The True Value of Behaviorism (social science of B.F. Skinner)
Copyright 2009, John Manimas Medeiros
What is behaviorism, really?
This essay may turn out to be very long, and actually a wide ranging history of psychological and sociological information about human motivation and human behavior, not just "behaviorism." However, the higher goal here is to show that behaviorism is extremely valuable for understanding human conduct. It is probably the best tool that can be used by society, and a democratic government, to create and maintain a healthy society of healthy groups and individuals who are reasonably successful and happy and have reason to believe in a positive future.
To be fair, and to save the reader a lot of false suspense, a cheap and overused literary tactic, I will explain the entire premise in summary now. Behaviorism, meaning the concept that human beings do good things -- or in fact any thing -- in order to obtain a material reward, is often severely criticized for being a crude and insultingly simple analysis of the human species, as well as a dark and sinister prescription for exercising tight control over society by giving everyone a reward for doing what they are told. This is described as making the entirety of human civilization into a nursery where good children get candy and bad children get spanked. Behaviorism is also severely criticized on the grounds that if society, or any authority or agent of societal power, carefully calculates rewards to be given for desired behavior, this simply makes all of human behavior a product of deliberate manipulation. This would yield a society of a few "controllers" and a mass of "the controlled" which is the worst nightmare of science fiction and the worst fear of people who see themselves as being free or needing to be free.
Therefore, the common flaw in all of these criticisms, and the most important thing for anyone to understand about B. F. Skinner's behaviorism (and there are other social-psychologists who support behaviorism) is that it IS NOT a description of what society should do, or of a method that society should adopt, but rather it is a description of what human society already does and has always done, either consciously or unconsciously, because it is logical, natural and supportive of human success. And "success" is the key word here.
Skinner ran rather simple types of experiments with pigeons and other animals thousands of times, and a proper description of these experiments would not even use the term "reward." The operable term is success, not "reward." In the most famously known experiments, hungry pigeons were offered food, and they learned that if they pressed a lever they would get a morsel of food. The crucial facts here are that the pigeons were hungry. They were already motivated, just as humans are naturally motivated on a daily basis by a hunger for food, or for attention, or for affection, or for sexual release, or for approval, or for money, or for a change of environment, or for an adventure, or for learning something new, and on and on. We do have many complex types of needs and desires and motivations. But the experiments used the simple motivation of hunger, which is common to all living animals, including us. Motivated already by hunger, a pigeon that pushed a lever, perhaps pushing the lever after a red light flashed, got a morsel of food. What this means, if one really wants to understand behaviorism, IS NOT that the pigeon got a reward, but that the pigeon SUCCEEDED. If you get this vitally important concept, that any animal acting in and upon a physical and social environment, including humans beings, already has a small or very large range of motivations, you are on the right track. Behaviorism does not provide you or me with a motivation. Being human provides us with motivations, all the time, even when we are asleep and dreaming. The only way a human individual could not be motivated is to be in a state of total satisfaction of every need or desire that they have ever felt or could feel. Train your mind therefore, to get a grip on the truth that behaviorism is not about rewards and punishments, or rewards and deprivation. Behaviorism is about failure and success. Failure and success apply to every desire, or need or motivation conceivable, including legal and illegal, moral and immoral, constructive and destructive. Whatever goal has arisen in one's mind, or heart, or unconscious self, that individual is already motivated; that individual wants something. The issue then becomes, will the individual succeed or fail in satisfying that motivation, or having it satisfied by an environment, a physical and or social environment that can provide either: success or failure. Let me assure you, that after a lifetime of education and experience in social work, I know that the failures and successes that occur in a person's lifetime determine everything or nearly everything that they believe, how they see themselves and society, and what they do with their time and energy. The successes and failures in a person's life usually do not come about because someone else planned their successes and failures for them. Teachers, good teachers, plan successes for students who are accustomed to failure, because they need success in order to believe in themselves and experience the joy of learning. But other than this particular form of "manipulated" success, ninety percent of all one's successes and failures happen naturally, without anyone having planned for them or to make them occur. Consider this simple example. The children in a neighborhood learn how to play basketball. They play, and some play better than others. Those who play well are "rewarded" with praise and respect and the fun of winning. They are succeeding at playing basketball. Who is manipulating who here? No one. There is nothing happening here that is sinister or domineering or contrived. Some players are succeeding more than others, because of natural talents and natural ability to develop skills in this particular game. Does this mean someone is controlling society? Of course not. One boy, becoming discouraged with his slight level of success in basketball, is spending more time on his math homework and reading books about science. He is going to be a brain surgeon when he grows up, because a friend of his is going to suffer a severe brain injury from an accident. Because of his friend's suffering, he is going to be motivated, simply from a natural form of goodness in a human heart, to do the work of fixing broken brains. He is not going to become a brain surgeon because someone is going to promise him a high income. He is going to become a brain surgeon because he is going to succeed at the skills a brain surgeon must have. So, I hope it is becoming more clear what behaviorism really is. It is the description of how one's path in life is a series of successes and failures, and if anyone, anyone, possesses a normal level of mental health, they will turn away from failure and toward success. A person who thrives on failure -- I have seen them -- is tragic, sad, rejected, dysfunctional, practically pushed outside of the boundaries of society. A person who persists in the repetition of self-defeat is sick. Behaviorism is an accurate description of healthy behavior. It is the description of people choosing success, either consciously or unconsciously. When success happens, when we obtain something that we wanted or needed, even that which defies definition such as "love" or "pride," we rarely need to sit down and laboriously ponder what happened. Success is often detected without complex analysis, recognized instantaneously because it is already pre-defined in our own minds. After one plays a little basketball, or paints a picture, or bakes a cake, or builds a house, success is detected by us even as we are releasing the ball from our hands. There is no manipulation, no mind control or social control in the science of behaviorism. This science of behaviorism is simply the statement, based on scientific experiments, that when people succeed, they will repeat the behavior that previously led to or produced success. Behaviorism is a description of Nature.
