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Philosophy Discussion on B. F. Skinner and Henry David Thoreau

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Philosophy Discussion on B. F. Skinner and Henry David Thoreau - 27:53 Minutes

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Hayagrīva: This is B. F. Skinner. He's an American, contemporary American, and he's a behaviorist. He believes that technology can control people. Just as we can adjust the course of a spaceship, the environment can shape the individual, and therefore it is up to us to control the environment.

Prabhupāda: That is Vedic system, to control the whole mass of people in classification. The intelligent class, the administrative class, the productive class, and the worker class, and less than them, and in their respective position, if they cooperate for the common cause, that becomes a perfect society. Brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya... Therefore this system is called varṇāśrama, four varṇas and four āśrama, social order and spiritual order. The ultimate end is spiritual, but if the social order is not organized, then spiritual order is also disorganized. So there must be division of labor and activities. This is?

Hayagrīva: Skinner believes in what he calls reinforcement, reinforcing people's behavior. He doesn't believe in punishing people when they do wrong, but he believes more in a system of rewards. He writes, "A government may prevent defection by making life more interesting, by providing bread and circuses, and by encouraging sports, gambling, the use of alcohol and other drugs, and various kinds of sexual behavior, where the effect is to keep people within reach of adversive sanctions." So he...

Prabhupāda: He recommends these things?

Hayagrīva: So he believes that through..., by providing the people with sense gratification the government can keep people from acting in an antisocial way.

Prabhupāda: That means he is also of the same category. No, that will not help. Just like, the example is given in this connection, that when there is fire, if you think that putting more and more ghee the fire will extinguish, that is not possible. To keep the society in order they must be educated according to his capacity, and they should be engaged for common benefit. That is required. Not that to encourage them in their bad habits things will be done nicely. No. That is not possible.

Hayagrīva: He ultimately believes in bringing people under control. He says, "If there is any purpose or direction in the evolution of a culture, it has to do with bringing people under the control of more and more of the consequences of their behavior."

Prabhupāda: Yes. Human life is meant for control. That is the Vedic process, tapasya, because the aim is spiritual perfection. If we allow material activities according to the desire of the people, then they forget spiritual identity altogether. So that aim of life in the human form of body is missing, that Vedic civilization is how to raise one to the spiritual platform. Otherwise he remains an animal. First of all we must know what is the aim of life, and then the question of organization. If you do not know what is the aim of life, material adjustment will not make the condition of the society very good. (break ?)

Hayagrīva: His most famous book was Walden II, which was... Thoreau lived in Walden, Henry Thoreau. He lived alone. It was a solitary experiment of plain living and high thinking. He writes, "We practice the Thoreauvian principle of avoiding unnecessary possessions." Thoreau pointed out that the average Concord laborer worked ten or fifteen hours of his..., fifteen years of his life just to have a roof over his head. We could say ten weeks and be on the safe side. Food is plentiful and healthful but not expensive." So he goes on to say that "We strike for economic freedom, we do not believe in unnecessary consumption, we consume less than the average American." So it's an attempt to construct a society somewhat similar to New Vrindavan, with the exception of no spiritual basis as such.

Prabhupāda: That is primitive life, jungle life. Monkey civilization. Of course they claim to be descendant of monkey, that they will go on like that. But that is not human civilization, to keep the monkey in the jungle. We want life, very peaceful life without any unnecessary, what is called, necessities. That is all right. But the aim should be spiritual perfection. Therefore the first thing is what is the aim of life, that should be ascertained. Without aim, if you lounge on this ocean, where you are going? That is useless attempt. We must first of all know what is the aim of life. These people, they do not know what is the aim of life. Simply, superficially they are trying to adjust, "This will be done, this will be done." No. These are all mental speculation. First of all you must know what is the aim of life, and to this, to that direction, we have to adjust things. That is perfection.

Hayagrīva: He writes, "Walden II isn't a religious community. It differs in that respect from all other reasonably permanent communities of the past. We don't give our children any religious training, though parents are free to do so if they wish." Then he goes on to say that "The simple fact is the religious practices which our members brought to Walden II have fallen away little by little like drinking and smoking." He says, "We have no need for formal religion, either as ritual or philosophy."

Prabhupāda: He has no need of religion? Does he say like that?

Hayagrīva: That's what he says.

