Tag Archives: BF Skinner

The Scientific Outlook, Part 7 – Freedom and Equality in a Scientific Society

Freedom and Equality in a Scientific Society

Originally posted August 10, 2008

“There will, of course, be a universal language, which will be either Esperanto or pidgin-English. The literature of the past will for the most part not be translated into this language, since its outlook and emotional background will be considered unsettling: serious students of history will be able to obtain a permit from the Government to study such works as Hamlet and Othello, but the general public will be forbidden access to them on the ground that they glorify private murder; boys will not be allowed to read books about pirates or Red Indians; love themes will be discouraged on the ground that love, being anarchic, is silly, if not wicked. All this will make life very pleasant for the virtuous.” – Bertrand Russell, 1931 (p214)


Individual Freedom versus the Collective

From The Scientific Outlook:

[Italicised text is original emphasis and bolded text is added by author.]

“The nineteenth century suffered from a curious division between its political ideas and its economic practice. In politics it carried out the Liberal ideas of Locke and Rousseau, which were adapted to a society of small peasant proprietors. Its watchwords were Liberty and Equality, but meantime it was inventing the technique which is leading the twentieth century to destroy liberty and to replace equality by new forms of oligarchy. The prevalence of Liberal thought has been in some ways a misfortune, since it has prevented men of large vision from thinking out in an impersonal manner the problems raised by industrialism. Socialism and Communism, it is true, are essentially industrial creeds, but their outlook is so much dominated by the class war that they have little leisure to give to anything but the means of achieving political victory. Traditional morality gives very little help in the modern world. A rich man may plunge millions into destitution by some act which not even the severest Catholic confessor would consider sinful, while he will need absolution for a trivial sexual aberration which, at the worst, has wasted an hour that might have been more usefully employed. There is need of a new doctrine on the subject of my duty to my neighbour. It is not only traditional religious teaching that fails to give adequate guidance on this subject, but also the teaching of nineteenth-century Liberalism. Take, for example, such a book as Mill on Liberty. Mill maintains that while the State has a right to interfere with those of my actions that have serious consequences to others, it should leave me free where the effects of my actions are mainly confined to myself. Such a principle, however, in the modern world, leaves hardly any scope for individual freedom. As society becomes more organic, the effects of men upon each other become more and more numerous and important, so that there remains hardly anything in regard to which Mill’s defence of liberty is applicable. Take, for example, freedom of speech and of the Press. It is clear that a society that permits these is thereby precluded from various achievements which are possible to a society that forbids them. In time of war this is obvious to everybody, because in war-time the national purpose is simple, and the causation involved is obvious. Hitherto it has not been customary for a nation in peace-time to have any national purpose except the preservation of its territory and its constitution. A government which, like that of Soviet Russia, has a purpose in peace-time as ardent and definite as that of other nations in war-time, is compelled to curtail freedom of speech and of the Press as much while it is at peace as other nations do when they are at war.

The diminution of individual liberty which has been taking place during the last twenty years is likely to continue, since it has two continuing causes. On the one hand, modern technique makes society more organic; on the other hand, modern sociology makes men more and more aware of the causal laws in virtue of which one man’s acts are useful or harmful to another man. If we are to justify any particular form of individual liberty in the scientific society of the future, we shall have to do it on the ground that that form of liberty is for the good of society as a whole, but not in most cases on the ground that the acts concerned affect nobody but the agent.” 216