A society designed so that "controllers" controlled the masses by prescribing rewards for those who comply with behavioral goals is not "behaviorism." It is sickness that I would deem properly defined as a form of destruction of the human will. The question that I have not yet answered is how does an intelligent society apply the science of behaviorism. The answer is really simple. All we have to do is be as conscious as possible of the reality that normal, healthy people developed their strengths and skills through the process of turning away from failure and toward success. We can and do have planned success. Competitive situations often fit the model of planned success. Candidates for the goal of rising to a particular level of skill, such as being chosen for the varsity football team, or to be a Marine Drill Instructor, or to represent one's state in a national spelling bee, or to be designated as an Olympic athlete, all involve a process of consciously choosing success. The most insulting and simplistic attitude is not behaviorism, but the cynical judgment that all of these competitors, or seekers or strivers, are motivated by a desire for a material reward. This is a blatantly inaccurate and blind assessment of human character. Everyone of these competitors is already motivated by a desire to excel in skills that they already have, and because they have already experienced improvement in their abilities and they want to experience that again. They want to experience success. How could the pursuit of success be wrong or unhealthy or anything but the exercise and realization of human freedom. Behaviorism is not opposed to human freedom; it is human freedom.
One more argument in defense of behaviorism. Is it not odd that people criticize behaviorism on the grounds that it is a cynical viewpoint that humans are motivated, or can be easily motivated to perform to the specifications of a "controller" by being promised a material reward. What a strange conclusion? Where could this view of human nature possibly come from? Could it come from traditional religion, which tells us that if a person is good, behaves morally, in spite of a harsh world that rewards bad behavior and causes good people to suffer, or be poor, or be mistreated, they will receive the ultimate material reward after they die -- eternal happiness in heaven? So, if you really are violently opposed to giving anyone a material reward for performing desired behavior, then you are not opposed to behaviorism; you are opposed to religion.
Now we are ready to move on to a more sophisticated analysis of certain types of human behavior, such as advertising and politics and public debate, and social conformity.
What kinds of rewards do humans desire?
It is obvious that humans desire many different types of "rewards" or have complex motivations, a wide variety of goals or desires. The first thing that needs to be said about human desire and motivation is that it begins on a very simple and physical basis. The baby cries because she is hungry or wet or cold or otherwise uncomfortable. A baby may cry because he feels lonely or abandoned, even though he does not yet have vocabulary and explanations yet formed in his young brain. The human brain grows fastest in infancy, and then again very fast in adolescence. Adolescence is a kind of neurological second chance, an opportunity for a brain -- a person -- to repair and redesign itself after having accumulated a body of experience. Skinner called a body of experience, in his experiments, a "cumulative record." The record that accumulates in an animals brain is a record of failures and successes. It is probably filed away in a kind of composite or categorical memory bank, a record of what types of behaviors result in what types of consequences. We know ourselves because we know when we succeed and we know when we fail. In school, or in life, we take "aptitude" tests, situations in which we discover what we like and don't like. It follows logically and naturally, that so long as one is reasonably sane, what we like are those things or events that give us a feeling of success, and what we don't like are those things that result in a sense of failure.
