Posts Tagged ‘Applied Behavior Analysis’

Operant Behavior and Cultural Evolution

April 8, 2016

Operant Behavior and Cultural Evolution

B. F. Skinner is often credited with being the greatest psychologist of the 20th Century.

In my judgment, and that of countless others, Skinner deserves this special honor  because his prodigious research and writings gave birth to the psychological science of Behavior Analysis. Furthermore, his work also led to the development of the science and technology of Applied Behavior Analysis. Skinner’s efforts and that of his legions of followers has culminated in, and continues to yield, the world’s most powerful and practical applications of psychology to ameliorate human behavior problems. But, even better, the wise use of this behavior technology could lead to the prevention of human behavior problems!

One old saying is: “An Ounce Of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure”. This rule  could be one important the key to sociocultural longevity, if humans can be helped to care for such future outcomes.

Societies that do not teach their children and young adults about science-based findings about the environmental forces that shape human behavior patterns, as well as an effective moral code to their populations, fail to do so at their own great peril. The dramatically increasing behavior problems in America’s society, and others, provide stark support for this conclusion.

Some of B. F. Skinner’s prophetic words were published in 1971 in his powerful little book,  Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Please read the following samples of his writing with care and you may begin to understand one great source of America’s citizen’s behavior problems.

Then get the entire book and learn some essential information that relatively few citizens know.

Sample 1.

Twenty-five hundred years ago it might have been said that man understood himself as well as any other part of his world. Today he is the thing he understands least (Kindle Loc. 64).

In other words, as we have advanced our understanding in all other areas of science and technology, we have remained woefully ignorant of the psychological science and technology that shapes our own behavior patterns. Skinner also wrote about the fact that the health and longevity of all cultures rest upon the understanding and benevolent use of this science and technology of human behavior.

Sample 2.

In trying to solve the terrifying problems that face us in the world today, we naturally turn to the things we do best. We play from strength, and our strength is science and technology. To contain a population explosion we look for better methods of birth control. Threatened by a nuclear holocaust, we build bigger deterrent forces and anti-ballistic-missile systems. We try to stave off world famine with new foods and better ways of growing them. Improved sanitation and medicine will, we hope, control disease, better housing and transportation will solve the problems of the ghettos, and new ways of reducing or disposing of waste will stop the pollution of the environment. We can point to remarkable achievements in all these fields, and it is not surprising that we should try to extend them. But things grow steadily worse, and it is disheartening to find that technology itself is increasingly at fault. Sanitation and medicine have made the problems of population more acute, war has acquired a new horror with the invention of nuclear weapons, and the affluent pursuit of happiness is largely responsible for pollution. As Darlington has said, ‘Every new source from which man has increased his power on the earth has been used to diminish the prospects of his successors. All his progress has been made at the expense of damage to his environment which he cannot repair and could not foresee’.

Whether or not he could have foreseen the damage, man must repair it or all is lost. And he can do so if he will recognize the nature of the difficulty. The application of the physical and biological sciences alone will not solve our problems because the solutions lie in another field. Better contraceptives will control population only if people use them. New weapons may offset new defenses and vice versa, but a nuclear holocaust can be prevented only if the conditions under which nations make war can be changed. New methods of agriculture and medicine will not help if they are not practiced, and housing is a matter not only of buildings and cities but of how people live. Overcrowding can be corrected only by inducing people not to crowd, and the environment will continue to deteriorate until polluting practices are abandoned.

In short, we need to make vast changes in human behavior, and we cannot make them with the help of nothing more than physics or biology, no matter how hard we try (Kindle Loc. 31-50).

The powerful truth that B. F. Skinner has tried to explain to us is that our most enduring and damaging problems are a result of the ignorant management of our own individual and collective behavior. Furthermore, our ignorance can be remediated only if we will study the right available information and convert this knowledge into practice.

I have taught my psychological subject matter as a professor for 36 years and also taught and applied it within my a private practice for a similar duration. Over this time I have watched as America has all but destroyed itself, largely through the gross misapplication of these very elemental psychological principles.

I believe that certain sociopolitical and economic philosophies are compatible with, and naturally catalytic to, the societal integration of these elementary principles of psychology…and that is why they have consistently succeed.

It is clear to me that other sociopolitical and economic philosophies are naturally antithetical to these elementary principles of psychology and this is why they have consistently failed.

In my judgement, many important elementary principles of psychology are inherent in  conservative political and economic philosophies and practices. Although the resulting behavioral and cultural outcomes are never perfect, history demonstrates conservative principles are superior to those of other sociocultural designs. I judge that B. F. Skinner would not have agreed with many of my political/economic conclusions on this last matter and I am certain many of his followers do not.

On the other hand, the natural elemental principles of psychology, as implemented by progressive/socialist political and economic philosophies consistently damage motivation and most often lead to increased rates of maladaptive and self-destructive behavior among its citizens and leaders. These tragedies are are illustrated by the fact that socialist leaders normally gather the lions-share of power and material gains, at the great expense of their citizens….including the imprisonment and even death of over one hundred of million of them by starvation and execution. The arrested development, if not the horrific decline, of entire socialist/communist societies is clearly documented by history.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D., 4/8/18

Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Indiana University South Bend

President and Clinical Director, Behavioral Psychological Family Services

 

 

My First Of Now 1300 Posts: “Boiling The American Frog” (6/30/09)

February 8, 2015

My First Of Now 1300 Posts: “Boiling The American Frog” (6/30/09)

The following is my very first post from (6/30/09).