“The man who dreams of a scientifically organized world and wishes to translate his dream into practice finds himself faced with many obstacles. There is the opposition of inertia and habit: people wish to continue behaving as they always have behaved, and living as they always have lived. There is the opposition of vested interest: an economic system inherited from feudal times gives advantages to men who have done nothing to deserve them, and these men, being rich and powerful, are able to place formidable obstacles in the way of fundamental change. In addition to these forces, there are also hostile idealisms. Christian ethics is in certain fundamental respects opposed to the scientific ethic which is gradually growing up. Christianity emphasizes the importance of the individual soul, and is not prepared to sanction the sacrifice of an innocent man for the sake of some ulterior good to the majority. Christianity, in a word, is unpolitical, as is natural since it grew up among men devoid of political power. The new ethic which is gradually growing in connexion with scientific technique will have its eye upon society rather than upon the individual. It will have little use for the superstition of guilt and punishment, but will be prepared to make individuals suffer for the public good without inventing reasons purporting to show that they deserve to suffer. In this sense it will be ruthless, and according to traditional ideas immoral, but the change will have come about naturally through the habit of viewing society as a whole rather than as a collection of individuals. We view a human body as a whole, and if, for example, it is necessary to amputate a limb we do not consider it necessary to prove first that the limb is wicked. We consider the good of the whole body a quite sufficient argument. Similarly the man who thinks of society as a whole will sacrifice a member of society for the good of the whole, without much consideration for that individual’s welfare. This has always been the practice in war, because war is a collective enterprise. Soldiers are exposed to the risk of death for the public good, although no one suggests that they deserve death. But men have not hitherto attached the same importance to social purposes other than war, and have therefore shrunk from inflicting sacrifices which were felt to be unjust. I think it probable that the scientific idealists of the future will be free from this scruple, not only in time of war, but in time of peace also. In overcoming the difficulties of the opposition that they will encounter, they will find themselves organized into an oligarchy of opinion such as is formed by the Communist Party in the U.S.S.R.” – 233

Freedom in a Scientific Society

“In suggesting any curtailment of liberty there are always two quite distinct questions to be considered. The first is whether such a curtailment would be in the public interest if it were wisely carried out, and the second is whether it will be in the public interest when it is carried out with a certain measure of ignorance and perversity. These two questions are in theory quite distinct, but from the point of view of the government the second question does not exist, since every government believes itself entirely free from both ignorance and perversity. Every government, consequently, in so far as it is not restrained by traditional prejudices, will advocate more interference with liberty than is wise. When, therefore, as in this chapter, we are considering what interferences with liberty might be theoretically justified, we must hesitate to draw the conclusion that they should be advocated in practice. I think it probable, however, that almost all interferences with liberty for which there is a theoretical justification will, in time, be carried out in practice, because scientific technique is gradually making governments so strong that they need not consider outside opinion. The result of this will be that governments will be able to interfere with individual liberty wherever in their opinion there is a sound reason for so doing, and for the reason just given, this will be much more often than it should be. For this reason scientific technique is likely to lead to a governmental tyranny which may in time prove disastrous.” – 223

“Let us take some examples of traditional principles which appear no longer defensible. […] To take a more important illustration: consider the immense sums of money that are spent on advertising. It cannot possibly be maintained that these bring any but the most meagre return to the community. The principle of permitting each capitalist to invest his money as he chooses is not, therefore, socially defensible.” – 218

“Take again the question of work, both the kind of work and the method of performing it. At present young people choose their own trade or profession, usually because at the moment of their choice it seems to afford a good opening. A well-informed person possessed of foresight might know that the particular line in question was going to be much less profitable a few years hence. In such a case some public guidance to the young might prove extremely useful. And as regards technical methods, it is seldom in the public interest that an antiquated or wasteful technique should be allowed to persist when a more economical technique is known. At present, owning to the irrational character of the capitalist system, the interest of the individual wage-earner is very often opposed to the interest of the community, since economical methods may cause him to lose his job. This is due to the survival of capitalistic principles in a society which has grown so organic that it ought not to tolerate them. It is obvious that in a well-organized community it should be impossible for a large body of individuals to profit by preserving an inefficient technique. It is clear that the use of the most efficient technique should be enforced, and no wage-earner should be allowed to suffer by its enforcement.” – 220

“I come now to a matter which touches the individual more intimately: I mean the question of propagation. It has hitherto been considered that any man and woman not within the prohibited degrees have a right to marry, and having married have a right, if not a duty, to have as many children as nature may decree. This is a right which the scientific society of the future is not likely to tolerate. In any given state of industrial and agricultural technique there is an optimum density of population which ensures a greater degree of material well-being than would result from either an increase or a diminution of numbers. As a general rule, except in new countries, the density of population has been beyond this optimum, though perhaps France, in recent decades, has been an exception. Except where there is property to be inherited, the member of a small family suffers almost as much from over-population as the member of a large family. Those who cause over-population are therefore doing an injury not only to their own children, but to the community. It may therefore be assumed that society will discourage them if necessary, as soon as religious prejudices no longer stand in the way of such action. The same question will arise in a more dangerous form as between different nations and different races. If a nation finds that it is losing military superiority through a lower birth-rate than that of a rival, it may attempt, as has already been done in such cases, to stimulate its own birth-rate; but when this proves ineffective, as it probably will, there will be a tendency to demand a limitation in the birth-rate of the rival nation. An international government, if it ever comes into being, will have to take account of such matters, and just as there is at present a quota of national immigrants into the United States, so in future there will be a quota of national immigrants into the world. Children in excess of the licensed figure will presumably be subjected to infanticide. This would be less cruel than the present method, which is to kill them by war or starvation. I am, however, only prophesying a certain future, not advocating it.

