The Fatal Flaw of a Skinnerian Planned Culture.

The radical behaviorist meta-ethic as outlined by BF Skinner asserts that a successful culture is one that aligns the interests of the individual with the interests of the collective group. This paradigm has a number of corollaries.  One is that the survival of the group in a potentially changing environment requires variation between individuals and that at least some proportion of individual exercise creativity in their thoughts and actions. (Equivalent to the role of random mutation in evolution).

Skinner suggests that when an individual is required to make a significant sacrifice of their own well being, for the good of the culture, this is a sign that the culture is poorly planned.  However in the analogy offered, behaving creatively rather than following existing rules is the same as learning by trial and error, or carrying a random mutation.

However, it is clearly established that random mutations are overwhelmingly negative for the well-being of the individual.  That is, if you were somehow given prior choice as to whether you would be born with a random mutation the rational decision would be to not have one.

Equally, the majority of new businesses, inventions, religious movements, community structures etc are typically not beneficial to individuals or sustainable in the long term. Innovation is, for the individual, a gamble or leap of faith rather than a rational choice.

As such, the fatal flaw of a Skinnerian approach to designing a successful culture is the inconsistency between its two key requirements. 1) The alignment of the interests of the individual, the immediate social group, and the culture (species), and 2) the need to encourage creativity so that the culture can adapt to changing environmental demands.

Additionally, trail and error learning is known to be a highly inefficient learning strategy in relation to innate behavior, observational learning, or rule following.  And it is particularly likely to expose an individual to a risk of harm. For example, a child who avoids large scary cars or follows the rules for crossing the road is exposed to very little risk of being run over, a child who learns how to cross the road by trial and error is in great dangerous of making a fatal error.

By extension it should be acknowledged that most highly innovative people suffer rather than benefit from their creativity, especially if success is measured according to mental well being, a long healthy life, and leaving children.  Even creative individual who are recognized as icons and pathfinders now often lived short and unhappy lives and were lauded predominantly only after their death. And they represent a small minority of those who step outside establish norms.

In short, by planning for a society that encourages a high rate of innovation and creativity, or any significant rate of it, Skinner is requiring individuals to adopt a strategy that is likely to compromise their personal well being.  He is making them a sacrifice to the needs of the culture, which is the one quality a well-planned culture is not meant to have.

It is typically recognized that individuals in power may choose to use their influence to exploit others for the benefit of themselves or their immediate social group (e.g. family, religion, political party).  It should also be recognized that the choice of exploiting certain individuals or groups, for the benefit of the the entire culture or species, is also problematic.

The only escape from this ethically absolutist loop would be if a culture could determine which individuals would be creative in a way that was simultaneously beneficial to the culture and to themselves.  It is entirely questionable whether this is even theoretically possible for a number of reasons. Firstly creative solutions often precede the problem that they solve. Therefore fostering only useful creativity would require perfect foresight into future problems.  A possibility that is marginally possible in a deterministic universe but certainly not very practical right now.

Secondly the behaviorist model alludes to the possibility that many necessary kinds of creativity may be innately harmful to those that possess them.  Extreme creativity, as may be necessary to solve severe problems like global warming, pathogenic pandemic, or alien invasion implies a person significantly outside the current norms of biology and behavior.

Because a successful culture efficiently passes down its existing knowledge is appears that there will always be a tension between normative success (adopting existing rules), and creative success (abandoning existing practice and creating a new practice with uncertain utility).

In this context I would argue that Skinner's rejection of the option for a well-planned culture to sacrifice some of its individuals is an absolutist ethic, and not factually based.  A full expression of behaviorist cultural meta-ethic would treat the individual within the culture as functionally identical to the train-and-error behavior within the behavioral repertoire or the genotype within the context of natural selection.  That is, the optimal pursuit of the well-being of the species must (and possibly should) sacrifice the well being of individuals in order to maintain a population of individuals with the skill sets needed to over-come potential sources of species extinction.

A rejection of this necessity is a choice to sacrifice the longevity of our species in order to reduce net suffering while the species exists.  This accepts that avoiding suffering is not an ethic of fact, but an absolute ethic coming from a source other than the synchronized survival of the fittest at all four level of selections currently acknowledge, the gene, the individual, the social group, and the species.

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