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How to create a Walden Two Community in the United States

By Edited Jul 28, 2016 0 0

This is a how-to guide to create a community using B.F.Skinner's Walden Two as a blueprint. The location would be somewhere inside the United States. George Lucas said that Kurosawa had commented that his movies were essentially about the questions of why can't we be happier, and why can't we be happier together? This is essentially the same topic of Walden Two.

However, happiness is just the first step, and it is suggested that it is a prelude to a cultural Golden Age. If we can be happier being productive in art, music, and literature then why can't we be happier together in producing the worlds greatest art, music, and literature?

Things You Will Need

You will need one or more fairly large pre-existing "mass movements" probably comprised of groups of people who are not heavily committed to the status quo - the unemployed, retirees and college students are common groups. In Skinner's novel, they are returning soldiers contemplating returning to their old lives prior to the war, along with two college professors. The unemployed ( of whom house wives, retirees and college students might be seen as members) may not be highly tied to the cycle of professional careers, car and home debt, and marriage to those who are culturally committed to the consumer lifestyle).

A large uncommitted mass of the unemployed - recently or chronically so - exists in most modern economies and may have no coherent sense of 'self', collective identity or collective opinion - in other words they may not be a part of any real mass movement. Yet, such a body may be highly conductive to recruitment to an alternative to simply "going back to work". They unemployed have a taste for freedom from bosses, and the economy of unemployment typically sheds most of the invisible shackles that keeps people in the consumer society (debts, mortgages, and sadly, sometimes marriages).

The need for such a large group is that part of the task of creating an alternative society will require both selection (finding those who are already inclined to "dropping out") and adaptation ( educating and training them for this particular form of alternative). Many will be called, but few will be chosen.

You will also need a small "core" of full time organizers in close proximity to each other and unified by a common ideology and leader. There is a chicken and egg problem with the core group and in the beginning the core will essentially be you, the initial organizer, and anyone you know and who is willing to join you.The core group will need to be unified by trust and faith in the common goals and formal or informal leadership. They might arise out of a pre-existing organization that is not so ambitious, as a 'radical wing' of an older, larger and more established environmental or social justice organization.

The organizers will act on the larger body of potential members to engage in the gentle but persistent organized presentation of general positions that would necessitate the formation of a utopian community like Walden Two (generally) and ultimately a Walden Two (specifically).

Step 1

Create your core group. These are the "apostles" who will provide the majority of the execution of the program. You will probably recruit them the same way as you recruit the larger group of members later, so this might be done as "step two".

There are essentially two phases to this process - expansion and consolidation. When membership is low, as when starting out, there is an expansion phase going on. Both phases can occur in unison if executed by different parts of the organization - one is expanding to recruit new members, another is consolidating by evaluating the quality and sincerity of the member.

In the expansion phase new members are introduced the Walden Two philosophy in a series of measured steps from "most easily accepted and supported" to those likely to be least familiar to most people. This is a tiered ideological strategy which may also be called "shaping through successive approximation" to use the behavioral technology term.

Step 2

If no series of progressive ideology exists for recruiting, read Skinner's Walden Two and Thoreau's Walden thoroughly with an idea to broad ideas. For example, "Love of nature" in the vein of transcendentalism, responsible stewardship and ecology are at the heart of Walden Two (and it's inspiration Walden) and are positions most Americans would see as valuable and worthwhile. More difficult concepts like Behaviorism as a philosophy, the nitty-gritty mechanics of behavior analysis, and other positions which may require a strong educational background can be preserved for more advanced members.
The broadest position is to be presented as the Walden Platform: 5 to 10 basic positions which speak to the general organization of an alternative community.

Step 3

After the initial doctrine has been created, and the core group has been recruited, an appeal along fairly simple lines will be made to the larger body of "potential members". Different ideas and positions may be more appealing depending on current events. For example, Thoreau was a famous opponent of War, and an anti-war position might be quite popular when there is an unpopular war. However, when anti-war sentiments are not strong, other positions might be more effective. This can only be known by direct contact with the large numbers of potential members.

The goal is to create a large number of three tiers of members: general supporters who are not likely to actually join the community but feel that it is important enough to warrant their support. Ardent supporters who feel they are likely to be able to join immediately in the near future but still live as ordinary citizens. Members are the most dedicated tier, and they will be candidates for the core group as it needs to expand or replace members, they will live in urban communities, attend weekend camp meetings, and so on. A potential member will determine what level of commitment they feel they are most comfortable with, and it is likely that members will occupy varying levels as time passes.