As the baby grows and becomes a child, every normal child goes though a process called "internalization." At first we are highly motivated to receive the approval of our parents, especially our primary parent, usually our mother. She is the source of nearly all that meets our needs: food, warmth, love, affection, comfort, the approval that scientists like Skinner call "positive reinforcement." This is what behaviorism means: when we do certain things, we get "positive reinforcement." This thing called positive reinforcement is not usually a contrived or planned reward. It is just a kind of scientific word that means the same thing as "success." If you get a smile and hear the words, "Good job! What a good boy!" in an excited and encouraging TONE, when you take your first steps, you are receiving positive reinforcement of the best social kind: clear approval from your reference group. By beginning to walk you are not only feeling the pleasure of a new experience and a new skill, you are also making your mother, and your father, happy. What power! You can barely walk and barely talk, but you are already having the experience of making someone who is very important to you, someone who has great powers, happy. This ability to make another person happy plays a major role in the life of every human being. Later, we will enjoy telling a funny story, a joke, that makes others laugh, and laughter is known everywhere as a form of happiness. As children, and then again later as adults, we have many experiences where our own successes, such as scoring in a game, winning a competition, or getting a good grade in school, or doing the right thing, or helping another person who needs help, give us not only an "internal" reward of feeling good about ourselves, but also makes our parents or teachers or relatives or the community happy with us and for us. As infants, most of our needs are physical, but we are already laying the foundation for "internalization," meaning the process of being rewarded "internally", which means we are not behaving a certain way in order to receive a physical reward from outside ourselves, but by being "internalized" we are behaving in order to obtain a non-physical -- an emotional or mental reward -- from within ourselves. As we go through our lifetime growth process, infant - child - young adult - mature adult - elder, we continuously refine and re-define our ability to do what we want. As this process evolves, we persistently experience a sense of self-direction and freedom. We have little or no sense that we are doing "what we want" because we are trying to please others, or make others happy, or get a morsel of food or a gold coin or the approval of someone else in a position of authority. We all obtain, to one degree or another, this experience of "self-actualization" where we conceive of a goal or purpose or desire within ourselves, we discern the steps or a plan to obtain that goal, and we step forward. As we grow, we apply the concept of time to distinguish some goals from others. Clearly, there are short-term goals and long-term goals. This process, of wanting to earn another pay check and make the final payment on a bicycle, and wanting to be accepted to college, or the military service, and commit oneself to a self-improvement project that takes four years or more, is common human experience. Our desires and motivations are very complex, and they are not controlled by others who have made deliberate and detailed plans to control us. We get advice and opinions and guidance and pressures, but in the end, we chose which way to go on our own life's journey. Others do not assign motivations to us. Even in societies burdened with oppressive or excessively controlling governments or a form of "police state," individuals still feel and exercise complex individual motivations: to find a lover, to make more money, to gamble, to take risks in athletics or daily life, to take care of a pet, to change one's type of clothing, to redecorate one's room, or home, to move to another city, or the country, to write a story, or an essay, to marry or not to marry, to conform to an idea or a fashion, or to be independent and take the risk of being non-conformist, BECAUSE IN A WORLD WHERE CONFORMING IS ALWAYS REWARDED, AND SOMETIMES RICHLY REWARDED, IT MUST BE THAT NOT CONFORMING SOMETIMES PROVIDES A POWERFUL TYPE OF INTERNAL SUCCESS!
So, you see, whether you are a behavioral scientist or not, the average reasonable person can understand that we are communal and social beings, and we are all controlled by the human society to some extent which we all accept. When one travels around the world, one encounters different foods, different dwellings, different art forms, and different social customs. These are all called culture, and the culture of a country or a society, which usually also includes a religious tradition or religious customs, affects everyone who lives in that culture. We are all a product of what others expect of us, from our parents to our teachers, to our circle of friends, relatives, and then the more distant body of social and political and economic controls: police, lawmakers, bankers, the rich and powerful who play a role in the larger economic and technological projects of a tribe, corporation or nation. When one looks at us with a careful eye, one comes to a conclusion that is entirely consistent with the science of behaviorism: under "normal" circumstances, in every place and time, we are all both controllers and controlled, being controlled and controlling in the normal everyday processes of human society, including the discussions and debates, the conflicts, the competitions, the commerce, the arts and sciences, disease, the elections and revolutions and economic traumas both large and small. We cannot ever be so free that we live in the universe alone. We live in the world, and the world naturally controls us and we control the world any way we can. This is what "behaviorism" confirms, but confirms this reality in a more scientific and conscious statement: when we participate in a behavior that succeeds (in satisfying a motivation, including an internal motivation) we are likely to repeat that behavior, because that behavior has been positively reinforced.
Behaviorism IS NOT political science. It is social science. It is as simple as saying that we do not strike our head with a hammer if our goal is to feel good; and we do not eat sand when we are thirsty. We pursue success. We do whatever we expect will result in success. This is why we are still here. What happens to people who deviate from this basic and logical pattern of behavior? I know, because I was a professional social worker for many years. I observed children who did not pursue success -- or did they?
