Carl Rogers: Dialogues with BF Skinner
Houghton Mifflin Company, New York
The debate transcribed in this book between Rogers and Skinner is famous, it creates a map for the debate between the client centered and operant behavioral schools of therapeutic thought. In practice the reality is somewhere in between, more towards the client approach where clients have a solid internal sense of strength, but when patients are truly rudderless ships, then some changes have to be made for often for the safety of the patient, the non directive approach has to diluted without lessening the therapists respect for the client. The more modern techniques of cognitive therapy answer that call, and they, when combined in varying degrees Roger's empathy and Skinners behavioralism should fit almost any purpose. Cognitive techniques are limiting in one way. Since they concentrate entirely on the thought processes of the individual, they have no application to society as a whole, and therefore will never have a place in this debate.
Rogers sought to scale the person centered approach to allow the non-directive facilitation of the global peace process, and Skinner would have clearly liked to steer humanity away from the likelihood of self destruction through the controls of positive reinforcement. In the case of this lengthy and friendly debate, I believe the audience subtly brought these social and political questions to a head. In my opinion, Rogers had Skinner on the ropes the majority of the time and squeezed many concessions from him, bringing him more into the humanistic fold by forcing him to see that operant behavioral control techniques could easily be used to hurt rather than benefit humanity. It is hard to imagine concepts such as empathy, congruence and genuineness being used to promoting pure evil.
(Third Force, Declaration of freedom)
Behavioral science moves closer to the equation of life, but life will always be subjective. Over intellectualizing is a bad thing.
Control of human behavior is any contribution toward determining a man's action and the man may be fully aware of what is being done to him. I mean by control the various police and military forces that governments use to keep people working within certain legal frameworks... and the various techniques that are used to bring about the acquisition of knowledge.
**Military?? Is he confusing the weapons of mass destruction with positive reinforcement?
Control is not 100%, occasionally an employee doesn’t go to work, or a man becomes a hobo and stops working altogether, or a student plays hooky, or someone breaks the law or escapes from jail. Exceptions are to be expected because in none of the cases are the variables manipulated (in control) the only variables (the others are in life).
I hope we don't limit the discussion to concealed control.
Why do we in controlling man, control him in one direction and not in another? How do we decide in advance how we want to control? This comes up in the case of education,
(Control and Freud)
Freud hopes to find within the individual the source of a pattern of life that is not imposed from the outside (a self).
In terms of control, the change in control is not from external control of the individual to internal control. It is a change from coercive, punitive control to positive reinforcement. There are ways to control people that influence what they want to do... and ways to force them to do what they do not want to do.
When democracy shifts control from a coercive punitive system to the self-policing of individual freedom, where good behavior is no longer the responsibility of the police but that of the individual, that inner control which is discovered is the product of another kind of external control which has been getting individuals to want to behave rather than have to behave for fear of punishment.
I see culture evolving away from immediate punitive ways of controlling people to more remote techniques based upon knowledge of human behavior. This kind of control is more likely to build a stronger group because it releases resources within the individual that are lost under aversive control (he agrees with Rogers here).
** Experience here, controlling our activity??
If you deny the individual freedom, or deny an interpretation of the individual based upon freedom and personal responsibility, that some who or other the individual vanishes. This is not the conclusion one should arrive at.
(Freedom rider and alcoholic)
To tell a freedom rider that he is the locus of a number of unique forces which have predetermined him to move southward and to sit in certain illegal places, that he has been operantly conditioned to behave in ways which bring him in to conflict with the law and that he finds it rewarding to emit certain sounds when he is beaten by the police [would seem absurd to the freedom rider]
** He does not deny this
Suppose I could convince this freedom rider that I was right, would he then stop being a freedom rider? He sees himself as a person that can do something to bring about an important change and who can get credit for his effort; people will admire him for it. He does this because of a heritage which has come to him from his own culture, undertaking a certain kind of martyrdom and undergoing a punitive treatment in order to bring bout change, if he has been through a culture that goes in for this. There are many cultures that would never produce freedom riders at all.
The converse of this is the alcoholic who will say, "I'm sorry and know I am an old drunk, but I am really ill, I need treatment." Society has controlled drunkenness by shaming the drunk, by teaching children to laugh at these people as an effort to control through punishment. In a modern world it is more beneficial for the drunk to get treatment but as you shift from one technique of control, punishment, to another, medical or positive educational measures, there is a transition period where people seem at loose ends, the old system doesn’t work and the new system hasn't taken control.
I am not saying people should be kept from buying alcoholic beverages, that didn't work, but I think advertisers should not be allowed to show alcohol as being attractive or glamorous.
**Here freedom, allowance for alcohol, is retained only because control of it produced the American crime syndicate.
You are saying influences and controls are from the outside but man's subjective into the inside has no importance whatsoever, and that is not an issue, a kind of Calvinism where the clock is would up at birth and runs to its conclusion and there is nothing more to be said.
This is a point we keep disagreeing on. When I give up trying to account for something internally and try to deal with external entities, which might be responsible, in the long run it comes out. I went a long time using the concept of drive in talking about behavior. It was the last of the fictions that I dispossessed myself of. Now instead of saying, "this rat is 80% of its body weight, or he has been deprived of food for forty-eight hours, it is less awkward to say, "this rat has a high hunger drive." This is positivism, of course, but it is a highly valuable practice.