Prabhupāda: So without religion, without spiritual ideas, then what is the difference between dogs and man? There is no difference. Dharmeṇa hīna paśubhiḥ samānāḥ. That is the verdict of Vedic civilization. If you do not know what is the spiritual necessity of life, and for awakening his spiritual interest of life the religious system is introduced in the human society... But in that, of course so-called religion system will not help. Therefore we repeatedly say religion means the execution of the order of God. So if you have no conception of God, no conception, no idea what is God's order, then there is no religion also. That is not religion. So that kind of religion is also, can be neglected, but religion must be there. Otherwise the human society becomes another edition of the animal society.

Hayagrīva: Well, his conception of religion is that of the..., having, playing some music, and uh, daliance with the supernatural, intellectual aesthetic enjoyment. He says, "What else does organized religion provide?" Religion is a form of, sort of enjoying art.

Prabhupāda: No. Art is there, and singing is there, dancing is there, but that is based on spiritual conception. That is the difficulty in the Western countries, that they are not fully aware of the conception of religion. Therefore Bhāgavata says that cheating religion, dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavaḥ. There is no purpose, simply a recreation of different nature in material life. That is, means, they do not know, except sense gratification, any other engagement. They think religion is also another kind of, type of sense gratification, "So we can perform it." And actually that is going on. Whenever there is some festival they change the daily way of life into some more eating, drinking, and dancing, like that. But religion means to understand God and our relationship with God and live in God practically. That is real religion. That is the aim of life.

Hayagrīva: In Walden II he advised women to get married at about the age of sixteen so that by the time she's twenty-two or twenty-three a girl will be finished with bearing children, and then she can be on an equal par with men, or her role can then be equal and she can devote her time to other interesting prospects.

Prabhupāda: What is that interesting prospects? That he doesn't know.

Hayagrīva: Well, uh, he mentions, oh, working together, types of work, all, all types of work are shared equally. Family ties are discouraged. Children are generally held in common. People can live the good life, and he defines, "The good life means the chance to exercise talents and abilities. And we have let it be so. We have time for sports, hobbies, arts and crafts, and, most important of all, the expression of that interest in the world which is science in the deepest sense, an exploration of nature. Last of all, the good life means relaxation and rest." So the, the woman would be able to participate in the good life when she's finished bearing children at the age of twenty-three or whatever.

Prabhupāda: They are, difficulty, that is missing, that what is their ideal life, what is the aim of life. So he is prescribing so many things. That will not help the human society. And women, about women, this idea that (s)he should be married at sixteen years old, that is good, but it is not that women stops child breeding by the twenty-two years age. No. There are many women and they can beget children in, in advanced age. I, so far personally I know, my mother was the youngest daughter, and she was born when my grandmother was fifty years old. So it is not that the woman stops child begetting at the age of twenty-two years age. Nowadays up to thirty years, twenty-five years, woman, woman is married, so how he, she can stop?

Hayagrīva: Well, he wouldn't say stop. He says, "A young couple will live quite as well together whether married or unmarried. Sex is no problem in itself. Here the adolescent finds an immediate and satisfactory expression of his natural impulses." So since the children are held in common, marriage..., you may get married if you like, but it's not required.

Prabhupāda: Children?

Hayagrīva: The children are held in common. They are not... They don't acknowledge any particular, particular parent.

Prabhupāda: Hm.

Hayagrīva: He feels his society is a society of what we call "do your own thing." That is, he doesn't really condemn anything. He says, "What's wrong with love or marriage or parenthood? What's unwholesome about sex? Why make unnecessary problems, unnecessary delays?" The idea is to simplify everything and to get rid of all the impediments to an enjoyable life.

Prabhupāda: But he does not know what is that enjoyable life. He cannot define, definitely, what is that enjoyable life. He is simply hankering after it. That is natural. But he does not know definitely what is that enjoyable life.

Hayagrīva: As close as he comes to a definition of it, he says, "We simply arrange a world in which serious conflicts occur as seldom as possible, or, with a little luck, not at all."

Prabhupāda: What does it mean? Hm?

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: He's trying to make an ideal arrangement where no conflicts come about.

Prabhupāda: That is materially impossible.

Hayagrīva: Yes.

Prabhupāda: Unless you come to the spiritual platform, that is not possible at all. But he has no idea of the spiritual life. But these dreams are there because everyone is spiritual being, so he wants that ideal society. But because he has no spiritual idea or aim, he is simply putting some program which is almost Utopia. It will never be possible.

Hayagrīva: He feels that Walden II should be a community without a leader, that uh...

Prabhupāda: He wants to become leader.

Hayagrīva: Yes.

Prabhupāda: That is the idea.

Hayagrīva: The man who's setting up the community.

