Human Behavior: Values, Cultural Design, And Control
We are all controlled by the world in which we live, and part of the world has been and will be constructed by men. The question is this: Are we to be controlled by accidents, by tyrants, or by ourselves in effective cultural design?" - B.F. Skinner
Cultural Design is much like "instrumental conditioning," where people are conditioned to respond favorably to a situation or stimulus that produces positive reinforcement. Pavlov first introduced the idea of conditioning in animals. Conditioning or cultural design however, can also be related to human behavior. How exactly does cultural design relate to the concepts of dignity vs. punishment? Why are moral struggles considered noteworthy to so many people?
The plight of so many individuals is finding purpose and function in life. One may argue that by subjecting persons to punishment, their dignity suffers and thus they are positively reinforced to produce only positive outcomes. Cultural Design however, implicitly connotes ideas of control and responsible, restriction of freedom and values. These ideas and more are explored below.
Ultimately the goal of conditioning or design is to predict behavior. The side effects of punishment may be considered conditioning to positive behavior in some situations. People are intimately tied to their emotions, environmental influences and feelings. By conditioning a response of remorse and regret, through the use of punishment, one may conclude that the bruise to an individual's dignity will cause a change in behavior. Hopefully this change is positive in nature.
People who "behave well" as a result of conditioning or cultural design are not truly behaving according to their instincts. Thus, proponents of personal freedom are somewhat justified in their detest of cultural design. Truly, by conditioning a person to behave well, society is asking that a person behave according to a trained or manipulated set of standards.
This set of standards admittedly will most likely reflect the "norms" of society. For example, it is reasonable to conclude that an individual should be conditioned against a response to murder other people. However, there are radical proponents of personal freedom that may argue that it is the innate instincts of human beings that should be honored. This seems contrary to reason however, and assumes that people with violent tendencies should not be designed to "behave well." Granted, such individuals may not be enabled to express their emotional freedoms, but generally this is for the better of society as a whole.
How is control related to responsibility? A cognitive approach to human behavior would presume that we all have the control over our lives, and as a result the responsibility to act in a manner that is positive and beneficial to society. Cognitive Behavioral therapists would argue that it is possible for any human to change or alter what they think, how they behave, their emotional response and response to their environment (Bernhardt, 1997). Thus, one may conclude that an individual in "control" of their faculties is expected to act responsibly in regards to situations, life experiences and in their response to the environment.
Cognitive Scientists may argue that control comes from within, as presumed above. Each person perhaps is born with the intellect and ability to make appropriate decisions based on their physiological make-up. However, just as easily arguable is the idea that control comes from the social interactions with people with whom a person is exposed to during the course of their life. For example, a child that grows up in an abusive household is likely to demonstrate emotional control issues and possibly violent behavior as an adult. Also a consideration, children that grow up in abusive or violent households often exhibit violent behavior when they become adults. Where does control come from them?
Likely physicians and psychologists would argue that people have an innate or biologically predisposed character that inherently conditions them to act one way or another. Like alcoholism, one may conclude that temperament may be a personality trait passed on from one generation to another. If one agrees with this statement, then it is logical to assume that a person who reacts violently to an environmental stimulus may be "pre-programmed" to behave in a certain way when confronted with certain situations. However, it is important when considering issues of control and responsibility to take into consideration the very significant relevance society and social interactions play on behavior.
Undoubtedly, someone that may be "biologically predisposed" to violent behavior is more likely to "fly-off-the-handle" when the dog spreads trash all over the yard for example. However, if the individual in question was predominantly exposed to caring and loving environments during the course of development, it is less likely that this person will "explode" at the site of the dogs mischievous behavior. Social interactions play a huge role in the development of psyche and behavior.
It is very plausible that an individual genetically predisposed to violence can act very calmly, if taught effective coping mechanisms and stress management techniques during the course of development. Just as a child of an alcoholic family has a fair chance at not drinking, so too do individuals who are pre-disposed to deviant behavior mechanisms.
There are many people who would advocate weak methods of control. Given the current state of world politics, the prevalence of characters that have abused control mechanisms can't help but be noticed. Many would argue that excessive use of control inhibits personal freedom. However, as mentioned previous, isn't utilizing strong control under certain circumstances a better option than allowing a violently inclined homicidal maniac to wander the streets? As long as a system of checks and balances is maintained, there seems no reason why stronger methods of control could not be utilized.
Effective technology may prove the answer to implementing control in variant environments. Behavior management should be viewed as a multi-faceted and complex project. No two beings are alike, thus no two individuals will respond similarly necessarily to identical behavior control mechanisms. While one person may respond adequately to stress management therapy, another may require more aggressive approaches such as bi-weekly counseling sessions and monitoring. Criminals freed from prison for example, typically undergo a "probationary period" in which their behavior is closely controlled. Technological advances have allowed officials to monitor the location of such individuals. In these circumstances, it seems reasonable to utilize such strong measures in maintaining appropriate behavior.
How do values relate to the idea of cultural design? Undoubtedly, people are brought up in vary diverse ethnic, cultural and environmental environments. There values are shaped by any number of these factors. It is impossible to umbrella an entire set of values and label them appropriate for any category of people.
However, there are certain "values" and "morals" that are universally accepted. For example, most "normal" people of sound mind would agree that it is wrong to hurt innocent people, to lie, cheat and steal for no benefit other than personal glory for example. In most circumstances, murder is considered wrong.
Cultural design works perfectly under such universal theories. People can be conditioned to understand the basic difference between right and wrong. From the time children are developing, they are conditioned to respond positively to warm gestures and less positively to outbursts of anger and violence. Values are inherent in everything people do, and a model of positive conditioning and cultural design fits into this broad scope picture.
From the point-of-view of a science of behavior, values are conditioned responses. Values are learned impressions so to speak, of a belief system that people are conditioned to respond to. Most people have a value system that stems from their social interactions and environmental experiences during development and through adulthood. These values may change over time, but even a change in values can be attributed to an individuals unique social and environmental experiences. Scientific theory acknowledges the great influence society and environment have on a persons emotions.
The ancient philosophers and scientist, people such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, truly understood values as related to the science of behavior better than any one else. During ancient times, the connection between mind and body was the dominant philosophical and scientific theory.
Plato discusses the nature of behavior and man from a scientific perspective in Timaeus, stating the following: this world "in very truth [is] a living creature with soul and reason." Man's philosophies, activities and indeed values are shaped by a combination of biological or physical and environmental factors. One can't deny a relationship that has been recognized for centuries.
The ancient scientists would also likely have much perspective regarding which values are best for a culture. The values best for any particular culture depend in part on the ideals and "value systems" of the society at large living within a particular population. In ancient Rome for example, a time where gladiator events were frequented for entertainment and spectacle, it may have seemed that the values of morality were stretched to accommodate political idealisms and influence.