I admit it is too long for this forum. It is essentially an introduction to a, seemingly never-ending, book that I am still writing. I present it, in total, at this time for many reasons. One reason is to remind myself of my own originating motives for this daunting effort.

Another reason is to see if the American sociocultural concerns that were troubling to me then, starting in 1980, are still relevant today.

I have decided in the affirmative.

I would be interested in what you think.  Are my concerns more or less relevant today?

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D., 2/8/15

____________________________________________________________

“Boiling The American Frog”.

I have studied the decline of our American society and culture for nearly 30 years. I have long wanted to share my findings with the general public and now the time has come.

In all that follows, I will promise you–as I promise my therapy clients– “I will never lie to you:  I will always tell you the truth, as best I can know it”.  It is the truth, and what is done with it, that provides the only hope for a good life with individuals and families. The truth, and what is done with it, also determines the  survival of nations and their cultures.

My dear brother, Mark, once told me that an author should make his or her biases clear at the start of their book. He thought it was appropriate to warn the reader of my biases straightforwardly, so the reader could guard against manipulation. This was great advice and in the interest of honest communication, I will follow it.

As a behavioral psychologist I naturally value good behavior. Race, color, creed, and age, etc., are irrelevant to this bedrock value. By “good behavior”,  I mean behavior patterns within the individuals of a population that help the population and its culture to survive long and to prosper. Except in rare instances of self-defense against lethal or damaging attack, I despise violence.  I also despise hostility, intimidation, lying, cheating, stealing, aggression, rape, child abuse, child sexual molestation/exploitation, and murder, etc. In short, I despise those things that have always destroyed the lives of people who wish to live long together in peace and harmony. I despise those things that are destroying our historically marvelous society and culture.

I will not be inhibited about addressing other issues involved in my value system. It is now common for almost any identifiable organized group to accuse others of some sort of “ism” (racism, sexism, ageism, or hate against someone’s lifestyle). This dirty and stigmatizing accusation is increasingly used when someone says something that is not in support of the accuser’s political agenda. I vow to myself and to everything that I know to be right and good, that I will not be intimidated by such brutal forces of self-interest.  I will not withdraw ideas that must live, if we are to live.

In 1984 the phone rang and my physician informed me, “we have a problem”.  At 45 years of age, I was told that I had cancer of the colon. Of course, this was very bad news! But this bad news, along with immediate effective action,  saved my life.

What I will now tell you about our beloved American culture is no more “fun” than having to tell someone that they suffer a cancer. Or, as in my own field of psychology, having to tell one of my clients that they have debilitating emotional and behavioral problems that will destroy their lives without swift and effective corrective action on their part.

What I must tell you in this book is that our culture’s sad fate will be sealed if we continue to imbue our children and young adults with troubled and destructive beliefs, thoughts  and behavior patterns.  We have been doing this, with increasing power,  without most of our citizens and politicians even knowing it.  It is particularly ironic that our hard-earned tax resources have supported very productive scientific research into how to avoid such outcomes, but this information is ignored and buried in the remote bowels of our libraries. All the while, each generation produces a next generation which is more psychologically disturbed and self-damaging than it was. The only possible salvation from this relentless self-destructive course is to educate ourselves about the basic laws of human behavior and to conduct significant emergency American Culture redesign changes accordingly.

It is symptomatic of our huge cultural blind-spot that a common exclamation of considered wisdom is: “it’s the economy, stupid!” Of course the economy is important. But, to secure and maintain our rightful goals of cultural health and longevity, the exclamation should also be: “it’s our behavior, stupid!”

The economy, alone,  is likely to be a relatively late indicator in such matters of cultural health. For a strong economy to emerge and endure, a population’s behavior must also be strong. Among other things, the individuals in a population must learn to invent, to cooperate, to work diligently, to follow certain rules of law, and to forgo certain immediate personal gratifications in order to secure future benefits. They must also raise a sufficient number of competent and similarly endowed children to replace themselves. If these things are not accomplished, eventually, the economy will suffer and so will the whole culture. Of course, these influences are circular: the rewards of a free market economy strengthen a populations productive behavior patterns and these productive behavior patterns strengthen the free market economy. However, I will argue that the predominance of healthy and effective population behavior (among other environmental factors) is an essential ingredient leading to the success of our free market economy within our free society.

If we fail to raise and train –to acculturate– our own children effectively, our economy can be fueled by the “behavioral capital” from past generations (senior citizens) for some period of time.  But as that reservoir of quality human behavioral energy is being used up, we must create and train more, or, we must import behavioral energy from other cultures. We now appear to be embracing the later strategy at the expense of the former one. The question is: how long can a culture exist if it fails to raise and acculturate its own competent future generations to support a growing and increasingly complex technology and information-based economy? No one knows the answer. However, I am convinced that we already know enough about creating strong and healthy human behavior to avoid learning the answer to this question the hard and tragic way.

