across the great divide

Is it operant conditioning when the response is a form of salivating over the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition? Is it operant conditioning to respond to the corporate logos of  household names with an awe and desire to down donuts or wear clothes and styles because we have become conditioned to do so? Hard to say. The scientific technique distorted and misapplied for commercial ends, is certainly more easily swallowed than Pavlov’s theories used for political and anti-human ends that gained notoriety among the Soviets in their show trials and repressing of dissent.

Deborah Skinner: I was very happy, too, though I must report at this stage that I remember nothing of those first two and a half years. I am told that I never once objected to being put back inside. I had a clear view through the glass front and, instead of being semi-swaddled and covered with blankets, I luxuriated semi-naked in warm, humidified air. The air was filtered but not germ-free, and when the glass front was lowered into place, the noise from me and from my parents and sister was dampened, not silenced. The effect on me? Who knows? I was a remarkably healthy child, and after the first few months of life only cried when injured or inoculated. I didn't have a cold until I was six. I've enjoyed good health since then, too, though that may be my genes. Frankly, I'm surprised the contraption never took off. read more: image:

It all began with the discovery of the classic conditioned reflex  by the great Russian physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. It then evolved into a more Orwellian conditioning, that of “operant behavior”  manipulation espoused by Harvard’s Burrhus Frederic Skinner, and now today in broader use as an advertising pitch embedded into the psyche of our pocketbook. There is no philosophical reasoning behind the classic conditioned reflex. It is a stimulus response process in which the stimulus may have no connection with the response. Pavlov’s dogs heard the sound of a bell and were conditioned to salivate as if for food.

It was B.F. Skinner’s theory that the behavior of the living creature “operates upon the environment to generate consequences” , though he believed in reward rather than punishment during the training period. But in its more lurid forms, operant conditioning does use a punishment-reward system and may make people confess to non-existent crimes to “generate consequences- even things such as body odor, non-white teeth, non-white skin!, over-weightness, dirty upholstery etc. – then acting in conformity in order to remove psychological pressures being applied even if in a soft manner.

"Even movements or styles that are considered marginal are, in fact, extensions of mainstream thinking. Mass medias produce their own rebels who definitely look the part but are still part of the establishment and do not question any of it. Artists, creations and ideas that do not fit the mainstream way of thinking are mercilessly rejected and forgotten by the conglomerates, which in turn makes them virtually disappear from society itself. However, ideas that are deemed to be valid and desirable to be accepted by society are skillfully marketed to the masses in order to make them become self-evident norm. In 1928, Edward Bernays already saw the immense potential of motion pictures to standardize thought:..." read more:

Skinner completed his experiments in an operant chamber, or more commonly known as the Skinner Box. In this box, the subject can be tested for responsiveness to a single stimulus, and than be provided a reward. With these boxes, Skinner began shaping different animals to conform to a desired behavior, and eventually he began his conquest of the world. Skinner shaped his subjects with a procedure in which reinforcers molded the subject little by little till they show the desired behavior. The reinforcers could have been anything from birdseed to cocaine. (Lab rats just loved that cocaine)Read More:

"Skinner believed that people are going to be manipulated. "I just want them to be manipulated effectively," he said. He measured his success by the absence of resistance and counter control on the part of the person he was manipulating. He thought that his techniques could be perfected to the point that the subject would not even suspect that he was being manipulated. Dr. James V. McConnel, head of the Department of Mental Health Research at the University of Michigan, said, "The day has come when we can combine sensory deprivation with the use of drugs, hypnosis, and the astute manipulation of reward and punishment to gain almost absolute control over an individual's behavior. We want to reshape our society drastically." ---Read More:

The objective of all the techniques, whether coercive or voluntary, is to change or modify individual behavior, and is able of producing bizarre, or inexplicable results in which for example, fascists see themselves as righteous and moral, that war is actually peace, that good is evil; and even that cigarettes are good for you:

…Brill told him the cigarette was a phallic symbol and represented male sexual power. If he could find a way to connect cigarettes with the idea of challenging male power, then women would smoke because then they would “have their own penises.” …Bernays staged a spectacle at the New York Easter parade when he hired a group of good-looking young women to walk together in the parade, each secretly holding a pack of cigarettes somewhere on her person. At his sign the girls were to light up in unison. He informed the press that he’d heard a group of suffragettes were planning on attending the parade and lighting up their “torches of freedom.” Needless to say, the girls lit up, the newspaper reporters snapped their picture, and all over America, cigarettes were suddenly linked to independence, freedom and equality. Read More: a

Bernays:To-day, however, a reaction has set in. The minority has discovered a powerful help in influencing majorities. It has been found possible so to mold the mind of the masses that they will throw their newly gained strength in the desired direction. In the present structure of society, this practice is inevitable. Whatever of social importance is done to-day, whether in politics, finance, manufacture, agriculture, charity, education, or other fields, must be done with the help of propaganda. Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government ... read more: image:

Whether Pavlovian based pra

ners or adepts from psychoanalysis, there is a point of conjunction in viewing the brain to be an organ of the body to be manipulated and regulated. Skinner’s assertion that humanity cannot afford to be free and must submit itself, their behavior and their culture to outside control for the greater good of the community is insidious, repressive, and top-down authoritarianism in a velvet glove; not much different than the vision of a Bernays or Lippmann.