**Skinner clearly uses an artificial condition to exaggerate the animal instinct to survive, hardly a positive reinforcement. And what does he mean by positivism?
Take such things as the enjoyment of literature or a dedication to an industry or courage, doing something in the face of aversive consequences. These things are very easily assigned to personality traits, which seem to come with the baby. People who have them can do these things and people who don’t, cant. The dedicated scientist who is in his laboratory 15 hours a day seems to have something, zeal, a dedication which many people don’t have
**Or maybe they are just social misfits chasing rewards they will never receive suffering from social isolation and doing so with the sanction of a society intent on preserving a culture of cruelty intent on mass and finalistic exploitation and knows a scientist like Skinner is precisely what they need.
I too think of the possibilities and potentialities of human control that all of us will face and the consequences of which we all will face.
When you spoke about your feelings, I wondered, why? Perhaps you haven’t found the cause for them, but it seems to me that there are other reasons for speaking of our feelings. Man's subjective life has a significant perspective on life, which stands quite separately, and paradoxically in relationship to our view of him as one molecule in the vast chain of cause and effect. When the subjective life does seem to have significance we adopt different course of action form those we adopt if we regard it having no significance at all.
Conscious and subconscious behaviors are all the same, the only distinction being that in the case of conscious behavior you know what you are doing or why you are doing it. In the case of the unconscious you don’t.
I quite agree with Dr Rogers what we need to release the inner freedom of the individual, the freedom from explicit and aversive external controls. I want to teach the person to talk to himself, go over plans, and review himself as an individual. Techniques of self-management can and should be taught a t a tender age.
Skinner and I agree on the view of a vast untapped potential in the human organism though we might have different pathways to it. I am not sure how much influence, he would call it control, I might have had on Skinner. I was intrigued by his statement that if you are going to design a culture you have to start with certain values, but it was my whole understanding that it was on this point that he felt it was unfeasible. We do have to choose those values and those choices preempt our efforts to make changes.
(Skinner confesses to having feelings)
I do not exclude anything from my considerations. I have confessed to my having feelings ... I confessed to their importance in my life. As a scientist I raise the question of whether they are something which precede and determine my action, or where the are an observation of my own behavior after the fact, or possibly before, if what I am actually observing are the conditions which are to be responsible for my behavior in the future.
(Concern with spontaneity)
I am concerned with arriving at the conception of the individual, which is one we accept, find useful and find dignified and worthwhile, yet which is compatible with the approach of a nature or social science of human behavior. The time has come when this issue must be taken out of the realm of philosophical discussion and deliberately faced. I we are still likely to be dealing with a conception of man which allows a great deal of leeway for caprice, for individual spontaneous changes, and so on, we are going to get into trouble.
(Genius and neurosis)
Having shown that great works of genius were essentially neurotic, he also cured neurosis that seems to indicate that eh had something against genius. But his answer is that people are geniuses against whatever background they maybe living in. In a world in which there are many neuroses some of these will be really fine neuroses and will call them works of art or works of genius. Bu tin a world in which people life a more orderly or more successful life, the will also be works of genius because of mans capacity to do great things. They will be somewhat different, it wont be art based upon neurotic tendencies and it can’t be literature that deals with personal conflicts....
** It will be so boring as to initiate suicide
(Differences between Humanists and Behavioralists)
There are some profound differences between us, though less than when these discussions began. I suspect that the deeper differences will not be reconciled by us, the will be reconciled by you and by other people (future generations)
Skinner sees himself and the world as automated [organisms] moving in preordained paths. I hold this perspective as a fruitful one in my work as a scientist, but not a s total world view and find it inadequate as a view point toward all of man.
Another point on which we differ is genuineness, I have come to feel, especially in the work of therapy, one of the most important values in human relationships is the quality of genuineness, of one person being in real and genuine contact with another, an individual being as completely as he is able.
There is no doubt about he personal genuineness of Dr Skinner, I get puzzled, though when he talks about designing cultures where nothing is real, where behaviors induced for other reasons, not fort themselves. I believe he feels that since all human relationships are simply manipulations whether we know it or not, the quality of genuineness doesn’t have significance... it doesn’t square with my experience.
** Comparing Rogers and Skinner makes me wonder if there are two distinct personalities, which can coexist, yet never meet. Unlike railroad tracks they not on parallel but separate paths, but on completely different planes.
So what if culture consists of these two social approaches, and since they cannot coexist, it would only be fair to allow them to exist on two separate planes. These would be Skinner's world of benign control; Walden II was unnecessary for reaching this societal thought...He has succeeded in reality to a strong degree, and Rogers’s free world of attraction, happiness and the good life. Then, just for the sake of the betting pool... how long would it take for Skinners social engineers to muster the troops and begin the invasion, using Munford’s ultimate labor saving tool, the weapon to increase their social reward??
And how surprised and unaware would Rogers enlightened citizens be at the sudden ingenuineness of their neighbors?? Soldiers, conditioned by such extreme positive rewards as land, women and other booty, take to exterminate the peace loving Rogerians. Skinner would be off in his lab, of course, measuring the leaps of mice when he pulls their tails. When asked why he did it, created such an effective machine, he would, if this debate were any indication, change the subject.