Quality as well as quantity of population is likely to become a matter for public regulation. Already in many States of America it is permissible to sterilized the mentally defective, and a similar proposal in England is in the domain of practical politics. This is only the first step. As time goes on we may expect a greater and greater percentage of the population to be regarded as mentally defective from the point of view of parenthood. However that may be, it is clear that the parents who have a child when there is every likelihood of its being mentally defective are doing a wrong both to the child and to the community. No defensible principle of liberty therefore stands in the way of preventing them from such behaviour.” – 221

Equality in a Scientific Society

“Equality, like liberty, is difficult to reconcile with scientific technique, since this involves a great apparatus of experts and officials inspiring and controlling vast organizations. Democratic forms may be preserved in politics, but they will not have as much reality as in a community of small peasant proprietors. Officials unavoidably have power. And where many vital questions are so technical that the ordinary man cannot hope to understand them, experts must inevitably acquire a considerable measure of control. Take the question of currency and credit as an example. William Jennings Bryan, it is true, made currency an electoral issue in 1896, but the men who voted for him were men who would have voted for him whatever issue he had selected. At the present time, calculable misery is being caused by a wrong handling of the question of currency and credit, but it is impossible to submit this question to the electorate except in some passionate and unscientific form; the only way in which anything can be done is to convince the officials who control the great central banks. So long as these men act honestly and in accordance with tradition, the community cannot control them, since if they are mistaken very few people will know it. To take a less important illustration: everyone who has ever compared British and American methods of handling goods traffic on railways knows that the American methods are infinitely superior. There are no private trucks, and the trucks of the railways are of standard size capable of carrying forty tons. In England everything is higgledy-piggledy and unsystematic, and the use of private trucks causes great waste. If this were put right, freights could be reduced and consumers would benefit, since there would be no obvious gain either to railway companies or to railway workers. If a more uniform system is ever imposed, it will be done not as a result of a democratic demand, but by government officials.

The scientific society will be just as oligarchic under socialism or communism as under capitalism, for even where the forms of democracy exist they cannot supply the ordinary voter with the requisite knowledge, nor enable him to be on the spot at the crucial moment. The men who understand the complicated mechanism of a modern community and who have the habit of initiative and decision must inevitably control the course of events to a very great extent. Perhaps this is even more true in a socialistic State than in any other, for in a socialistic State economic and political power are concentrated in the same hands, and the national organization of the economic life is more complete than in a State where private enterprise exists. Moreover, a socialistic State is likely to have more perfect control than any other over the organs of publicity and propaganda, so that it will have more power of causing men to know what it wishes known, and not to know what it wishes unknown. Equality, therefore, like liberty, is, I fear, no more than a nineteenth-century dream. The world of the future will contain a governing class, probably not hereditary, but more analogous to the government of the Catholic Church.

And this governing class, as they acquire increasing knowledge and confidence, will interfere more and more with the life of the individual, and will learn more and more the technique of causing this interference to be tolerated. It may be assumed that their purposes will be excellent, and their conduct honourable; it may be assumed that they will be well informed and industrious; but it cannot, I think, be assumed that they will abstain from the exercise of power merely on the ground that individual initiative is a good thing, or on the ground that an oligarchy is unlikely to consider the true interests of its slaves, for men capable of such self-restraint will not rise to positions of power which, except when they are hereditary, are attained only by those who are energetic and untroubled by doubt.” – 224