1948. “Professors B. F. Skinner and Alfred C. Kinsey published their books, Walden Two and Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, respectively. Skinner’s novel, Walden Two, recommended – amongst other radical things – that ‘children be reared by the state, to be trained from birth to demonstrate only desirable characteristics and behavior.’

“Kinsey, as a taxonomic scientist, wrested human sexuality from the constraints of love and marriage in order to advance the grand scheme to move America and the world toward the eugenic future envisioned by the elite scientists of the ‘New Biology,’…

“In 1953 Professor Skinner published Science and Human Behavior in which he said, “Operant conditioning shapes behavior as a sculptor shapes a lump of clay.’… “Kinsey and Bloom, as scientists, were involved in the breaking down of man (taxonomizing) into units of behavior which Skinner, as a behaviorist, could identify, measure and change. This breaking down or ‘deconstructing of Man’ was intended to separate man from his God-given, freedom-providing identity. This opened the door to the study of methods to control man and society.” Read More:

“Central to these theories were the notions of human development through ‘transaction’ (Dewey) and interaction-communication (Mead). In behavioural theories human beings are seen only as reacting units, black boxes, or similar to the doves and dogs of Skinners ‘operant conditioning’. Philosophical pragmatism generated a base for the development of professional practices such as social casework, community education and community organization, directed at facilitating people to learn to stand up for themselves, to participate in civil society, and in this way to decrease structural social injustice. Later, just after World War II, it also generated strategies of ‘social action’ as developed by Alinsky for the civil rights movement (Dubost, 2001). These became popular
in the community action committees and the self-organizations in neighbourhoods in Europe and Great Britain at the end of the 1960s.
About a decade later, the ‘Gestalt-psychologist’ Lewin started an action research practice. Lewin had fled from Nazi Germany and from 1934 he worked in the US. In Germany, Lewin was a member of the Socialist Party and his scientific work was directed at the
emancipation of minorities. ‘His particular concerns appear to have been the combating of anti-Semitism, the democratisation of society, and the need to improve the position of women. Read More:,%202003,%20the%20emancipatory%20characger%20or%20action%20research,%20its%20history%20and%20the%20presen



Carol Menzel : Behaviorism as a clinical approach traces its roots back to the second and third decades of this century, when interest was aroused in the application or the principles of conditioning to the treatment of behavior disorders. Behavior therapy as it is currently practiced is simply the homogenization of Watson’s S-R’s and Pavlov’s drooling dogs – Skinnerism is its oozing excrement.

Behaviorism, in slightly varying forms, has sprung from the Soviet Union, the U.S., England, and South Africa. In the U.S., behaviorism was officially launched as a faction in 1913 when John Watson began his vigorous campaign against “introspectionism” (Freudianism) on behalf of what he called an “objective psychology.” By the 1940′s Watson’s mindless objectivism had taken over American psychology.

Its near-complete hegemony is especially apparent within academic institutions. University psychology departments have for years turned out students schooled almost exclusively in behaviorist traditions. Psychiatric departments within medical colleges have nervously tried to deny its existence; most, to date, have never officially endorsed its theory or practice. But classical psychiatry, the syllabus medical schools continue to teach, is nothing more than a haphazard blend of mainly biological psychiatry and behaviorism, with a little misunderstood Freudian psychology thrown in as a cover. How does psychiatry endorse in practice that which it purportedly denies in theory? The more honest psychiatrist would answer: “Why, it works.”…

--Madness was made possible by all that milieu that repressed in man of his animal nature...madness then became the other side of progress. By multiplying mediations, civilisation offered men ever increasing means to become insane - Michel Foucault. History of Madness. Pg. 374 read more: image:

And to a certain extent it does work – in the traditions of any coercive psychological approach. At minimum it brings about certain “behavioral” or “attitudinal” changes, more often than not inducing psychosis. Pavlovian psychology in particular, if used deliberately and consciously, as in cases of prisoners of war brainwashed by the Chinese Communists in North Korea, and more recently the CIA/KGB’S brainwashing of White and George, becomes an extremely potent weapon. The approaches based upon conditioning are many in name: “systematic desensitization, “implosive therapy,” “operant conditioning,” “behavior shaping,” “aversion therapy,” “action therapy,” “token economy,” etc. Read More:

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Marketing/Advertising/Media, Miscellaneous and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to across the great divide

  1. mason says:

    good stuff. leading essay in recent Harper’s Mag touches on these topics via ‘analysis’ of glen beck’s recent “thriller” novel.

    my opinion, any “technology” for manipulating or changing man will excite industrious crooks and lazy bums alike, not to mention quacks and conspiracy theorists.

    sometimes i think our situation is a lot worse and a lot less entertaining than the matrix.

    good stuff here though! drôle! did not know that was also a noun. ;-)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>