One of my early lessons as a social worker occurred when I was transporting an emotionally damaged boy in my car, on state business. He was on his way to a foster home, and I was thinking about him and how I might help him succeed. I knew this boy fairly well, having been his social worker for some time. As I drove, and thought, and he was still and silent in the passenger seat of the car, I suddenly realized that he did not want my approval. He did not care whether I liked him or approved of him in any way. This seemed impossible, because normal human children want to have some approval. But if it were true that this boy did not want my approval, or the approval of any adult, how could any caring adult influence him and his life? What leverage, what "parental control" can be exercised over a child who has no use whatsoever for your approval? Do you just give him money to behave properly? Does he do what you want him to do in exchange for food, or a nice room, for a bicycle, for what? The grim truth about such a child, a victim of severe neglect in infancy and a victim of sexual abuse during prolonged periods of early childhood, and a victim of physical and emotional cruelty, causes a child to become "anti-social." This means they are not controlled by the normal pro-social means that humans naturally employ. They do not respond positively if you are "nice" to them. They do not care whether you give them food or not, because they have been taking and stealing their own food since they had the ability to reach out and grab. They do not believe it is possible for an adult to be truly kind or fair to them. They have had the experience, repeatedly, of being deprived of what they want or need, and having what they want deliberately withdrawn or taken away from them as a punishment. The pattern of being punished and rewarded inconsistently, with no discernable logic, is a common experience for young children of alcoholics and drug addicts. Caretakers are present then suddenly absent, there is warmth and love, and inappropriate affection, then nothing, then anger, then violence, craziness, yelling, screaming, police, sudden changes in residence, in bedrooms, being terribly alone then forced to sleep with an unknown adult. The effect of such experiences -- because the human brain of a child learns from its actual experience and not from fiction or any concept of what should be -- is to cause the child to mistrust all adult behavior. Adults do not care and do not provide; in fact, adults are either not able or not willing to satisfy -- to reinforce -- the needs or desires of ME. Therefore, they are all to be ignored. I am on my own and I must meet my needs myself. I must never let an adult know what I want, because as soon as they know they will take it away from me or make it impossible for me to get it. I cannot trust any show or hint of affection, because affection is always for them. I am to be used by others to make them feel good and make me feel like trash. Therefore I will not love or like anyone, except possibly another child who is just like me.
I could go on, but this is the truth about human behavior and the human personality whether you need the long version or the short. We adapt to our experience, especially our early experience. The child who was thrown against the wall at age two is not like you. The child who was used sexually from age six to twelve is not happy, not serene, not secure, not proud, possibly not able to love or be loved, possibly not able to like themselves, possibly constantly in deep emotional pain and constantly struggling with a sense of loss, with a feeling that there is no possibility of ever knowing what it would be like to be a normal, healthy person. Such experiences can lead to a lifetime of self-hatred and self-defeat, including extremely destructive drug addiction and suicide, or prostitution, or a miraculous self-salvation and recovery invariably supported by a "mentor" or at least one guiding, trusted person in one's life. Such a mentor provides the reason to trust there is some good in human society and a chance that it is possible to enjoy life and be satisfied with oneself. People who have suffered early in life cannot be encouraged by words or by a few material rewards. To be a normal healthy person it is necessary to have internal controls and internal rewards. To be a normal healthy person is to be SOCIAL, and that means you do respond to the expectations and desires of others; you do want the approval of others, in a reasonable formulation of what is good for yourself balanced with what others need and want. We all need society, and we each in our own way give and take, control and are controlled. This is inescapable reality. The child who needs foster care is often said to need "re-parenting." Their childhood experience may have been so bad, so dysfunctional, it is as though they need to start life over again and re-learn how to live in a pro-social world.
In my years as a social worker, I perceived two types of condemnation in the behavior patterns of damaged children and teens. One was the observation, often made by a teacher or counselor, that the child "does not learn from experience." This assessment is so devastating that it sounds like it could not possibly be true. It sounds like the child is outside of the human species, because we could not possibly be here, survivors of thousands of years of trials and tribulations and evolution, if we did not learn from experience. The other devastating assessment was "Reactive Attachment Disorder," (RAD) which means that an infant or young child has been so severely neglected, or has received such a chaotic and inconsistent series of both physical and emotional signals from a cold and uncaring world (or emotionally ill caretakers) that the child has not developed a normal need for attachment to others. This "disorder" is hard to describe clearly to anyone who has not thought about it or seen it before. It means a young child who does not appear to desire or need the affection of any caretaker. In a child age four or eight, it means the child behaves as though the possibility of being physically and emotionally close to a caring adult is not even in their body of experience and not a conscious or unconscious desire. The child is literally "detached" and shows no signs that he wants or needs or values the affection of an adult caretaker, or feels any impulse to return affection when it is given. This pattern of behavior, which is real and not imagined and which I witnessed more than once presents an enormous and stressful challenge to any foster parent or surrogate caretaker of such a child. One has to give love and affection, and careful physical and emotional parenting for months and sometimes for years, usually with professional help, before the child begins to change from frozen to thawed. Children with RAD can appear to be seriously autistic, showing no need or ability to interact emotionally, but they are not autistic, because autism has organic or biochemical causes. Reactive Attachment Disorder is not caused by biology, it is caused by the child's earliest experience.
