaven after death. This is the best method found so far, to get people to sacrifice their self-interests in order to maintain the control of society by a selfish, lazy and destructive nobility. Why say “destructive” when people are being fed and housed and clothe? Because they are being maintained for the next success, the next war.
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