The issues and concerns identified in the preceding paragraphs will take many pages to make clear and, for some, believable. This will be done in the following ways:

I will tell true stories and use anecdotes as a way to introduce and summarize the findings of hard science—these findings relate to what is happening in our increasingly self-destructive culture. The values of an Applied Science of Cultural Analysis will guide this process and they will be explained as they become relevant.

I will first tell you what I think I see happening to our culture and the catastrophic future that it implies. Perhaps I am wrong about some of these observations and concerns–but I genuinely fear that I am not. You can decide this matter for yourself.  If I am wrong in my assessment, I have faith that with time and careful study, the truth will eventually emerge and things will evolve as they will.

I will then explain the basics of psychology, sociology, and anthropology by explaining their most robust principles, and relating them to my observations of events in our own society that you can also see clearly. I will use these factual principles to help you see and understand how and why the quality of our collective social behavior has diminished to the point that it is now glaringly reflected in our obvious cultural decline. I can only hope that my efforts will benefit the American Culture that has produced me, and that I have served and loved so much.

There is a wise old joke about doing successful psychotherapy with individuals. The question is: “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?”  The answer: ” Only one—but the light bulb has got to want to change”!  It is no great leap of faith for me to conclude that, like the individuals with whom I have done behavior therapy and counseling for over 30 years, we citizens of America,  must first also “feel a strong need to change” before successful cultural change becomes a possibility.

My intent in writing this book is to produce a felt-need-for-change, among ourselves,  which is based upon information that is honest, factual, clear, and powerful enough to motivate individuals and groups to work for desperately needed improvements. But at 67 years of age, and having observed the evolution of these United States for my entire life, sparking such a chain of events feels “a tad shy” of unlikely.  No problem.  I also write out of a sense of duty and for personal catharsis. Independent of the outcome, for me, doing this task will be its own reward.

New ways of seeing the world do not generally emerge because” minds” are changed. What happens is that entrenched ideas die with their thinkers and new, yet uncommitted, individuals are persuaded. However, this normally slow process can grind to a virtual halt if the new and uncommitted thinkers are taught to think only of their own immediate goods and pleasures. This culturally pervasive mode of personal arrogance, short-sighted thinking , and ignorance about long-term outcomes is our greatest danger.

My original training is in the psychological sub-field of Applied Behavior Analysis. Some may recognize one part of this sub-field as Behavior Modification. The discipline of Behavior Analysis has won its strong principles and techniques through the rigorous scientific analysis of human behavior, in nearly all of its forms, in almost all imaginable settings. More recently this field has turned its powers of analysis to the evaluation of cultural change and evolution. I have participated in this development and by doing so, I have come to believe that much of great practical value is now available— just when we need it the most.

I believe that someday, somewhere, cultures will finally learn how to extend their own life-span greatly by managing their own behavior effectively. Why can’t one of these cultures be us: The United States of America? To insure that we live long and well will require that we change our behavior substantially. I anticipate the reasonable concerns of many. I too worry about the exploitation of people through various behavior control methods.  Like you, I have watched the horrific bestialities of our time (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, and Osama Bin Ladin etc., all in quest of a “better culture”. Of course, our own culture has, for periods, been guilty of its own despotisms. Witness the genocidal treatment of the American Indians and our use of African slaves. These are the “ghosts of our cultures-past” whose barbarous actions towards our own, and other citizens of the world, haunt and frighten us. But these virulent and maladaptive strains of cultural behavior patterns, that long continue, tend to kill themselves just as they kill others. They cannot resemble the healthy, adaptive, and enduring species of cultures that may someday evolve to live very long and very well. Of course, there are no grantees that such healthy and adaptive cultures will ever appear: There is only an educated hope and the certainty that the pursuit of a better cultural future is not for the faint-of-heart.

I would like to think that a new breed of adaptive cultures are now being selected by the natural forces of survival. Such cultures would be especially good at teaching their children to live in an extraordinarily complex and threatening world. Their children would learn to work to preserve countless good things for themselves, as well as  good things for others who live, and those who are yet to live. Their citizens would therefore learn a rare mature value system that strikes a balance between self-interest and dedication to the long-term collective good of their fellow citizens—and of all people who mean them no harm. Such cultures would probably blend the best aspects of democracy, socialism and free-market capitalism into unique and effective hybrid of these adaptations . To the greatest degree possible, the citizens of these cultures would be dedicated to the preservation of life (in all of its forms) and yet they would have the skills, technology, and courage to defend themselves from the barbaric and predatory forces that will apparently exist for all time.

Such adaptive cultures would motivate their populations to propagate with a rate sufficient to maintain the proportions of age, skill, and intellectual resource groups necessary for survival. In doing so they would provide the quality and quantity of human energy necessary to build and maintain their own health and developmental vigor.  Such cultures may also use carefully controlled and specifically targeted immigration policies and rigorous acculturation standards in order to achieve these goals. They would strongly defend themselves against unregulated or illegal immigration, knowing that for all times this has been a destroyer of cultures.