This kind of information should help one expand their understanding of the complexity and intricacy of human behavior, and especially the meaning of "reward" and "success." The successes a normal human being seeks and finds in life are very complex and can be extremely subtle. Under "normal" circumstances, a mother and child, or father and child, are not analyzing their behavior when they happily interact. The development of an infant is so cosmically and spiritually involved, experiments have demonstrated that in a normal healthy mother-child relationship, the parent and child are psychically "attuned" to one another. When the child is held by another caring adult, and the primary caretaker enters the room, sometimes even when that caretaker is not visible to the child, the brainwaves of the child and primary caretaker adapt and imitate one another. There is a kind of "mental telepathy" between mother and child. That's how important it is for an infant to experience reinforcement of the feelings of emotional attachment. If it does not occur, all of the life experiences that are based on social and emotional attachments -- which means just about everything -- are blocked. Emotional and social attachments are the most basic types of "rewards" or successes that human beings seek and obtain, from birth to death. These are the kinds of intangible "rewards" that behaviorism addresses, not candy, toys or money. Behaviorism does not tell us what kinds of behavior we should want, but it does tell us the best way to get it: when people succeed at performing the desired behavior, we tell them that they have succeeded. Isn't that what we do already, all the time? Have you ever said to anyone "You are a good citizen." Or "You are a good friend." Or "You are a good painter." If you did, when you spoke, you were providing positive reinforcement. You were letting that person know they had succeeded at achieving a positive and constructive personal and pro-social goal. That is "behaviorism." You are a behaviorist. When teachers and other social or scientific teams discuss what they are trying to achieve, they often ask "How will we know if and when we have succeeded?" Then they offer verbal descriptions of what actual concrete changes or events will serve as proper evidence that the goal has been achieved, and success has been attained. Taxpayers want government programs to be successful. Consider a team of civil servants asking the question "How will we know that our plan for the parole of this convicted criminal has been successful? And they say: "If he does not commit any additional crimes." Therefore, he has to be told when he is doing those things that will cause him to avoid criminal acts. That is behaviorism.
Can human beings be effectively motivated secretly?
Now that it is clear that humans naturally have complex motivations, including internal and intangible motivations that are not easily controlled or even known to other people, not precisely, let us ask this important question: Can human beings be effectively motivated secretly? The reasoning behind this question is clear and should be recognized as obviously valid with regard to an element of "secrecy." Because, if another person is trying to control you by controlling your motivations, and doing so openly, then you are free to reject or resist such control efforts openly. Would normal, healthy humans resist the public efforts of others to control their motivations? You can be certain that they would, because it is well documented that normal, healthy humans resisted the propaganda and police state control efforts of the most oppressive and violent government in human history: Hitler's Germany.
The biography of Sophie Scholl and friends, and of Colonel Stauffenberg, and of fourteen other attempts to assassinate Adolph Hitler, shows that humans will resist efforts of others to control their lives even when torture and a painful death are guaranteed to be the results of resistance. Sophie Scholl was a leading member of the "White Rose" a resistance movement of German writers who published underground newspapers arguing that the Reich Army could not defeat the Russians on the Eastern Front and the Allies on the Western Front, and that Germany should surrender and offer a treaty of peace in order to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of German soldiers who would die in the ongoing war. Colonel Stauffenberg led the well-documented effort to assassinate Hitler that resulted in an injury to Hitler's arm. There were fourteen other attempts to assassinate Hitler, and many effective German resistance movements that secretly evacuated Jews and other groups targeted for death camps. In France, thousands of citizens participated in secret resistance programs, including open collaboration with the English and Americans, which they knew would result in instant execution if discovered, or horrible torture to extract information about other resistance collaborators. This is pertinent to behaviorism, because the primary objection to behaviorism is that it would lead to a world in which ordinary citizens are controlled by persons in authority. Who was controlling the tens of thousands of citizens in Europe who resisted the temporary German police state? Who was controlling the German soldiers who plotted to remove Hitler because they saw that he was destroying Germany and Europe? And this was a form of clandestine control, because the police state was controlling the news and all forms of public information to lie about what was happening and what was the likely outcome of the war. Even with this extreme level of actual control of the flow of information, and absolute control over the police power and employment of extreme cruelty toward any offenders or non-conformists, this police state was resisted and defeated. What does this tell us about the possibility of an elite power exercising control over human motivation? This history tells us that human motivation cannot be controlled by overt police power. We are social beings and we live in a natural society where individuals learn and practice individual choices. Efforts to control what people want would have to make the entire society into a prison and such an imprisoned society would still fail. Humans would still want to be free, and no one would be happy, not even the guards.
