- Capitalism and Alternatives -


Posted by: Barry Stoller on March 02, 19100 at 11:10:37:

In Reply to: 'Human Nature' . . .Huh? posted by Sloopy on March 01, 19100 at 15:21:04:

Behaviorisms mission

A very intriguing and readable post. I will, however, voice an objection regarding your dismissal of behaviorism and your adoption of internalized conditioners.

You posit, variously, the existence of a conscience and the (Freudian) 'ego.' Putting those terms in the place of the word philosophy, let us recall the reasoning of Skinner:

We say that a person behaves in a given way because he possesses a philosophy, but we infer the philosophy from the behavior and therefore cannot use it in any satisfactory way as an explanation, at least until it is in turn explained.(1)

Put another way: you say the conscience (or ego) moves the behavior but I say that behavior results from the consequences of past behavior. To note that sentient beings narrate and adjudge these consequences changes nothing of my claim.

Furthermore, as a man of the left, you may appreciate the idea that people must alter their environments in order to better their lives (the behaviorist AND Marxist prime directive) instead of the idea that in order to better their lives people must change themselves (the capitalist position).

As Marc Richelle observed:

Correctly internalized, the threat of eternal hell is no less efficient than torture inflicted by the inquisitor, and the superego advantageously replaces the physical punishment imparted by the parents. Advantageously, at least, from the point of view of the authority that has been transferred to within the subject. Those who really hold the power draw a twofold benefit from that change: charges and risks are alleviated (tyrants risk overthrow if their subjects rise up against them, but not if they are fighting their own conscience); and secondly those in power maintain the belief in their own freedom and responsibility in their subjects (if they emerge victorious from their inner struggle they will credit their own will; if they come out defeated they will blame their own weakness).(2)

And as a final aside: Have the Freudian mechanisms been anything but a substitution for the very 'human nature' claim on absolute values you soundly reject? Let us not forget Freud's ruling class orientation, especially his comments on socialism in Civilization and Its Discontents...



1. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Knopf 1971, p. 30.

2. Richelle, B.F. Skinner: A Reappraisal, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 1993, p. 207.

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