Dr. BF Skinner revolutionized animal and behavioral psychology. He took Ivan Pavlov’s groundbreaking work with dogs to a more detailed level, incorporating rats (hence the term lab rats), pigeons and other animals. Skinner kept his subjects in a controlled environment, and would observe their reaction to the various stimuli that he introduced. These closed environments became known as “Skinner Boxes”. This method proved to be very effective at training animals to develop a specific response; but what about humans? I see society overall as a structured series of Skinner Boxes, and I see mass media as the ultimate example of this.
When it comes to the introduction of ideas to a child’s mind, no concepts are strange. Nothing is foreign. You essentially have a clean slate from which to work. Throughout our lives that cycle will repeat itself time and again as we learn new things. Knowledge can be acquired under randomized, chaotic circumstances, but the knowledge we respect as a society is that which is gained in school; a controlled environment.
Formal education is favored and rewarded far more often than real-life education. This provides incentive for individuals to submit to a lifetime of rigid structures. Traditionally though, institutions of higher learning have not had as much of a foothold on shaping society as one might think. Academia is merely the model by which the subjects are indoctrinated. I believe the structure comes afterwards. In my opinion, the “holy trinity” if you will, of society’s control is comprised of the church, the state and the media.
I believe the basic element necessary for Skinner’s Box to work on society is trust. We are not animals. Attempting to control people without first gaining their trust has often resulted in violent reprisals. I believe mass media outlets (especially in the United States) set out to gain the trust of the average citizen long before ever trying to capitalize on it. My understanding is that the bait is entertainment. Once we are tuned in, we are subjected to all manner of ideas, talking points and commercials. The ultimate goal is to direct buying/voting power at will, and I believe also, to encourage or discourage civil unrest.
Modern religion is the very definition of rigid structure. Established to control a population who did not have any form of moral compass, religion had its chance to rule, but the lack of a controlled environment limited its reach to only the “faithful” who attended the services, or carried the literature. Religion violated the trust of the population time and again with their various inquisitions, purges and pogroms. Governments have a similar problem.
The French Revolution exposed the inherent weaknesses with the idea of simply declaring who a ruling class would be. People will revolt if they are not given a say in matters at hand. Even Communist China refers to itself as a “Peoples’ Republic”. The only way in which society can be kept from utter chaos, in my opinion is to reinforce the trust that the media has with the population. That trust, however is beginning to slip as information is carried via the net. The deeds and misdeeds of elected officials, media lies and cover-ups are beginning to come to light. Certain ideas (whether true or not) which may have been casually dismissed as “conspiracy theories” not even ten years ago, are being discussed and considered. This is a dangerous situation; one the government is working feverishly to prepare for. If you’ve heard anything about NSA wiretaps or domestic surveillance, then you understand.
Chances are great that they are watching for signs of civil unrest amongst the citizenry. In the final days of the Roman Empire the economy was a wreck. Corruption of elected officials was at an all-time high. The Flavius family, in their attempts to regain the trust of the population built the Coliseum (80-90 A.D.) They sought to pacify or distract the public by giving them games, gladiators, even mock naval battles. Public attention was trained on anything but the wretched state of Rome itself. In less than a hundred years the empire’s collapse was well underway. Distraction seems to be the technique that is being employed in American society today. Everywhere we turn our attention is being diverted.
Media is truly a form of Skinner’s Box, but confinement has been replaced by trust. I believe it was done to give the illusion of “free will” after Skinner so unceremoniously divulged that it was a myth. It just may be for the good of all society however, that this illusion remains intact. I am inclined to agree, but only if real work is being done to fix things.
Deconstructing History / Colosseum
Wayne Weiten, Ph.D. (2013). The Evolution Of Psychology.
In Wayne Weiten Ph.D. Psychology Themes And Variations, Ninth Edition (Chapter 1.)
Wadsworth Cenage Learning