Behaviorism dies last

We need to make a bunch of hammocks.  The problem is we are a bit out of practice and several of our key hammocks makers are missing in action.

The community was founded along behaviorist principals.  The inspirational work Walden Two described a place where an interlocking system of rewards gently conditioned members into good behaviors.  And thus a fictional utopia was created.  The founders of Twin Oaks found this an inspiring model and tried to build something in this image.  The problem of course is the book is science fiction and is not actually an effective blue print.  For example, work quota in the book is 24 hours a week, but nowhere in the book do they say how the community makes any income.  Here on the commune we need to do 42 hours a week to make our internal economics work.  And in the early days we worked 49 hours a week.

But this was only the beginning of the problems.  It turned out that as a core value, behaviorism was less important than other things we wanted to promote, specifically egalitarianism and non-violence.  The flavor of egalitarianism which favors equal distribution of resources runs quickly afoul of the behaviorist tool of using rewards to inspire people to do things.  And while most behaviorists avoid the use of punishments to alter behavior, non-violence (including psychological violence) blocks most punitive measures.

So after about 7 years most of the behaviorist aspects of the original design faded away.  No longer did we give extra labor credits for doing unpopular jobs (turns out once you get past a population of about 40 people there are no universally unpopular jobs).  We found that even the smallest reward caused labor to flock to an unpopular job and even very small reductions in payment for popular work caused our volunteer labor to flee from it.  So we were pushed into the desirable philosophical position that all work should be evaluated the same.

And behaviorism is powerful.  Right now there is a push by both some of the community planners and the Econ Team to raise quota if we dont make our hammocks goals.  This is both unpopular and historically quite effective.  So effective in fact that simply the threat of raising quota gets people into the hx shop and keeps us mostly making our goals and not raising quota.  And it is coercive.   Behaviorism trumps non-violence.  Stay tuned.

About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

11 responses to “Behaviorism dies last”

  1. Richard W. Lisko says :

    I read a Rushdie book recently which made that point that there are only two things people respect. Power and fear. I can tell you that the last few years of homelessness and joblessness have been very rewarding in a non materialistic sense and trying in a do whatever you gotta do to survive sense. In retrospect, living where y’all do and the riches of that experience should not be undervalued, especially for those without survival skills. Weaving hammocks is a quite nice experience compared to having to oh say prostitute oneself to survive. I would think that a get ‘er done work party till the job is done would be easy to organize given the other choices. Wall-mart anyone? Many hands make for lighter work loads and I know you got the hands there. Long live the Beloved Community. Peace. By any means necessary.

  2. Kristen says :

    I’m coming home soon! Keep the hammock shop warm!

  3. Will says :

    Oh come on. That’s not behaviorism trumping non-violence; it’s just behaviorism, and non-violence has nothing to do with it. It’s not coercive either. It’s just the incentive system.

    What’s interesting is the perspective on communism that your situation provides.

  4. paxus says :

    @Will. Is coercion in the eye of the beholder ? There are lots of people here who think increasing quota to get work done is coercive, i would be willing to be it is the majority actually. We have tried various incentive systems and to date they have failed.

  5. Will says :

    Is anarchy coercive? I think our favorite Santa Cruz anarchist would say that this is just a properly working anarchist system. Your anarchist system is explicitly recognizing the need for more of a certain kind of work to be done, and the people will respond by doing more of that work. No one is required to do it, but people do it because it needs to be done.

    Given that much of your post was about the overwhelming power of incentives, I’m surprised you say that incentives have failed for this particular issue.

  6. paxus says :

    Anarchy is absolutely coercive. Without rules, one lives under the threat that rouge justice or crime can come charging in at any moment. Of course the type of anarchy we are hot for is one where the cohesive social network replaces both the state and this fear.

    We are far from an anarchist system here at Twin Oaks, we have our little hierarchy.

    You are right that almost all the time our work is covered by volunteers. This is a huge plus not to be ignored. But sometimes (like now w/ hammocks) the volunteer effort is not enuf. We put on events in the hammock shop and put out treats. But still we fall way short of our goals.

    So motly incentives work, but not this time and there is likely to be quite a kerfuffle about it. Stay tuned.

    Love that you are engaged, Will.

  7. robino says :

    “Anarchy is absolutely coercive. Without rules …” Uhm, and I always thought anarchy means without *rulers*. Ah, look, wikipedia says the same (from Greek: ἀναρχίᾱ anarchíā, “without ruler”).

    Keep us posted 🙂

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