Freedom and democracy are not inventions or institutions restricted to designated cultures. Humans learn to generate what they want from within, internalization, and humans make individual choices regardless of what culture they live in and what form of government they are blessed with or cursed with, whether organized by clan or tribe or ethnic entity or nation. Behaviorism tells us that so long as there are some people -- and there always are -- who do not submit to the external control of others, humans cannot be effectively controlled by means of rewards and punishments. Normal, healthy humans want to be free, even if there is a cultural context of freedom enclosed in a boundary that prohibits a known set of choices. Every culture has its laws and customs that tell people certain types of behavior are forbidden, or considered criminal. This reality does not make people slaves. Freedom has never meant that people can do anything they want. Freedom always occurs in a socially responsible context; the boundaries of freedom are established to protect the health and safety of the social and political unit.
We have not yet fully explored the question: Can human beings be effectively motivated secretly? Because there is another phenomenon that is deemed to be a form of mind control or social and psychological control: advertising. Advertising in America and in other cultures has become a kind of science of behavioral manipulation that is permitted under the law, surprisingly, even in nations that claim to hold "freedom" as their primary value. How can this be? Why do people who proclaim that anything less than freedom is unacceptable openly allow the manipulation of human desires by means of advertising? Let's take a look, because this phenomenon is very interesting. Advertisers have become the psychological scientists of our times. We have openly expressed our terrible fear that "the government" will try to control us, but those who have developed the most effective means to change our motivations -- actually change what we want -- are the agents of our local grocers. In the land of business and commerce, the controlling enemy of freedom is not bumbling politicians, but earnest sellers who act on the principle that the best way to increase sales is to make the consumer want more. And there are ways to make the consumer want more. Let's take a look first at the recent history of the tobacco industry, and then what is happening now as I type, in the food industry. Is it not strange that food, a human being's most basic need after air and water, has to be promoted by an "industry?" Is it not troubling that there have been indications some investors have planned to make us subject to a "water industry?" Observe, and tremble before the evil practice of chemical "behaviorism."
Words and images not being sufficient, controlling the behavior of another person must be supported by chemicals. We know that there are addictive chemicals or substances. Those familiar to most people are alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, and a long list of pain relievers and sedatives. And foods can be addictive. We learn from our recent history that the tobacco industry promoted sales with a variety of advertisements. These begin with songs or "jingles" or slogans that associate the product, a brand of cigarette, with something pleasant. "I'd walk a mile for a Camel." "I'd rather fight than switch" -- from one cigarette brand to another. Smoke Kent "with the micronite filter." There was not much to that "micronite" filter. One brand of cigarettes was described simply as "famous." When it became more socially acceptable for women to smoke, cigarettes were advertised as popular with "liberated" women, being women who were carefree, independent, strong-willed, slim and beautiful. The ultimate cigarette advertisement, impressed on the mind of everyone who saw it as the symbol of a rugged, handsome competent male, was the cowboy known as "the Marlboro Man." It was as though the Marlboro Man was what any adolescent male would want to be, so he could be like the Marlboro Man if he smoked Marlboro cigarettes. Shortly thereafter, Americans were rudely awakened to the reality that cigarette makers were not only selling ordinary addictive tobacco, but they were adding chemicals to the cigarettes to make them more addictive. Also, the Marlboro Man was not a rugged cowboy; he was a shriveling cancerous skeleton dying in a hospital bed. But, lots of cigarettes were sold with advertising accompanied by addictive chemicals. This concept, that we can be persuaded to smoke, drink or eat something that will make us feel good about ourselves, is key to understanding how it is possible for a human being to be under the control of others, but only others who sell or dispense the addictive substance. One of the world's most popular drinks, Coca-Cola, changed its secret recipe in the 1950's. The original recipe included cocaine.
Think of the process where an adolescent is introduced to an addictive drug by an adult in the neighborhood. The seller is friendly, popular, has money, seems to be very self-assured and worldly-wise, and interested in helping the teenager enjoy life, be cool, and be socially attractive or interesting. But, unless the buyer has some very strong personality traits that are far stronger and far more interesting than the effects of the drug, the addiction will become, sooner or later, the main event of the buyer's life. This is the most common way that people are controlled by others, not by political manipulation or propaganda, but by advertising, promotion, and an addictive chemical. And no one should feel certain that they are safe because they are not a drug addict. The number of food addicts probably far outnumbers drug addicts, but food addicts do not believe that they are addicted. They just think that they are well-fed. But those industrialists who make and sell processed foods, foods that can sit in a bag or box or can for weeks or months before the sale to the consumer, have played a role in causing people to eat more. If it is true that food advertising can cause people to eat more, then that would be a way that some people can control others, somewhat "secretly," but with the use of the addictive chemicals that are added to food. Wanting to sell more, to make more money, to be "more successful" on their materialist terms, they have asked themselves "How can we make people eat more?" And they found an answer.