These cultures would develop forms of government which strive to govern rates of cultural change such that, except in times of crisis, change remains slow and deliberate enough to avoid the damaging and misguided explosions of change that now threaten the United States. Of course there will always be threats to survival over which there is little or no control. But, the adaptive cultures will be able to respond to external or internal threats to their welfare in timely and effective ways that reflect the motivated, informed and intelligent problem solving efforts of their populations and political systems.

These adaptive cultures will also seek to preserve and maximize all of their natural resources, be they human-animal, vegetable, or mineral, and they will be amazingly adaptive to their changing environments. Their shared values and mutual interests will naturally lead them to avoid war with one another and they will seek to provide mutual support. By contemporary standards, such cultures will live for a very very long time. The main reason for these culture’s long-term success will be their learned ability to predict the occurrence of nearly all of the possible short and long-term astronomical, gelological, biological, psychological, social, and political problems that are known to have damaged and destroyed other cultures. More importantly, these cultures will have learned to implement effective preventive strategies as well as timely remedial adjustements in order to survive long and well.

If you see flashes of America’s history within my description of adaptive cultural designs, it is because we have actually achieved and reflected many of these values and actions at times in our own past. And if you see, during our present decline, the loss of these characteristics, you will begin to understand the general truths that I will now attempt to demonstrate in this book. To a significant degree, our cultural successes and failures relate to our evolution toward, and away from, these previously stated ideals.

It has become “politically incorrect” to say that an increasing number of the things that people do are “good” or “bad”. However, as with any social problems (past, present, or future), there are  many possible helpful or destructive cultural adaptations that can be made. I call those adaptations that are helpful, good changes because they will improve the culture’s health and viability. I call changes that are destructive or damaging to the culture’s health and viability, bad changes. I recommend this value to you and invite you to consider that extending the life of your culture is a good thing to do and destroying it is a bad thing to do.

But, it is often difficult to know, in advance, what the good and bad changes might be for any culture, under any particular set of circumstances. To some degree, cultural evolution is a series of adaptations similar to gambles at a “comic crap table”. The “winners” may take all, but seldom do they keep it for long. And simply trying ideas that are intuitively, philosophically, or politically popular  (as we do now) is to court disaster in this deadly game of cultural “Russian Roulette”. Fortunately, there are ways to increase the odds of winning at this profoundly important game.

B.F. Skinner would reminded us that, although we will frequently not know what we should do about a cultural problem;  we can learn an ever increasing number of things that we should not do. Make no mistake about it, “learning more and more what not to do” is significant progress. Individuals who are knowledgeable about the basic laws of human behavior already know many possible adaptations that are clearly wrong and therefore, bad. They will also know which old and new possible adaptations accord with these laws and are, therefore, worthy of further consideration and experimentation. It is past time that our culture reap the benefits of its financial investments in over 100 years of its own behavioral science research findings. To do this only requires that the real cultural planners learn these laws and principles of behavior and then support those cultural practices that conform to them. It is essential that our cultural planners learn enough about the basic laws of human behavior to understand why they must attack and change, through existing political processes, our own cultural practices that do not conform to these laws and principles

You may ask, who are these cultural planners who must learn principles of human behavior and change our culture’s design to accord with them? Indeed, this is a huge task. But there is a huge number of cultural planners who are equal to the task. Who, in the final analysis, are the real cultural planners in a republic such as ours? It is certainly not our politicians, who increasingly war within between the two parties that have failed to stem our decline; who milk dollars from tax payers to benefit their own regional interests; and who pander to various rich lobbies and other donors to shore-up their own short-term political viability. The real cultural planners are the hundreds of millions of citizens like you and I, the voting citizens of America.

I believe that a vitally interested voting citizenry in free economic and social markets, under the guidance of basic Judeo-Christian values and  Basic Pyschological Principles of Human Behavior, will tend to strengthen its own health and longevity and that of other similar cultures. It will also secure the greatest good for the greatest number of  people.

In stark contrast, if there is anything to learn about the societies that designed themselves according to the Marxist/Leninist principles of central government control and planning, it is that they have failed repeatedly. Similarly, it is foolish to hope that our own central government will ever singularly fix this culture’s increasing woes, because “it”, in large part, has done more than fail to do so. “It” is what has caused most of our devastating sociocultural problems in the first place.

Just as our Founding Fathers understood, the informed individual citizen is the appropriate cultural planner in a republic such as ours. I therefore urge you to learn the things that we know cause good and bad human behavior. Having done that, there are hard and frightening realities to contemplate and it is our responsibility to do so. If our society, as now designed, produces ever-increasing numbers of barbarians of its precious children (and we are doing just that). We must accept that reality, study the problem,  and make our cultural changes accordingly.  As B. F. Skinner has said,  the idea that “the government that governs best,  is the one that governs least, only works when something else governs.” I will suggest that we move to a design where “that something else” is a newly educated voting public re-motivated with a combination of clearly understood principles/laws of human behavior, traditional values and ethics, and a clear perception of our own failing culture.