Prabhupāda: That's all right. He is suggesting that "You make me leader." That is the...

Hayagrīva: This sounds very familiar.

Prabhupāda: Everyone says, "Don't accept leader. Accept me as leader, that's all." But our proposal is that the, without leader nothing can be done. And the supreme leader is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His representative should become leader. Then the society will be perfect. The supreme leader is God. So He gives instruction, and real leader takes the instruction by disciplic succession, and for the benefit of the total human society they spread the message of God. That is our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Without leader nothing can be done. Even if he says that without leader, he is, that preaching is also leadership. So why people should accept his leadership if there is no need of leader?

Hayagrīva: This was the position of Mr. Rose, who started to try to, try a community at, where we have New Vrindavan now. The man we initially bought New Vrindavan from. This was his position: "No leaders." But it turned out that he wanted to be the leader.

Prabhupāda: (laughs) Who is that gentleman?

Hayagrīva: Mr. Rose. You met him once, I recall.

Prabhupāda: Oh. He is not initiated?

Hayagrīva: Oh, no, no. He lives in West Virginia.

Prabhupāda: Oh, yes, yes. In the beginning.

Hayagrīva: In the very beginning.

Prabhupāda: Yes, yes, I met him. He came with another gentleman.

Hayagrīva: That's right. His, his theory of, of death, he says, "When I die I shall cease to exist in every sense of the word. As a personal figure I shall be as unidentifiable as my ashes." No belief in immortality at all.

Prabhupāda: So why he is anxious to philosophize? If everyone is going to be finished, then why he is philosophizing? What did he..., why he is taking so much trouble? That is the difficulty—this class of men accepted as philosopher.

Hayagrīva: Oh, he became very popular through this book. I don't know how.

Prabhupāda: Oh, if you prescribe such nonsense book, everyone will like it. (laughs) (break)

Hayagrīva: This is the conclusion of B. F. Skinner. He felt that the goal is to improve the world and then man. He believes that "Now, as never before, man can lift himself up by his own bootstraps, and achieving control of the world of which he is a part, he may learn at last to control himself."

Prabhupāda: That man attempted first of all to control the world?

Hayagrīva: First control the world...

Prabhupāda: Hm.

Hayagrīva: ...and then you can control yourself. That's his theory.

Prabhupāda: If he..., if one cannot control himself, how he will control the world? How it is possible?

Devotee: Backwards.

Hayagrīva: Ultimately he feels that man has no duty. "It is reasonable to look forward to a time when man will seldom have anything to do, although he may show interest, imagination and productivity."

Prabhupāda: Imagination, if he thinks like that, that our society will be perfect on imagination, then what he can say? This is childish. That is going on practically. Everyone is coming, a leader like him, and he is trying to make some followers of his own imagination. That is going on.

Hayagrīva: He, he believed...

Prabhupāda: He has got imagination. He believes in his own imagination. So others can believe in his own imagination. So who is going to follow him? He, he has to remain satisfied with his imagination. I mean, everyone has got imagination. Why he should, one should follow him?

Hayagrīva: Like, like Aldous Huxley, he feels that if happiness isn't possible through not doing anything, in the not too few dis..., in the not too distant future, the motivational and emotional conditions of normal daily life will probably be maintained in any desired state through...

Prabhupāda: He can probably, perhaps...

Hayagrīva: ...through the use of drugs.

Prabhupāda: Oh, he is advocate of drugs.

Hayagrīva: Any emotional state you wish to be in, you can put yourself in that emotional state by simply taking a pill.

Prabhupāda: And put the society in chaotic condition then.

Hayagrīva: In this way society can be controlled, through the use of drugs.

Prabhupāda: Who will control?

Hayagrīva: Well he doesn't believe in any leaders.

Prabhupāda: Then who will control? Society controlled without any controller? What is the meaning?

Rāmeśvara: It's a type of communism, where the people work together in a communal way.

Prabhupāda: How they will work together? They require Lenin, Stalin, or something like that, to force them to work. Still, in Communist country there are manager class. Not only worker class, the manager class. So this is all utopian theory. It has no practical value.

Hayagrīva: In the United States all of the successful utopian communities have had a strong religious leader.

Prabhupāda: Leader must be there, religious or not religious. Everyone has leader. The Communist has got leader, and the spiritualists, Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we have also leader. So without leader nothing can be done. They may defy leadership, they may defy authority, but one who defies authority, he wants to become authority. So this is natural. Without leader nothing can be done.

Hayagrīva: That's the end of B. F. Skinner. (end)