How can we make people eat more?
If this question is asked and can be answered successfully, who is making people eat more, and why, and when will people make such behavior illegal? How? If making money is success (getting a material reward), then those who make people eat more are succeeding and being rewarded for their success at making money. They were motivated to make money and it seems they were not motivated to produce good food or to make people healthy or to benefit society. Did the people who became overweight succeed? At what did they succeed? Humans are susceptible to addictions, to alcohol, to sugar, to food, to drugs. When a person is addicted, what are they succeeding at? Addiction is by definition a repetitive pattern of behavior. The science of behaviorism teaches us that we repeat behaviors that previously resulted in a success, and we avoid previous behaviors that resulted in failure. What is the success that follows addictive behavior? Where would we go if we followed the theory that addicts repeat their addictive behaviors because addiction causes suffering and some people like to suffer? This would not set well with those who have specialized in the study of addictions, because most if not all studies of addiction lead us to the conclusion that people invariably use substances (drugs, food, alcohol, desserts) to make themselves feel better, to forget their sorrows, to escape from persistent emotional pain, or just plain loneliness.
If we were to consider eating as a kind of addiction, so that people were eating more and more and behaving in a pattern that looks like addiction, we could ask "What is the success that follows eating?" What is the success that follows eating salty or sweet or fattening foods? What is the success that follows eating larger quantities of food than are necessary? Remember, we are exploring these questions because you -- or someone -- argued that we could be controlled by "behaviorism" if we allowed others to reward us for behaving the way they want us to behave. But, if others want us to eat more, so that they can sell more, so that they can make more money, then IF WE ARE IN FACT EATING MORE, WE ARE BEING CONTROLLED BY OTHERS WHO ARE CONTROLLING US WITH ADVERTISING AND WHATEVER IT IS THAT WE EXPERIENCE AS "SUCCESS" WHEN WE EAT OR AFTER WE EAT -- MORE. We cannot be eating more of any food because it causes us pain or makes us feel awful. And on top of that, no one is shoving the food into us. We are feeding ourselves, wherever we are there is a source of food nearby, at any hour of the day or night. We know that we need food in order to live, but we have also known for a long time that we have psychological and social needs that can be met by or with food. Our holidays and celebrations almost invariably require specified foods. "Fest" means feast. Social gatherings are usually accompanied by food. Even at workplaces, when there is reason to have a meeting, someone requests or requires food, not carrots but usually coffee, donuts, snacks, even chocolate and cookies. This is to help us "enjoy" the meeting, make it a social event. Or, the meeting is accompanied by lunch; or is it the lunch that is accompanied by the meeting? It is fascinating to consider that even when we have a great abundance of food, we still might be acting like starving pigeons who want to press a lever and get food. Why is this? And why would we allow ourselves to eat far more than is necessary for our health? Why do we keep eating "too much" when we are frequently reminded that eating too much is dangerous?
This question is addressed in a pleasant and very informative manner in an article entitled "XXXL" (extra, extra, extra large) by Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, July 20, 2009. Ms Kolbert is writing about books that are about food and obesity and overeating, and she discusses at least four possible explanations for Americans gaining weight across the board -- men, women, children. I found most interesting the explanations offered in The End of Overeating, by David Kessler (Rodale), and Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink. Both of these books include evidence that one of the main reasons we are eating more is because someone has found effective answers to the question "How can we make people eat more?" The explanation is that those who sell food in fast food restaurants have learned that they sell more when they use larger containers. "Super-size me" means exactly what it says -- make me larger. Across the board, containers for coffee, sandwich sizes, pizzas (2 for price of 1) whatever the portion, people are just obliviously willing to "step up to the plate" and eat the whole thing whatever size it is served. Packaged foods in the grocery store have taken a different strategy -- add flavors. If you are my age -- way over fifty -- you may recall when "cheddar" and "bacon" were new flavors added to potato chips and corn chips. Today, cheddar, bacon, onion, garlic and sour cream and onion, and barbeque and taco and chile and lime and cinnamon and caramel and on and on and on, are added to any food product that one might imagine, and everyone knows in their true brain that the flavor being added is carried in salt or sugar or both. You got it, salt and sugar, used for centuries as preservatives, are now regarded strictly as flavors. The Food and Drug Administration must have made this one of its gifts to the industry they are supposed to regulate: they allow the American food industry and the nation to deny that salt and sugar are preservatives, the oldest preservatives in the world. That is why your friendly distant Global Corporation can bury your food in salt and still have the encouraging words on the label "no preservatives added."