In the final analysis, I have a passion for truth and reality even if it disappoints or frightens me. As an emeritus professor of psychology, I deal with research findings and theory; as a therapist, I do “acid tests” upon this academically derived knowledge. I am not isolated in the theoretical traps of academe, nor have I become addicted to the trendy treatments of the therapist’s world. I am a pragmatist. If certain techniques and methods solve real problems, I value them: If not, I do not. I also believe that the interplay between scholarship and the demands of practical therapeutic applications in my life have earned me a measure of useful wisdom unavailable to those who do not work in both of these worlds.

Of course, experts frequently argue among themselves about the nature of things.  I could be wrong in my assessment of the state of our culture and its worsening condition,  about the reasons why this is so, and about the suggestions for change that I will give in the last two chapters of this book. It is for you to look at the facts that I will provide and to decide for yourself.

A good scientist/therapist will know the prognosis of their client and do their best to help; even when the prognosis is not good. I will do my best to help my socioculture to perceive itself accurately, to rationally evaluate and caringly confront its own self-destructive beliefs and behaviors. I will do my best to provide the general information and motivation necessary to help all of us to work for adaptive cultural changes that are now so urgently needed.

This is what I will now attempt to do.  And now the rest is up to you.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D., 6/30/09

Ivar Lovass and The Treatment Of Autism

August 10, 2010

Ivar Lovass and The Treatment Of Autism

I received the following today. For families with autistic children, Ivar Lovass was a God-Send. He was a young and well-know researcher in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis when I began my training. It is very sad to know that he has passed away. Please read this short memorial.

Dear Tom:

“At 6 PM on August the 2nd, 2010, Professor Emeritus O. Ivar Løvaas, Ph.D., passed away quietly after a long battle with illness. He was surrounded by his closest family. There will be an official memorial service at the University of California, Los Angeles later this month.” Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh, Executive Director, Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.

Unfortunately, Løvaas had had Alzheimer’s for the last few years. He was recovering from surgery for a broken hip and got an infection that caused his death.

Few have had Løvaas’ impact on the field of behavior analysis, demonstrating the power of behavior analysis to so significantly improve the quality of life of so many people. Little in behavior analysis, or in psychology, has had the real impact of the behavioral interventions he started and that have been replicated and expanded upon by so many other behavior analysts. He showed that if you’re willing to do what it takes, up to 40 hours per week of intensive training for at least a couple years, you can help young children with autism greatly improve their lives. And this has almost as powerful an effect on the lives of the children’s families. And also on the lives of the tutors and behavior analysts who have the privilege of using behavior analysis to help those children and their families. The field of behavior analysis and the Association for Behavior Analysis International owe a great debt to Ivar Løvaas, his students, and the many researchers and practitioners who have followed his path and who have branched off on related paths of their own.

With Regret,
Association for Behavior Analysis International

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First Post from: “Boiling The American Frog”

June 30, 2009

“Boiling The American Frog”.

I have studied the decline of our American society and culture for nearly 30 years. I have long wanted to share my findings with the general public and now the time has come.

In all that follows, I will promise you–as I promise my therapy clients– “I will never lie to you:  I will always tell you the truth, as best I can know it”.  It is the truth, and what is done with it, that provides the only hope for a good life with individuals and families. The truth, and what is done with it, also determines the  survival of nations and their cultures.

My dear brother, Mark, once told me that an author should make his or her biases clear at the start of their book. He thought it was appropriate to warn the reader of my biases straightforwardly, so the reader could guard against manipulation. This was great advice and in the interest of honest communication, I will follow it.

As a behavioral psychologist I naturally value good behavior. Race, color, creed, and age, etc., are irrelevant to this bedrock value. By “good behavior”,  I mean behavior patterns within the individuals of a population that help the population and its culture to survive long and to prosper. Except in rare instances of self-defense against lethal or damaging attack, I despise violence.  I also despise hostility, intimidation, lying, cheating, stealing, aggression, rape, child abuse, child sexual molestation/exploitation, and murder, etc.

In short, I despise those things that have always destroyed the lives of people who wish to live long together in peace and harmony. I despise those things that are destroying our historically marvelous society and culture.

I will not be inhibited about addressing other issues involved in my value system. It is now common for almost any identifiable organized group to accuse others of some sort of “ism” (racism, sexism, ageism, or hate against someone’s lifestyle). This dirty and stigmatizing accusation is increasingly used when someone says something that is not in support of the accuser’s political agenda. I vow to myself and to everything that I know to be right and good, that I will not be intimidated by such brutal forces of self-interest.  I will not withdraw ideas that must live, if we are to live.

In 1984 the phone rang and my physician informed me, “we have a problem”.  At 45 years of age, I was told that I had cancer of the colon. Of course, this was very bad news! But this bad news, along with immediate effective action,  saved my life.

What I will now tell you about our beloved American culture is no more “fun” than having to tell someone that they suffer a cancer. Or, as in my own field of psychology, having to tell one of my clients that they have debilitating emotional and behavioral problems that will destroy their lives without swift and effective corrective action on their part.