The Scientific Outlook, Part 6 – Scientific Technique and Human Reproduction

Scientific Technique and Human Reproduction

Originally posted August 3, 2008


“While it is rather rash to make detailed prophecies, it is, I think, fairly clear that in future a human body, from the moment of conception, will not be regarded merely as something which must be left to grow in accordance with natural forces, with no human interference beyond what is required for the preservation of health. The tendency of scientific technique is to cause everything to be regarded as not just a brute datum, but raw material for the carrying out of some human purpose. The child, and even the embryo, will come to be viewed more and more in this way as the mentality connected with scientific technique becomes more dominant. In this, as in all other forms of scientific power, there are possibilities of good and possibilities of evil. Science alone will not decide which is to prevail.” – Bertrand Russell, 1931 (p172)

Breeding the Governing Class

From The Scientific Outlook:

[Italicised text is original emphasis and bolded text is added by author.]

“Science, when it has once acquired a firm hold upon social organization, is hardly likely to stop short at those biological aspects of human life which have hitherto been left to the joint guidance of religion and instinct. We may, I think, assume that both the quantity and the quality of the population will be carefully regulated by the State, but that sexual intercourse apart from children will be regarded as a private matter so long as it is not allowed to interfere with work. As regards quantity, the State statisticians will determine as carefully as they can whether the population of the world at the moment is above or below the number which leads to the greatest material comfort per head. They will also take account of all such changes of technique as can be foreseen. No doubt the usual rule will be to aim at a stationary population, but if some important invention, such as artificial food, should greatly cheapen the production of necessaries, an increase of population might for a time be thought wise. I shall, however, assume that, in normal times, the world government will decree a stationary population.

If we were right in supposing that the scientific society will have different social grades according to the kind of work to be performed, we may assume also that it will have uses for human beings who are not of the highest grade of intelligence. It is probable that there will be certain kinds of labour mainly performed by negroes, and that manual workers in general will be bred for patience and muscle rather than for brains. The governors and experts, on the contrary, will be bred chiefly for their intellectual powers and their strength of character. Assuming that both kinds of breeding are scientifically carried out, there will come to be an increasing divergence between the two types, making them in the end almost different species.

Scientific breeding, in any truly scientific form, would at present encounter insuperable obstacles both from religion and from sentiment. To carry it out scientifically it would be necessary, as among domestic animals, to employ only a small percentage of males for purposes of breeding. It may be thought that religion and sentiment will always succeed in opposing an immovable veto to such a system. I wish I could think so. But I believe that sentiment is quite extraordinarily plastic, and that the individualistic religion to which we have been accustomed is likely to be increasingly replaced by a religion of devotion to the State. Among Russian Communists this has already happened. In any case, what is demanded is scarcely as difficult a control of natural impulses as is involved in the celibacy of the Catholic priesthood. Wherever remarkable achievements are possible and are at the same time such as to satisfy men’s moral idealism, the love of power, is capable of swallowing up the instinctive life of the affections, especially if an outlet is permitted to purely physical sexual impulses. Traditional religion, which has been violently dispossessed in Russia, will suffer a setback everywhere if the Russian experiment proves successful. In any case its outlook is difficult to reconcile with that of industrialism and scientific technique. Traditional religion was based upon a sense of man’s impotence in the face of natural forces, whereas scientific technique induces a sense of the impotence of natural forces in the face of man’s intelligence. Combined with this sense of power, a certain degree of austerity in regard to the softer pleasures is quite natural. One sees it already in many of those who are creating the mechanistic society of the future. In America this austerity has taken the form of Protestant piety, in Russia of devotion to Communism.