Step 4

Urban Walden Houses are to be created to concentrate the most dedicated members and to act as places to engage, entertain and educate members in the other two tiers. Urban houses are not simply a transition for member organization from the city to the rural setting but even after the rural community is established it will be a conduit for member recruiting, foreign exchange, and member movement to and from the community. Walden Houses are also living laboratories for the testing of basic principles of Walden Two community organization and can be used to give potential members a feeling for what community life will be like.



Los Horcones is said to have created a city based collective, Twin Oaks had its Walden House in Washington, D.C., and other urban Walden houses have been created (see the wikipedia article for more of these).

Step 5

Walden Weekends during the milder weather months would be outdoor camping on weekends, and during the colder, rainy winter months would be indoor sleep over events.

The goal of the Walden Weekends is to educate members in the culture of a Walden Community, to promote games, self-management, a love of nature, and to help members socialize and determine for themselves if they feel a Walden Community is a good fit for them.

The weekends are to be fairly well structured, but like the Community should have a many opportunities for self-selection and self-management as possible. Instead of a single "large rally" smaller groups with different elements would be presented with members selecting which activity most suits them which is consistent with the nature of management in the Walden Community. A Walden Weekend is designed to motivate the member to support the community with a modest donation, with volunteer time, and to be motivated to recruit for the community and determine if they can increase their own level of commitment. Similarly, organizers can determine if potential members are a good fit and act accordingly.

Walden weekends can be used to create the initial core group, unify members for the creation of a Walden House, recruit members for existing Walden Houses, recruit members for the community proper and so on.

Step 6

Thoreau lived in a very small cabin with few possessions, and for the initial transition to Walden Two members will need to live modest lives. Members must be willing to live in "Thoreau's Cabin" sized spaces until the community can provide sufficient permanent housing.

Once one or more Walden Houses are in place, several thousand people should have heard of the plan to create a Walden Two community, there is a thousand or so members in regular (that is at least 2 times per month) contact with the organizers via email, a newsletter, or ideally a regular face to face meeting, and there is at least 200 members who have shown themselves ready to move to a community the next phase is ready.

If the core group has not had a chance to engage in broad publicity, such a campaign must be undertaken. The internet, pamphlets, opportunities to reach a large audience through paid or free advertising, the publication of articles in journals likely to appeal to those questioning the status quo and so on would need to be undertaken. Although the actual ratio of those contacted to those who choose to undertake a Walden lifestyle cannot be known through speculation, or what steps would make the ideal transition, assuming 1 in one hundred, or one thousand, or ten thousand will start to give you the feeling for the need for mass scale to make this work. The medium by which people are contacted will tend to change the numbers: face to face contact is likely to produce the best results.

Step 7

Once one or more pieces of land are acquired a phased construction approach can begin with members living there in tents during mild weather months, such as late spring, summer, and early fall. If permanent heated structures can't be built, and if it is a climate with severe weather then members will need to migrate back to the urban communes, and be guests in supporter homes until the weather improves. Ideally this would complete in 1-2 years for at least 200 member capacity structures to be in place.

Land is acquired in the novel as the tax-default on several dairy farms. Land might also be had through a donation by a sympathetic member or group. It is a good idea to get less land than is likely to be thought necessary, rather than more. Cultivating land, paying taxes on it, and managing it are difficult. If the land is purchased through credit then debt is a serious problem and historically has proven fatal. A small piece of land acquired outright is better than thousands of acres purchased on credit.

Moreover, many members will likely be recruited from cities with little actual farming experience. Farming as a novelty, as a way to connect with nature, and as a gradual method for self-sufficiency is definitely to be encouraged. However, too radical a transition to farming can produce an odious burden on the members, and it should be assumed that manufacturing, not farming, will produce most of the foreign-exchange income.

Step 8

In the novel Frazier is an expert in Behavioral Engineering, however such expertise is less likely in a Waldenist movement. Recruiting college students in behavior analysis programs to act as advisors, perhaps for summer class credit if it can be arranged with sympathetic universities, would be a way to help fill this gap. Recruiting sympathetic professors would be ideal, however it is less likely as they are fairly "committed" to the status quo, but it is worth attempting on some levels.

Home-grown expertise in behavior analysis can be encouraged like any other skill set and it need not wait until the community is founded. Encouraging subscriptions to the Journal for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB) and the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) would make sense. As would participating in professional meetings of behavioral psychologists. The Walden Code is to be an applied handbook of such techniques which could be used to manage Walden Houses as well as promoted in pamphlet form as self-help guides to members at large.