What I must tell you is that our culture’s sad fate will be sealed if we continue to imbue our children and young adults with troubled and destructive beliefs, thoughts  and behavior patterns.  We have been doing this, with increasing power,  without most of our citizens and politicians even knowing it. 

It is particularly ironic that our hard-earned tax resources have supported very productive scientific research into how to avoid such outcomes, but this information is ignored and buried in the remote bowels of our libraries, and now cyberspace. All the while, each generation produces a next generation which is more psychologically disturbed and self-damaging than it was. The only possible salvation from this relentless self-destructive course is to educate ourselves about the basic laws of human behavior and to conduct significant emergency American Culture changes accordingly.

It is symptomatic of our huge cultural blind-spot that a common exclamation of considered wisdom is: “It’s the economy, stupid!” Of course the economy is critically important. But, to secure and maintain our rightful goals of cultural health and longevity, the exclamation should also be: “It’s our behavior, stupid!”

The economy, alone,  is likely to be a relatively late indicator in such matters of cultural health. For a strong economy to emerge and endure, a population’s behavior must also be strong. Among other things, the individuals in a population must learn to invent, to cooperate, to work diligently, to follow certain rules of law, and to forgo certain immediate personal gratifications in order to secure future benefits. They must also raise a sufficient number of competent and similarly endowed children to replace themselves. If these things are not accomplished, eventually, the economy will suffer and so will the whole culture.

Of course, these influences are circular: the rewards of a free market economy strengthen a populations productive behavior patterns and these productive behavior patterns strengthen the free market economy. However, I will argue that the predominance of healthy and effective population behavior (among other environmental factors, like avoiding pollution and preserving natural resources) is an essential ingredient leading to the success of our free market economy within our free society.

If we fail to raise and train –to acculturate– our own children effectively, our economy can be fueled by the “behavioral capital” from past generations (senior citizens) for some period of time.  But as that reservoir of quality human behavioral energy is being used-up, we must create and train more of our population. Or, we must import more behavioral energy from other cultures.

We now appear to be embracing the later strategy at the expense of the former one. The question is: how long can a culture exist if it fails to raise and acculturate its own competent future generations to support a growing and increasingly complex technology and information-based economy? No one knows the answer. However, I am convinced that we already know enough about creating strong and healthy human behavior to avoid learning the answer to this question the hard and tragic way.

The issues and concerns identified in the preceding paragraphs will take many pages to make clear and, for some, to even make it believable. In this series of blogs, I will attempt to do this in the following ways:

I will tell true stories and use anecdotes as a way to introduce and summarize the findings of hard science—these findings will relate to what is happening in our increasingly self-destructive culture. The values of an Applied Science of Cultural Analysis will guide this process and they will be explained as they become relevant.

I will first tell you what I think I see happening to our culture and the catastrophic future that it implies. Perhaps I am wrong about some of these observations and concerns–but I genuinely fear that I am not. You can decide this matter for yourself.  If I am wrong in my assessment, I have faith that with time and careful study, the truth will eventually emerge and things will evolve as they will, for better or for worse.

I will then explain the basics of psychology, sociology, and anthropology by explaining their most robust principles, and relating them to my observations of events unfolding in America and elsewhere and try to help you to see also see them clearly. I will use these factual principles to help you see and understand how and why the quality of our collective social behavior has diminished to the point that it is now glaringly reflected in our obvious cultural decline. I can only hope that my efforts will benefit the American Culture that has produced me, and that I have served and loved so much.

There is a wise old joke about doing successful psychotherapy with individuals. The question is: “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?”  The answer: ” Only one—but the light bulb has got to want to change”!  It is no great leap of faith for me to conclude that, like the individuals with whom I have done behavior therapy and counseling for over 30 years, we citizens of America,  must first also “feel a strong need to change” before successful cultural change becomes a possibility.

My intent in writing this blog is to produce a felt-need-for-change, among ourselves,  which is based upon information that is honest, factual, clear, and powerful enough to motivate individuals and groups to work for desperately needed improvements. But at 67 years of age, and having observed the evolution of these United States for my entire life, sparking such a chain of events feels “a tad shy” of unlikely. 

No problem.  I also write out of a sense of duty and for personal catharsis. Independent of the outcome, for me, doing this task will be its own reward.

However, If I can persuade some of my readers to my social, psychological, political, economic and spiritual perspective (providing I am correct); that will be a good thing. The only fly in this ointment is that I will never know with certainty within my lifetime if I am correct. Perhaps I would never know in even more lifetimes.

Some think that New ideas do not simply emerge because “minds are changed” by their existence. They conclude that old ideas die with their believers and new generations of, yet uncommitted thinkers, are persuaded to new ideas. 

This is particularly true when cultures do not  teach the seemingly effective ideas of  past generations to the new generations. Often new generations come to believe what they think are “great new ideas”,  when in fact, they are horrifically failed old ideas. This is happening in America as increasingly our new generations have not been taught our own apparently successful ideas.  But just as importantly, they have not been taught  the repeatedly failed old ideas both here and abroad.

