The story begins in the narrator’s college office being visited by a former student, Roger, and his friend, Steve, who have just returned from being deployed. Roger mentions to his old professor, Professor Burris that he remembers him speaking of a Utopian society during one of his prior lectures and wonders if the actual society exists somewhere. Burris reluctantly replies and says he will try to contact his old colleague Frazier who held the original idea. Surprisingly, Frazier wrote back less than a week later inviting Professor Burris, Roger and his girlfriend, Steve and his girlfriend, as well as another colleague named Castle to his utopian society named Walden Two. When they arrive at Walden Two, Frazier excitedly show them around for a week as his describe to them the unique characteristics of his utopian society. These characteristics emphasize free will, sexually equality, self-sufficiency, happiness, freedom, and a unique educational model. Decisions are made by a community council and members are asked to follow the Walden Code in order to lead a happy life. As the week continues Castle is convinced the community is a scam while Burris remains cautious but open to the community and Steve and his girlfriend are convinced to become a part of the society themselves.
Throughout the book, Castle and Frazier debate back and forth on the legitimacy of his society. With the use of wit, scientific reasoning, and physical evidence, Frazier is able to defend the utopian society he worked so hard to build. After being challenged all week Frazier gets Burris alone and frantically explains that the only part of Walden Two that interests him is the possibility of making a genuine science of human behavior. Walden Two is Frazier’s laboratory for his research on behavioral engineering; he is able to manipulate his society’s behavior and goes so far as to compare himself to God. After explaining this, it is time for the characters of the story to return back to their society. However, once Burris returns to his university he seems to have a revelation on the genuine goodness that Walden Two has to offer him and decides to return and live the rest of his life there. The end of the book reveals that his perspective of the society upon moving there did not take a negative turn and everything he was told lived up to his expectations.
There is a quote only a quarter of the way into the book which really captured my interest:
“It’s fatal to forget the minority element – fatal to treat brawn
as if there were no brains, and perhaps more speedily fatal to treat brains as if there were no brawn (Skinner 51).”
Frazier said this line while describing why each member of the society is required to be well rounded in their daily work and why it is important not to solely focus on a person’s brains but to explore all aspects of a person. He says treating all people equally in their work reduces the risk that people are socially ranked by physical and cognitive abilities while also promoting good health and sexually equality. Everyone in the community is motivated by the same incentives; for each piece of daily work completed, the member receives a certain amount of mandatory weekly points. In addition, as the difficulty of the task increases, the higher the reward become, which promotes the members to participate. In today’s society people are either seen for the academic or their physical achievements in sports or other areas. Walden Two offers a society that does not place a high value on either, but rather views both as qualities that all people possess, despite the level of their ability. This way of viewing the world is an essential step in creating a society that has equal members.
The concept of reinforcement is heavily valued in Frazier’s Walden Two society. The society is ultimately a lab for Frazier’s research regarding behavioral engineering; through the years he has manipulated behavior through the use of incentives. Frazier makes it very clear that he favors the effectiveness of positive incentives over the use of negative incentives. Negative incentives are used to motivate a person to avoid a behavior while positive incentives are used to motivate a behavior. Frazier uses different tactics for motivating and selecting the desired behavior of the people in his community. Reinforcers are a behavioral consequence that promotes a certain behavior while punishers are behavioral consequences that decrease the frequency of a behavior. He reinforces the behavior he finds favorable by offering positive incentives of labor points. In contrast, he does not punish undesirable behavior through negative incentives but rather ignores it or refrains from using positive incentives. He claims that negative incentives serve a short term effect while positive incentives motivate future behavior on a long term scale. I find this relevant to my work at a daycare; for example, when I tell a child in the nap room that their nap toy will be taken if they continue to act up, they stop their negative behavior for a minute, but if I offer them a nap toy for consistent positive behavior they behave for the entire duration of nap.
Although Walden Two does not believe in the use of propaganda, because it does not promote an authentic genuine interest, I created a list of commonly asked questions to persuade “outsiders” to become a new member of the community:
Commonly Asked Questions:
1. Will my child receive an education at Walden Two?
· Yes! Walden Two offers a free education to every child. From birth, your child will be trained in behavioral techniques for controlling unwanted emotions such as jealously and resentment. Our education system does not provide standard grades for achievement because every child develops at a different pace. In addition, your child can choose to pursue any subject of his own individual interest, rather than being forced to learn something they find boring.
2. How do I earn money at Walden Two?
· No one has money at Walden Two! We believe no one’s self-worth should be based on their economic status. Rather, each member of our society is required to do four hours of labor per day in order to earn mandatory labor credits. The choices for daily labor range from baking, working in the nursery, and working outside.
3. What is the Walden Code?
· The Walden Code is a set of guidelines each member agrees to follow. If at any time you disagree with the code you are more than welcome to submit your complaint to the council. For example, one rule is to openly admit when you are bored during a discussion with someone; this prevents a person from feeling self-conscious about being boring as well as prevents the listener from having to willingly act interested. Another rule is not introducing yourself to people without an intent of having a meaningful conversation as well as never saying thank you to someone. For a complete outline of the Walden Code please submit a request to the town council.
4. Who is the Board of Planners?
· The Board of Planners is a committee of people formed when Walden Two was coming to life. The committee members consist of three males and three females. Their term may not last longer than ten years. Their responsibilities include overseeing the managers of each work station, creating policies, and overseeing the overall effectiveness of Walden Two. However, these members are not ranked any higher in the community than me or you; they live amongst us and must participate in labor credits as well.
5. What is there to do for fun?
· Walden Two offers a plethora of activities for its residence. Academic lectures, movies, as well as concerts are actively put on. However, no one is forced to participate in anything they find boring. On the contrary, every activity at Walden Two is voluntary to ensure that the participants have a genuine interest and value in the event they are attending.
The American way of life that we are all accustomed to living has many social problems. On a daily basis people are encountered with violence and sadness through endless access to news programs through television and internet as well as in their personal life. Frazier’s idea of creating a small manageable experimental community does not sound very unappealing to me. It is impossible to fix the issues in the world all at once, but beginning with a manageable size may prove to be effective. Walden Two was written at the end of World War Two when the world had to rebuild after years of terror and warfare; this is not much different than what the world is experiencing today. In the book, Frazier ultimately finds a way to condition his community members through the use of positive reinforcement. This is an idea that, from personal experience, is not often used in the real world. The book forces the reader to think deeply about how positive reinforcement could be used as a way to manipulate behavior. In addition, it challenges you to deeply consider the corruption and values of our society and decide which values matter and which are not important. From there it forces you to begin to theorize different ways to fix and eliminate this behavior. The ability to look at life from a different viewpoint, as Frazier’s arguments in Walden Two force you to, allows you to be active in changing things you find unjust in society rather than mindlessly pointing them out.