I think, therefore, that there is hardly any limit to the departures from traditional sentiment which science may introduce into the question of reproduction. If the simultaneous regulation of quantity and quality is taken seriously in the future, we may expect that in each generation some 25 per cent. of women and some 5 per cent. of men will be selected to be the parents of the next generation, while the remainder of the population will be sterilized, which will in no way interfere with their sexual pleasures, but will merely render these pleasures destitute of social importance. The women who are selected for breeding will have to have eight or nine children each, but will not be expected to perform any other work except the suckling of the children for a suitable number of months. No obstacles will be placed upon their relations with sterile men, or upon the relations of sterile men and women with each other, but reproduction will be regarded as a matter which concerns the State, and will not be left to the free choice of the persons concerned. Perhaps it will be found that artificial impregnation is more certain and less embarrassing, since it will obviate the need of any personal contact between the father and mother of the prospective child. Sentiments of personal affection may still be connected with intercourse not intended to be fruitful, while impregnation will be regarded in an entirely different manner, more in the light of a surgical operation, so that it will be thought not ladylike to have it performed in the natural manner. The qualities for which parents will be chosen will differ greatly according to the status which it is hoped the child will occupy. In the governing class a considerable degree of intelligence will be demanded of parents; perfect health will, of course, be indispensable. So long as gestation is allowed to persist to its natural period, mothers will also have to be selected by their capacity for easy delivery, and will therefore have to be free from an unduly narrow pelvis. It is probable, however, that as time goes on the period of gestation will be shortened, and that later months of foetal development will take place in an incubator. This would also free mothers from the need of suckling their children, and would thus make maternity a not very onerous matter. The care of infants intended to belong to the governing class would seldom be left to the mothers. Mothers would be selected by their eugenic qualities, and these would not necessarily be the qualities required in a nurse. On the other hand, the early months of pregnancy might be more burdensome than at present, since the foetus would be subjected to various kinds of scientific treatment intended to affect beneficially not only its own characteristics but those of its possible descendants.

Fathers would, of course, have nothing to do with their own children. There would be in general only one father to every five mothers, and it is quite likely that he would never have even seen the mothers of his children. The sentiment of paternity would thus disappear completely. Probably in time the same thing would happen, though to a slightly less degree, in regard to mothers. If birth were prematurely induced, and the child separated from its mother at birth, maternal sentiment would have little chance to develop.” – 251

Breeding the Working Class

“Among the workers it is probable that less elaborate care would be taken, since it is easier to breed for muscle than to breed for brains, and it is not unlikely that women would be allowed to bring up their own children in the old-fashioned natural manner. There would not be, among the workers, the same need as among the governors for fanatical devotion to the State, and there would not be, therefore, on the part of the government, the same jealousy of the private affections. Among the governors, one must suppose, all private sentiments would be viewed with suspicion. A man and woman who showed any ardent devotion to each other would be regarded as they are at present regarded by moralists when they are not married. There would be professional nurses in crèches, and professional teachers in nursery schools, but they would be considered to be failing in their duty if they felt any special affection for special children. Children who showed any special affection for a particular adult would be separated form that adult. Ideas of this kind are already widespread; they will be found suggested, for example, in Dr. John B. Watson’s book on education. The tendency of the scientific manipulator is to regard all private affections as unfortunate. Freudians have shown us that they are the sources of complexes. Administrators realize that they stand in the way of a wholehearted devotion to business. The Church sanctioned certain kinds of love while condemning others, but the modern ascetic is more thoroughgoing, and condemns all kinds of love equally as mere folly and waste of time.” – 255

The Psychological Makeup

“What should we expect of the mental make-up of people in such a world? The manual workers may, I think, be fairly happy. One may assume that the rulers will be successful in making the manual workers foolish and frivolous; work will not be too severe, and there will be endless amusements of a trivial sort. Owing to sterilization, love affairs need not have awkward consequences so long as they are not between a man and woman who are both of them unsterilized. In this way a life of easygoing and frivolous pleasure may be provided for the manual workers, combined of course with a superstitious reverence for the governors instilled in childhood and prolonged by the propaganda to which adults will be exposed.

The psychology of the governors will be a more difficult matter. They will be expected to display an arduous and hard-working devotion to the ideal of the scientific State, and to sacrifice to this ideal all the softer sentiments such as love of wife and children. Friendships between fellow-workers, whether of the same or of different sexes, will tend to become ardent, and will not infrequently overstep the limits which the public moralists will have fixed. In such a case the authorities will separate the friends, unless in doing so they will interrupt some important research or administrative undertaking. When for some such public reason friends are not separated, they will be admonished. By means of governmental microphones the censors will listen-in to their conversations, and if these should at any time become tinged with sentiment, disciplinary measures will be adopted. All the deeper feelings will be frustrated, with the sole exception of devotion to science and the State.