Step 9

There are many possible mistakes to avoid and this is not an exhaustive list.

First, avoid too powerful members who will subtly or overtly subvert the collective culture. For example, in a collective housing situation at Twin Oaks, a member insisted on living in a private RV in violation of the collective housing agreement. A large donor may be able to exert considerable influence over an economically struggling community. The best hedge is to avoid being in a position where a powerful donor can exert such influence and must cooperate with the cultures values and not superimpose their personal preferences.

A second kind of "powerful member" is the sheer number of poorly integrated members. A failure to properly socialize members quickly may lead to pockets of passive resistance to the cultural pattern and the reintroduction of cultural practices that this community is designed to over-come (e.g. casual drug use, private property or personal gain as the primary motivators of life, a contempt for science in general or behavior analysis specifically, a desire to deviate from Walden Two as a blueprint in favor of more anarchistic, individualistic systems, etc).

In bridging the ideological divide between what a Walden Two community represents and what the masses of people living quiet desperate lives will embrace is difficult. Two 'errors' may arise. First, is being too far ahead of their willing to accept or understand. Demanding immediate, full acceptable of all of Walden Two's ideas, perhaps even simplified to the point of a slogan or phrase, is unreasonable and likely to fail to recruit members or achieve a good acceptance of our position.

Second, and even more dangerous, is to fall behind the willingness of the dissatisfied to advance our position aggressively in the face of public opinion that might accept it.

To suggest that members simply abandon their current way of life and move into a rural community is a fairly advanced position to take. However, during times of crises or prolonged dissatisfaction with the status quo, such an advocacy might be well received.

As mentioned before excessive land acquisition and an over reliance on farming are to be avoided. Avoiding debt is another problem.

Step 10

As early as possible develop a wide base of members who support the community with small, regular donations, perhaps as little as $5 or $10 per month. The purpose of such donations is to prevent "big fish" donors from later exerting an excessive negative influence later. It will also diversify funding sources so that there will be less fluctuation and better ability to project income. The act of recruiting members to provide small sustaining contributions also means that the organization cannot be totally divorced from the masses, perhaps catering to a small cadre of elite donors, but instead must be outwardly focused as widely as possible. Indeed it might be said that instead of having a member give a $60 dollar donation once, which might be most administratively "efficient", a recurring $5/month donation would be preferred for the reasons mentioned. "The lottery" and other large or ridiculous donation schemes are to be avoided. No large corporations are going to "grant" money or land. Private donations, and small ones, are the way to a Walden Two.

In addition to donations, which are not properly a Foreign Exchange per se, would be some measure of commerce with the outside world. Ideally these would be cultural products - music, poetry, books, paintings, photographs, performances - which allow for the promotion of the Walden lifestyle itself to be a part of the process. Secondarily, products or services which are simply marketable would be reasonable - e.g. Skinner's furniture manufacturing, or Twin Oaks hammocks or Tofu or Book Indexing, or Los Horcones child services.

A funding base will finance the real estate needs of the community later, finance publications, web sites, advertising, and so on early on. It would not be unreasonable to encourage members to collectively purchase Walden Houses and then donate them to the community.

The community organization would be a non-profit corporation which would be organized to own property and provide the legal charter for action, tax deductions and so on.

Step 11

It is important that members trust the collective organization of a Walden Two, any groups or committees that it oversees, and the leadership activities. One method to both promote trust and oversight is through transparency in accounting and activities. Internal member audits and regular publication of activities not only will provide increased faith in membership, it will allow for others to have an accurate record of costs in their possible attempts to replicate a Walden Community in their area or country.

Although transparency is no guarantee of ethical action, it seems to be often that those who resist transparency are doing so to hide things which should not be hidden. Internal reviews and so-called checks and balances are another way to ensure member actions are ethical and legal.

Step 12

It may take years to create a core group, get the message out, and recruit hundreds or thousands of potential members and supporters. It is often hard to motivate people even for a sustained period of weeks, much less years. An overall conception of the necessity of moving quickly when the time is right (and being prepared for those quick moves) and of not being in a hurry to rush into a self-made trap where all the community values must be sacrificed to pacify new members who are not community oriented is important.

Without a community would-be communards become frustrated and give up and cannot sustain a long term commitment to such an endeavor. With a hastily created community the forces of debt, membership recruiting, and lack of organization may overwhelm the original plan to the point where survival requires that principles be sacrificed on the alter of necessity.

