Staddon letter

[From Rick Marken (950201.1500)]

Bruce Abbott (950201.0945 EST) --

Rick, your draft letter is clear and to the point, but there are a couple of
places where I believe it could be improved.

No way! It can't be improved;-)

Here are some additional suggestions.

Actually, I really do appreciate all your comments. I considered the letter a
draft; I am planning to re-write to make it as clear as possible while still
making it as concise as possible.

I suggest deleting the inflamatory remarks about irresponsibility and unfair
attack [on Skinner].

Done. I got mad becuase Staddon really was really stabbing Skinner in the
back in this article. I'm no fan of Skinner, but at least he understood the
implications of his ideas and he tried to be honest about them. Skinner just
didn't understand that his model of behavior, if true, would make it
impossible for him to do what he so fervently advocated that everybody do to
make society better-- CONTROL.


This alternative view of of behavior, which is called _control theory_, is
already a well developed science supported by a considerable mass of


Doesn't this overstate the case?

Perhaps. The evidence is starting to look pretty massive to me. It's also
very solid. Besides, Skinner started carrying on about "control by
contingency" with a lot less evidence than we have for control of perception.
I think I'll leave this in.


The control theory view not only explains what it means for people to be
responsible for what they do, it also explains why it often looks (as it did
to the behaviorists) as though the environment is responsible for what
people do.


You leave the reader with no reason to believe this bald assertion. How
does it explain these things?

Good point. I was running out of gas at this point in the letter; I think I
need to explain this in a couple sentences.


It takes a mature science to admit that it's wrong; behavioral psychology has
a lot of growing up to do.


I don't think you've made that case, so I suggest you delete the sentence.

I kinda like it. I'll try to add some material above it so that people will
see more clearly just how immature behavioral science actually is.

Finally, I would like to hear your answer to Gary Cziko's (950201.0357
GMT) question. Is it not the case that PCT is also a deterministic model?
How does it allow for personal responsibility for one's acts?

I already did one post on this. Let me try it again because I wasn't real
happy with all of it.

I think I have to make it clear in the letter that "responsibility" is not
about "freedom" or "non-determinism". Responsibility is about control. A
person is held responsible for behaviors (results of actions) that are done
_intentionally_; this is formally true under our legal system and it's true
in everyday life. A person will be held responsible for the two dead bodies
on the pavement only if those deaths were an intended result of the person's

Intended results are controlled results. So we hold people responsible for
the results of their actions if we have reason to believe that those results
are controlled. This is saying MORE than that a person is responsible if he
CAUSED the results; it says that a person is responsible only if he
CONTROLLED the results. It says that although the driver who hit the lamp
post caused the post to be hit, he is not responsible for this result (it is
an accident or, perhaps, negligence) unless it can be shown that this result
(a hit lamp post) was produced intentionally -- it was controlled.

Control theory shows that we ARE responsible for some of the results we
produce because some results ARE produced intentionally; they are under
controol. Control theory also shows that we are NOT responsible for some
results; they are just accidental side effects of controlling.

We are also not really responsible for the _acts_ we use to produce intended
results because those acts depend on prevailing disturbances. So we might be
able to say that OJ was responsible for the dead bodies on the ground but he
was not responsible (in the same way) for the particular slashing actions that

were used to produce this result.

What alternatives to the use of punishment does it offer society in its
efforts to reduce criminal activity?

The level of criminal activity one perceives is a possible controlled
variable for a control system. PCT doesn't say whether or not that variable
should be controlled or at what level. My own experience is that people
perceive very different things as "criminal activity" and they have
very differnt references for the level at which they want to experience
this perception.

PCT cannot tell people HOW or WHETHER to control variables; they have to
figure it out for themselves. Since criminal activity is a perception
that involves the behavior of other control systems, however, PCT would
suggest that criminal activity is not controllable. If you want to perceive
criminal activity at a certain level (zero?), then the only hope is to figure
out ways to set up the world so that people can control whatever it is they
control without using means that you perceive as "criminal activity". I don't
know how to set up such a world but I know that punishment is neither a help
nor a hindrence; it's just what some people (like OJ, apparently) like to do.

The PCT alternative to punishment is to try to stop controlling other people.

Staddon's argument is simply this (I read the article): (a) punishment
works; in most cases it suppresses the behaviors on which it is made

Yes. And he says that Skinner said that punishment "didn't work". This is a
tad disingenuous. Skinner, as I recall, said that punishment was not a good
way to get people to perform a _particular behavior_. If you punish someone
for stealing bikes, he may go out and rape people instead or he may keep
stealing bikes but be more careful and make sure that you're not around. I
think Skinner had it right about punishment; if only Skinner had understood
that "rewards" are just as punishing (and just as ineffective) as punishments.

(b) it is in the general interest to suppress certain behavior, inflicting
pain on violators in order to reduce the overall level of pain experienced
by nonviolators;

How does Staddon know what the "general interest" is. He doesn't even know
what an "interest" is; it's not in his model of behavior. I'd pay more
attention to this kind of BS if I saw Staddon spending a LOT more time
testing for the interests people control for;-)

therefore (c) punishment should be used, where it can be shown to work and
where the benefits to society outweight its costs.

Well, now we know a bit more about what Staddon is controlling for.

Whether people FEEL that they have responsibility really is irrelevant to
this argument;

I know. So why did he bring it up? The whole article would have been much more
intellectually honest if Staddon had just said "I like to know that people
will get punished when they do what I consider to be bad things".

Actually, they [people] can be held responsible for their choices (e.g.,
punished for wrongdoing) whether they feel free or not, and whether they
ARE free or not, if by doing so their antisocial activities are thereby
suppressed. If PCT leads to a different conclusion, you should spell it out.

PCT does not disagree with the notion that people can hold other people
responsible for their choices and punish them for wrongdoing. PCT says that
people will do WHATEVER THEY CAN in order to perceive the world (including
the behavior of the people in it) the way they want. They will disembowel
prisoners in public, gas and incinerate groups of people, starve countries,
shoot children, and they will hold these victims responsible for the choices
that "demanded" these consequences. PCT knows what people will do and it
knows why they will do it -- in order to stay in control.

The PCT perspective on how to "make things better" is completely different
from ALL conventional perspectives (behaviorist, socialist, fascist,
democratic, republican, green, libertarian, etc) because it says we can't
MAKE THINGS BETTER when those "things" involve other control systems. "Making
things better" is a process of control and when you try to control other
control systems you get conflict -- which most people perceive as "things
getting WORSE". The PCT approach to making things better is very ZEN -- you
make things better by not trying to make things better; ultimately, the
solution is in yourself -- in each individual control systems learning to
control in a way that produces that least amount of conflict with the
controlling done by other control systems.

The PCT perspective on "making things better" cannot be given in a paragraph,
a chapter or even a book. The only way to understand it is to understand the
nature of human nature; that is, one has to understand the PCT model of
behavior. Then one can see what's going on. I think that all I can
communicate in the letter is that what is NOT going on is what the
behaviorists (and just about everyone else in the world) think is going on:
control by (rather than of) the environment.