The governors will, of course, have their amusements for leisure hours. I do not see how art or literature could flourish in such a world, nor do I think that the emotions from which they spring and to which they appeal would meet with governmental approval, but athletics of a strenuous kind will be encouraged among the young of the governing class, and dangerous sports will be considered valuable as a training in those habits of mind and body by which authority over the manual workers will be maintained. Love-making among the sterilized will be subjected to no restrictions either of law or of public opinion, but it will be casual and temporary, involving none of the deeper feelings and no serious affection. Persons suffering from unendurable boredom will be encouraged to ascend Mount Everest or fly over the South Pole, but the need for such distractions will be regarded as a sign of mental or physical ill-health.

In such a world, though there may be pleasure, there will be no joy. The result will be a type displaying the usual characteristics of vigorous ascetics. They will be harsh and unbending, tending towards cruelty in their ideals and their readiness to consider that the infliction of pain is necessary for he public good. I do not imagine that pain

will be much inflicted as punishment for sin, since no sin will be recognized except insubordination and failure to carry out the purposes of the State. It is more probable that the sadistic impulses which the asceticism will generate will find their outlet in scientific experiment. The advancement of knowledge will be held to justify much torture of individuals by surgeons, biochemists, and experimental psychologist. As time goes on the amount of added knowledge required to justify a given amount of pain will diminish, and the number of governors attracted to the kinds of research necessitating cruel experiments will increase. Just as the sun worship of the Aztecs demanded the painful death of thousands of human beings annually, so the new scientific religion will demand its holocausts of sacred victims. Gradually the world will grow more dark and more terrible. Strange perversions of instinct will first lurk in the dark corners and then gradually overwhelm the men in high places. Sadistic pleasures will not suffer the moral condemnation that will be meted out to the softer joys, since, like the persecutions of the Inquisition, they will be found in harmony with the prevailing asceticism. In the end such a system must break down either in an orgy of bloodshed or in the rediscovery of joy.

Such at least is the only ray of hope to lighten the darkness of these visions of Cassandra, but perhaps in permitting this ray of hope we have allowed ourselves to yield to a foolish optimism. Perhaps by means of injections and drugs and chemicals the population could be induced to bear whatever its scientific masters may decide to be for its good. New forms of drunkenness involving no subsequent headache may be discovered, and new forms of intoxication may be invented so delicious that for their sakes these are possibilities in a world governed by knowledge without love, and power without delight. The man drunk with power is destitute of wisdom, and so long as he rules the world, the world will be a place devoid of beauty and of joy.” – 256

Scientific Technique and the Abolition of the Family

“Take again such a matter as housing. In England individualism leads most families to prefer a small house of their own rather than an apartment in a large house. The result is that the suburbs of London are spread out through mile after mile of dreariness, to the immense detriment of the women and children. Each housewife cooks an abominable dinner at great expenditure of labour for an infuriated husband. The children, when they come home from school, or while they are too young to go to school, find themselves cooped up in small stuffy premises where either they are a nuisance to their parents or their parents are a nuisance to them. In a more sensible community, each family would occupy a part of an immense building with a courtyard in the middle; there would be no individual cooking, but only communal meals. Children, as soon as they were no longer at the breast, would spend their day in large airy halls under the care of women possessing the knowledge, the training, and the temperament required for making young children happy. The wives, who at present drudge all day doing wasteful work badly, would be set free to earn their living outside the home. The benefit of such a system to the mothers, and still more to the children, would be incalculable. At the Rachel Macmillan nursery school it was found that about 90 per cent. of the children had rickets when they first came, and almost all were cured at the end of the first year in the school. In the ordinary home the necessary modicum of light and air and good food cannot be provided, whereas all these things can be provided quite cheaply if they are provided for many children at once. The freedom to cause one’s children to grow up stunted and crippled on the ground that one is too fond of them to part with them is a freedom which is certainly not in the public interest.” – 219

This very same idea was put into action by Mao Zedong and the Communist Chinese during their “Great Leap Forward”. This was another step towards creating a truly global scientific society. The below quote is from historian Carroll Quigley in his 1966 book Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time [2]:

“The third stage of agrarian reform, constituting the basic feature of the “Great Leap Forward,” merged the 750 thousand collective farms into about 26,000 agrarian communes of about 5,000 families each. This was a social rather than simply an agrarian revolution, since its aims included the destruction of the family household and the peasant village. All activities of the members, including child rearing, education, entertainment, social life, the militia, and all economic and intellectual life came under the control of the commune. In some areas the previous villages were destroyed and the peasants were housed in dormitories, with communal kitchens and mess halls, nurseries for the children, and separation of these children under the communes’ control in isolation from their parents at an early age. One purpose of this drastic change was to release large numbers of women from domestic activities so that they could labor in fields or factories. In the first year of the “Great Leap Forward,” 90 million peasant women were relieved of their domestic duties and became available to work for the state. In many cases, factories and craft centers were established in the communes to use this labor, manufacturing goods not only for the commune but for sale in the outside market.

