- Capitalism and Alternatives -

You forgot something...

Posted by: Barry Stoller on February 09, 19100 at 11:01:35:

In Reply to: Skinner and Chomsky posted by Hank on February 08, 19100 at 12:22:19:

You neglected to mention the most salient aspect of the Chomsky-Skinner debate: Chomsky's slanderous hatchet-job on Beyond Freedom and Dignity published in the New York Review of Books in early 1972. This 'review' of Skinner's book represents yellow journalism at its most perniciously biased. That Chomsky chose to reprint it in his collection of essays, The Chomsky Reader years later only testifies to Chomsky's rabid zeal to misrepresent Skinner.

Let us recall in passing that Skinner was an ardent proponent of positive reinforcement, the concept that behavior can---and should---be strengthened (made more likely to occur) by presenting, on various schedules, contrived reinforcements that, simply put, bring pleasure to whom it is presented. Skinner's repudiation of negative reinforcement (i.e. positive reinforcers that are taken away) was made clear when he criticized the bourgeois wage system:

Wages serve... simply to create a standard economic condition which may be withdrawn aversively.(1)

Skinner's repudiation of aversive control (presentation of punitive stimuli) was also clearly stated:

[P]unishment does not actually eliminate behavior from a repertoire, and its temporary achievement is obtained at tremendous cost in reducing the overall efficiency and happiness of the group.(2)

Skinner's recommendation for the best setting for the application of positive reinforcement? Intentional communities, designed to be small, where 'face-to-face control' (social cues) is the sole power (see 'The Design of Experimental Communities,'Cumulative Record third edition, Appleton-Century-Crofts 1972, pp. 58-65; 'Human Behavior and Democracy,' Reflections on Behaviorism and Society, Prentice-Hall 178, pp. 3-15; and 'Walden Two Revisited,' ibid., pp. 56-66).

That said, it would be a GROSS MISREPRESENTATION to say this about Skinner and behaviorism:

In fact, there is nothing in Skinner's approach that is incompatible with a police state in which rigid laws are enforced by people who are themselves subject to them and the threat of dire punishment hangs over all... Extending these thoughts, consider a well-run concentration camp with inmates spying on one another and the gas oven smoking in the distance and perhaps an occasional verbal hint as a reminder of the meaning of this reinforcer.(3)

What blatant bullshit!

Now, I have heard that Chomsky wrote about Lenin, but I confess I didn't read it. Considering the egregious slander Chomsky wrote about Skinner, I wouldn't waste my time. Chomsky is little more than a well-paid literary character assassin. If he's the best the left can do, god help us all...


1. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior, Macmillan 1953, p. 388.

2. Ibid., p. 190.

3. Chomsky, The Chomsky Reader, Pantheon Books 1987, pp. 177-8.

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