Step 13

For the sake of discussion a Campaign is essentially a plan of action that involves both short and long term actions and goals. All of creating a Walden Two community is a campaign. The issues around which members are recruited are smaller, short term campaigns. Since the "large" campaign of a Walden Community is not likely to happen in a few months, smaller campaigns designed to organize, recruit and keep up morale are important. These smaller campaigns should be organized essentially as "baby steps" towards building a community, or should be oriented as educational issues around things that the community would solve: local anti-poverty efforts, anti-toxics campaigning, adult literacy, and other issues help to highlight what are fundamental and chronic problems.

Campaigns might be organized in yearly and seasonal campaigns. Ideally seasonal campaigns would support and not hinder yearly campaigns, allowing smaller goals to bridge the difficult time period of a year. A goal that is a few months out can provide for the tension needed to motivate, with the (hopefully) successful resolution of that tension with success. Failures will happen, and are not to be avoided by simply doing nothing. But even failures can unite people in their common struggle to obtain something.

All campaigns are run by committees and the means by which committees are formed and run is found in something like Roberts Rules of Order. Some committees are permanent, say fundraising or membership, while others are created around a particular or regional issue, to fight for or against a particular issue, or around a short term goal.

A "non political action committee" (NPAC) is the name suggested by Skinner for those who might want to start a Walden community. Skinner notes that his fictional community has a Ministry of Information and engages in what we typically call public relations. The original group of members in the novel who found the community become known as the "planners" but they might also be seen as members of the central organizing committee.

Step 14

Skinner refers to "the uncommitted" as those who are in a position to create a new society, and transition is a natural and normal part of life. Common transitional periods include movement away from home into college, as freshmen, and movement out of college into the job market. Movement into late middle age with the loss of grown children ("the empty nest") provides parents with the need for something to fill their time. The transition into retirement for once working adults also forces adoption of a new consideration of what life means and how it is to be "filled". Marx noted that class movement may be a difficult transition (particularly down-ward), and Eric Hoffer suggests the same. Some groups may be more or less permanently alienated from the "larger ideal lifestyle" due to religion, ethnicity, heritage or even accidental temporary or permanent physical problems.

Such alienation may lead many to question whether or not there is an alternative to the current way of life.

We can build a better world, discover what allows people to live together, and since the science of behavior is fairly advanced, much of it is simply testing and extending what has already been discovered.

Modern capitalist economies, despite their rhetoric on the preservation of the family, are highly toxic to family relations - often forcing working people to migrate great distances to work away from their family, or to separate entirely from them. Walden Two is essentially the re-creation of the extended family but modeled around "adopted" role relations instead of blood relations. People in transition want family relations and a Walden Two movement can provide them with comfort in an alienating civilization which is intrinsically anti-family.


Step 15

The creation of cohesive groups will involve a microcosm of the larger process of expansion and contraction. In expansion operant repertoires, or the members as a "whole" are generously reinforced. In contraction the preferred operants, or behaviors, and members are selected. Losing members is to be avoided since ideologically Walden Two is not a selectionist position but rather a redemptive one. However, promotion, entrusting with greater responsibility and other elements of survival are to be reserved for the most assimilated members. In the novel the Managers are carefully selected and trained, hard working members.

Creating cohesion is a function of campaigns, keeping members active and focused, and of providing a rich and rewarding experience for them as an alternative to their prior activities and interests. If members can learn a musical instrument and have the opportunity to play for an appreciative audience, why would they prefer to go back to watching sit-coms and waiting for rat-race treadmill to start a new day?

Members are united in campaigns around socially significant issues, such as local ecological preservation, which provide a rationale for their cooperation and interaction.

Members are also united as groups for the production of culture - art, sculpture, music, poetry - which in turn allows members to develop rich social lives as well as provides products for cultural export (see 'Foreign Exchange').

Structured interactions such as Walden (Camping/Indoor) weekends also creates member cohesion by adapting to the challenges of planning and orchestrating an outdoor event, self-organizing in activities that maintain the event, and of filling the time with themselves and their creativity instead of the usual passive-consumer model of ordinary living.
Creating a Walden Two community may be the most important step forward for humanity ever. The ability to create a culture which doesn't need war, poverty or ignorance, which promotes cooperation and sharing, and which can generate a Golden Age of culture, of genius, and happiness is a worthwhile goal.

Tips & Warnings

This might take some time.
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