One could explore and expound the evidence at great length. The point is that advertising food is funny. Who needs to be reminded to eat? Anyone who is not eating, that's who. And so the advertising is aimed at everyone, and says the same thing over and over again TASTE ! EAT ! FUN ! BE SOCIAL ! BE COOL ! Of course it is obviously logical to call this phenomenon what it is in fact called: eatertainment. This juncture in American history suggests that when people have enough food for proper nutrition, they then use food for something else -- for socializing, for activity, to escape boredom, to entertain themselves. It is odd but also startling to think that if people actually had food fights with the extra food that they don't need to eat, they would be healthier.
So, here we have found what looks like the dark side or dark view of behaviorism. People are being controlled, not secretly exactly, openly but in a process of somewhat hidden motives. It is very much like the dope peddler on the corner. He is your friend. He wants you to be happy. He has a good deal for you -- lower prices, available any time, best product, TASTES GOOD, FEELS GOOD. Only he is just selling food, food that is fast, salty, sweet, cheesy, fatty, fun, social, exciting, plentiful, affordable, RICH. Maybe that's the word, rich, rich foods for poor people? Does eating lots of food make people feel rich? Does it make people feel satisfied? Does it make people feel full and therefore not empty? The significant point here, with regard to "behaviorism" or behavioral control, is that the control of a controller over the controlled, if this is in fact what is occurring, is not occurring by advertising alone, but like those old addictive chemicals in cigarettes, the control is accompanied by a chemical factor, not just words or suggestion.
This, I think, is very important in our consideration of the original questions about using "rewards" to control people. Look at what appears to be the "rewards" people are getting when they eat more: tastes good, feels good, you are sociable, friendly, you have friends, you are not lonely, not bored, you are entertaining, life is entertaining, food is fun, you are rich because you have plenty of food, you are satisfied, full, your life is full, you are fulfilled. Could there be more? Or perhaps less, perhaps only some of these but not all of these. However, in any case, what has occurred is similar to any form of addiction. What has occurred is you or I or anyone has repeated a behavior that we performed previously, because we experienced success previously with this behavior -- we ate. And eating was fun, at least more fun than other things we could have done or possibly felt some obligation to do. And eating made us feel good. So in a way it is not such a big deal, but it does address the issue of fear "behaviorism," the fear that someone can control you by giving you rewards. Get real. We are all controlled by people who give us rewards. A paycheck is a reward, and it feels good to get one, and it feels real bad if your employer notifies you that this one is your last. If one drives through a stop sign and is stopped by a police officer, who then tells you that he is giving you a warning because you have no previous traffic violations, you are in fact being rewarded for good behavior. What is wrong with that? If your roof leaks and you buy a ladder and supplies and go up on the roof of your house and sweat in the sun and search for the leak and spend hours finding it and fixing it, then, the next time it rains, you get a reward. What is wrong with that? These are not just rewards. These are occurrences of "success." Remember that. It is not fair and not accurate to discredit behaviorism on the grounds it involves inventing rewards for desired behaviors. All of the rewards and behaviors were invented ages ago, while we were evolving. We all receive and give rewards, we all experience success and failure and if one is sane one does not repeat the behavior that led to failure, and one is very likely to repeat the behavior that led to success. This is what a football team is doing when they use a play that led to a touchdown once before -- they are being controlled by past experience because that is what rational, normal, healthy people do. They repeat behaviors that lead to success -- whatever the goal may be -- and they avoid behaviors that lead to failure. What does "safety first" mean? It means be certain that you avoid those behaviors that can result is a tragic failure, such as loss of a limb or death. Avoid driving while drunk. Avoid parties frequented by lunatics who think it is funny to put dangerous drugs in your drinks when you are not looking -- Are they trying to make you happy, or themselves happy? Avoid breathing gasoline fumes, which is a sign seen at gas stations. Are you being controlled by that sign? By the people who put up the sign? Is that bad? Of course not. We are controlled by social customs, morals, laws and regulations that are designed to keep us whole, healthy and safe. And it could all be labeled as "behaviorism" because we do receive a reward for obeying all of the signs and cues given to us by society -- we continue living and we avoid disaster. The argument that "behaviorism" means an illegitimate method for controlling the behavior of others is empty of meaning, because we already allow advertises to tell you, and everyone, that you will be happy and sociable and have friends if you buy their junk food. So what are you going to do about these evil people who make you eat more? Whatever your plan is, how will you know when you have succeeded?
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