One of the chief aims of this total reorganization of rural life was to make available, for savings and investment, surpluses of agricultural income from the rural sector of Chinese society in order to build up the industrial sector. The regime estimated that it could reverse the pervious division of agricultural incomes, under which 70 percent was consumed by the agricultural population and only 30 percent was available to the nonagricultural sectors of Chinese society. At the same time, it was expected that the communes would totally shatter the resistant social structure of Chinese society, leaving isolated individuals to face the power of the state. Finally, it was expected that these isolated individuals could be mobilized along military lines to carry out agricultural duties in squads and platoons assigned to specific fields and tasks.” – 1159

The Scientific Outlook, Part 5 – Behaviorism, Psycho-Analysis and Physiological Manipulation in Education

Behaviorism, Psycho-Analysis and
Physiological Manipulation in Education

Originally posted July 27, 2008


“Education in a scientific society may, I think, be best conceived after the analogy of the education provided by the Jesuits. The Jesuits provided one sort of education for the boys who were to become ordinary men of the world, and another for those who were to become members of the Society of Jesus. In like manner, the scientific rulers will provide one kind of education for ordinary men and women, and another for those who are to become holders of scientific power. Ordinary men and women will be expected to be docile, industrious, punctual, thoughtless, and contented. Of these qualities probably contentment will be considered the most important. In order to produce it, all the researches of psycho-analysis, behaviourism, and biochemistry will be brought into play.”

– Bertrand Russell, 1931 (p243)

Behaviourism and Psycho-Analysis

From The Scientific Outlook:

[Italicised text is original emphasis and bolded text is added by author.]

“As a technique for acquiring power, behaviourism is, I think, superior to psychoanalysis: it embodies the methods which have always been adopted by those who train animals or drill soldiers; it utilizes the force of habit, the strength of which has always been recognized; and, as we saw when we were considering Pavlov, it makes it possible both to cause and to cure neurasthenia and hysteria. The conflicts which appear in psycho-analysis as emotional re-appear in behaviourism as conflicts between habits, or between a habit and a reflex. If a child were severely beaten every time it sneezed, it is probable that a phantasy world would in time build itself up in his mind around the conception of sneezing; he would dream of Heaven as a place where the spirits of the blest sneeze unceasingly, or on the contrary he might think of Hell as a place of punishment for those who live in open sternutation. In this sort of way the problems brought to the fore by psycho-analysis can, I think, be dealt with on behaviourist lines. At the same time it should be admitted that these problems, whose importance is very great, would probably not have come to the fore but for the psycho-analytic approach. For the practical purposes of educational technique, I think it will be found that the educator should behave as a psycho-analyst when he is concerned with matters touching powerful instincts, but as a behaviourist in matters which a child views as emotionally unimportant. For example, affection for parents should be viewed in the psycho-analytic manner, but brushing teeth in the behaviourist manner.” – 182

“The most important applications of psycho-analytic theory are to education. These applications are as yet in an experimental stage, and owing to the hostility of the authorities they can only be made on a very small scale. It is, however, already evident that moral and emotional education has hitherto been conducted on wrong lines, and has produced maladjustments which have been sources of cruelty, timidity, stupidity, and other unfortunate mental characteristics. I think it possible that psycho-analytic theory may be absorbed into something more scientific, but I do not doubt that something of what psycho-analysis has to suggest in regard to education will be found permanently valid and of immense importance.” – 181

Physiological Manipulation

“So far, no experiments have been made to test the effect of X-rays on the human embryo. I imagine that such experiments would be illegal, in common with many others that might make valuable additions to our knowledge. Sooner or later, however, probably in Russia, such experiments will be made. If science continues to advance as fast as it has done recently, we may hope, before the end of the present century, to discover ways of beneficially influencing the human embryo, not only as regards those acquired characters which cannot be inherited because they do not affect the chromosomes, but also as regards the chromosomes themselves. It is likely that this result will only be achieved after a number of unsuccessful experiments leading to the birth of idiots and monstrosities. But would this be too high a price to pay for the discovery of a method by which, within one generation, the whole human race could be rendered intelligent?