So it is with America’s failing to teach the principles of our own Constitutional Republic and the wise belief systems of our Founding Fathers our children. So it also is with America’s failure to teach the failings of socialism, communism and radical liberalism/progressive to our children.

America’s tragic decline has been accelerated by voters and elected representatives who are either ignorant and misguided, or, they have been taught to think only of their own immediate goods and pleasures. This culturally pervasive mode of personal arrogance, short-sighted thinking , or ignorance about short-term and long-term outcomes is America’s greatest danger. It is this lack of quality growing within our citizenry that must be reversed, or the American dream will become a nightmare.

There is a great and simple rule-of-thumb that America would best follow to reverse its own cultural decline: “If we have lost something of value, to find it…First return to a time and place where we last possessed it.

This principle, in my view, would guide America back to the Founding precepts and principles that appear to have led to America’s stunning successes. Since their “misplacement” America’s decline has been unrelenting.

My original training is in the psychological sub-field of Applied Behavior Analysis. Some may recognize one part of this sub-field as Behavior Modification. The discipline of Behavior Analysis has won its strong principles and techniques through a rigorous scientific analysis of human behavior, in nearly all of its forms, in almost all imaginable settings. More recently this field has turned its powers of analysis to the evaluation of cultural change and evolution. I have participated in this development and by doing so, I have come to believe that much of great practical value is now available— just when we need it the most.

I believe that someday, somewhere, cultures will finally learn how to extend their own life-span greatly by managing their own behavior effectively. Why can’t one of these cultures be us: The United States of America?

To insure that America lives long and well will require that we change our behavior substantially.

I anticipate the reasonable concerns of many. I too worry about the exploitation of people through various behavior control methods.  Like you, I have watched the horrific bestialities of our time (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, and Osama Bin Ladin etc., all in quest of a “better culture”.

Of course, America has, for periods, been guilty of its own despotisms. Witness the genocidal treatment of the American Indians and our use of African slaves. These are the “ghosts of our cultures-past” whose barbarous actions towards our own, and other citizens of the world, haunt and frighten us.

But these virulent and maladaptive strains of cultural behavior patterns, that long continue, tend to kill themselves just as they kill others. They cannot resemble the healthy, adaptive, and enduring species of cultures that may someday evolve to live very long and very well. Of course, there are no grantees that such healthy and adaptive cultures will ever appear: There is only an educated hope and the certainty that the pursuit of a better cultural future is not for the faint-of-heart.

I would like to think that a new breed of adaptive cultures are now being selected by natural forces of survival. Such cultures would be especially good at teaching their children to live in an increasingly complex and always threatening world. Their children would learn to work to preserve countless good things for themselves, as well as  good things for others who live, and those who are yet to live. Their citizens would therefore learn a rare mature value system that strikes a balance between self-interest and dedication to the long-term collective good of their fellow citizens—and of all people who mean them no harm. Such cultures would probably blend the best aspects of democracy, socialism and free-market capitalism into unique and effective hybrid of these adaptations . To the greatest degree possible, the citizens of these cultures would be dedicated to the preservation of life (in all of its forms) and yet they would have the skills, technology, and courage to defend themselves from the barbaric and predatory forces that will apparently exist for all time.

Such adaptive cultures would motivate their populations to propagate with a rate sufficient to maintain the proportions of age, skill, and intellectual resource groups necessary for survival. In doing so they would provide the quality and quantity of human energy necessary to build and maintain their own health and developmental vigor.  Such cultures may also use carefully controlled and specifically targeted immigration policies and rigorous acculturation standards in order to achieve these goals. They would strongly defend themselves against unregulated or illegal immigration, knowing that for all time this has been a creator and destroyer of cultures.

These cultures would develop forms of government which strive to govern rates of cultural change such that, except in times of crisis, change remains slow and deliberate enough to avoid the damaging and misguided explosions of change that now threaten the America and other nations.

Of course there will always be threats to survival over which there is little or no control. But, adaptive cultures will be able to respond to external or internal threats to their welfare in timely and effective ways that reflect the motivated, informed and intelligent problem solving efforts of their populations and political systems.

These adaptive cultures will also seek to preserve and maximize all of their natural resources, be they human, other animal, vegetable, or mineral and they will be amazingly adaptive to their changing global environments. Their shared values and mutual interests will naturally lead them to avoid war with one another and they will seek to provide mutual support.

By historical standards, such cultures will live well for a very long time. The main reason for these culture’s long-term success will be their learned ability to predict the occurrence of nearly all of the possible short and long-term astronomical, geological, biological, psychological, social, and political problems that are known to have damaged and destroyed other cultures. More importantly, these cultures will have learned to implement effective preventive strategies as well as timely remedial adjustments in order to survive long and well.

If you see flashes of America’s history within my description of adaptive cultural designs, it is because we have actually achieved and reflected many of these values and actions at times in our own past. And if you see, during our present decline, the loss of these characteristics, you will begin to understand the general truths that I will now attempt to demonstrate. To a significant degree, our cultural successes and failures relate to our evolution toward, and away from, these previously stated ideals.

It has become “politically incorrect” to say that an increasing number of the things that people do are “good” or “bad”. However, as with any social problems (past, present, or future), there are  many possible helpful or destructive cultural adaptations that can be made. I call those adaptations that are helpful, good changes because they improve the culture’s health and viability. I call changes that are destructive or damaging to the culture’s health and viability, bad changes. I recommend this value to you and invite you to consider that extending the life of your culture is a good thing to do and damaging it is a bad thing to do.

But, it is often difficult to know, in advance, what the good and bad changes might be for any culture, under any particular set of circumstances. To some degree, cultural evolution is a series of adaptations similar to gambles at a “comic crap table”. The “winners” may take all, but seldom do they keep it for long. And simply trying ideas that are intuitively, philosophically, or politically popular  (as we do now) is to court disaster in this deadly game of cultural “Russian Roulette”. Fortunately, there are ways to increase the odds of winning at this profoundly important game.

B.F. Skinner would reminded us that, although we will frequently not know exactly what we should do about a cultural problem;  we can learn an ever increasing number of things that we should not do. Make no mistake about it, as Skinner said, “learning more and more what not to do” is significant progress.

Individuals who are knowledgeable about the basic laws of human behavior already know many possible adaptations that are clearly wrong and therefore, bad. They will also know which old and new possible adaptations accord with these laws and are, therefore, worthy of further consideration and experimentation. It is past time that our culture reap the benefits of its financial investments in over 100 years of its own behavioral science research findings. To do this only requires that the real cultural planners learn these laws and principles of behavior and then support those cultural practices that conform to them. It is essential that our cultural planners learn enough about the basic laws of human behavior to understand why they must attack and change, through existing political processes, our own cultural practices that do not conform to these laws and principles

You may ask, who are these cultural planners who must learn principles of human behavior and change our culture’s design to accord with them? Indeed, this is a huge task. But there is a huge number of cultural planners who are equal to the task.

Who, in the final analysis, are the real cultural planners in a republic such as ours? It is certainly not our politicians, who increasingly war within and between the two parties that have failed to stem our decline; who milk dollars from tax payers to benefit their own regional interests; and who pander to various rich lobbies and other donors to shore-up their own short-term political viability.

The real cultural planners are the hundreds of millions of citizens like you and I, the voting citizens of America.

I believe that a vitally interested voting citizenry in free economic and social markets, under the age-old wisdom and guidance of basic Judeo-Christian values and  Basic Psychological Principles of Human Behavior, will tend to strengthen its own health and longevity and that of other similar cultures. It will also secure the greatest good for the greatest number of  people.

In stark contrast, if there is anything to learn about the societies that designed themselves according to the Marxist/Leninist principles of central government control and planning, it is that they have failed repeatedly. Similarly, it is foolish to hope that our own central government will ever singularly fix this culture’s increasing woes, because “it”, in large part, has done more than fail to do so. “It” is what has caused most of our devastating sociocultural problems in the first place.

Just as our Founding Fathers understood, the informed individual citizen is the appropriate cultural planner in a Republic such as ours. I therefore urge you to learn the things that we know cause good and bad human behavior. Having done that, there are hard and frightening realities to address and it is our responsibility to do so. If our society, as now designed, produces ever-increasing numbers of barbarians of its precious children (and we are doing just that); we must accept that reality, study the problem,  and vote our cultural changes accordingly. If our elected representatives do not further our goals, they must be removed by our votes. We should insist that corrupting forces our government be removed (consider term-limits and curbs on big money lobbying, etc.)

As B. F. Skinner has said,  the idea that “the government that governs best,  is the one that governs least, only works when something else governs.” I will suggest that we move to a design where “that something else” is a newly educated voting public re-motivated with a combination of clearly understood principles/laws of human behavior, peaceful religions and families instilling moral values and ethics within our population,  and a clear perception of our own failing culture.

In the final analysis, I have a passion for truth and reality even if it disappoints or frightens me. As an emeritus professor of psychology, I deal with research findings and theory; as a therapist, I do “acid tests” upon this academically derived knowledge.

I am not isolated in the theoretical traps of academe, nor have I become addicted to trendy, politically correct treatments of the therapist’s world. I am a pragmatist. If certain techniques and methods solve real problems, I value them: If not, I do not.

I also believe that the interplay between scholarship and the demands of practical therapeutic applications in my life have earned me a measure of useful knowledge and wisdom unavailable to those who do not work in both of these worlds.

Of course, experts frequently argue among themselves about the nature of things.  I could be wrong in my assessment of the state of our culture and its worsening condition,  about the reasons why this is so, and about the suggestions for change that I will provide in this blog.

I can only hope that you will objectively consider the information that I will prvide and decide for yourself.

A good scientist/therapist will know the prognosis of their client and do their best to help; even when the prognosis is not good. I will do my best to help my socioculture to perceive itself accurately, to rationally evaluate and caringly confront its own self-destructive beliefs and behaviors. I will do my best to provide the general information and motivation necessary to help all of us to work for adaptive cultural changes that are now so urgently needed.

This is what I will now attempt to do.  The rest is up to you. 

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.                                                                                                  


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