Perhaps by a suitable choice of chemicals to be injected into the uterus it may become possible to turn a child into a mathematician, a poet, a biologist, or even a politician, and to ensure that all his posterity shall do likewise unless prevented by counter-irritant chemicals.” – 172

“So far we have been considering those ways of influencing the mental life which proceed by mental means as in psycho-analysis, or by means of the conditioned reflex as in behaviourism. There are, however, other methods which may in time prove of immense importance. These are the methods which operate through physiological means, such as the administering of drugs. The curing of cretinism by means of iodine is so far the most remarkable of these methods. In Switzerland all salt for human consumption is obliged by law to be iodized, and this measure has been found adequate as a preventive of cretinism. The work of Cannon and others concerning the influence of the ductless glands upon the emotions has become widely known, and it is clear that by administering artificially the substances which the ductless glands provide, a profound effect can be produced upon temperament and character. The effects of alcohol, opium, and various other drugs have long been familiar, but these effects are on the balance harmful unless the drug is taken with unusual moderation. There is, however, no a priori reason why drugs should not be discovered which have a wholly beneficial effect. I have never myself observed any but good effects to flow from the drinking of tea, at any rate if it is China tea. It is possible also that psychological marvels may become possible through pre-natal treatment. One of the most eminent philosophers of our day regards his superiority to his brothers, perhaps humorously, as due to the fact that shortly before his birth his mother was in a carriage which rolled down the Simplon in an accident. I do not suggest that this method should be adopted in the hope of turning us all into philosophers, but perhaps in time we shall discover some more peaceable means of endowing the foetus with intelligence. Education used to begin at eight years old with the learning of the Latin declensions; now, under the influence of psycho-analysis, it begins at birth. It is to be expected that with the advance of experimental embryology the important part of education will be found to be pre-natal. This is already the case with fishes and newts, but in regard to them the scientist is not hampered by education authorities.

The power of psychological technique to mould the mentality of the individual is still in its infancy, and is not yet fully realized. There can, I think, be little doubt that it will increase enormously in the near future. Science has given us, in succession, power over inanimate nature, power over plants and animals, and finally power over human beings. Each power involves its own kinds of dangers, and perhaps the dangers involved in power over human beings are the greatest, but that is a matter that we will consider at a later stage.” – 183

“Whether men will be happy in the Paradise I do not know. Perhaps biochemistry will show us how to make any man happy, provided he has the necessaries of life; perhaps dangerous sports will be organized for those whom boredom would otherwise turn into anarchists; perhaps sport will take over the cruelty which will have been banished from politics; perhaps football will be replaced by play battles in the air in which death will be the penalty of defeat, they will not mind having to seek it in a trivial cause: to fall through the air before a million spectators may come to be thought a glorious death even if it may be that in some such way a safety valve can be provided for the anarchic and violent forces in human nature; or again, it may be that by wise education and suitable diet men may be cured of all their unruly impulses, and all life may become as quiet as a Sunday school.” 214

Bertrand Russell would later write in a similar book entitled The Impact of Science on Society (1952) [2] that:

“It is to be expected that advances in physiology and psychology will give governments much more control over individual mentality than they now have even in totalitarian countries. Fichte laid it down that education should aim at destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, they shall be incapable, throughout the rest of their lives, of thinking or acting otherwise than as their schoolmasters would have wished. But in his day this was an unattainable ideal: what he regarded as the best system in existence produced Karl Marx. In future such failures are not likely to occur where there is dictatorship. Diet, injections, and injunctions will combine, from a very early age, to produce the sort of character and the sort of beliefs that the authorities consider desirable, and any serious criticism of the powers that be will become psychologically impossible. Even if all are miserable, all will believe themselves happy, because the government will tell them that they are so.” – 61