Free Critical Thinking About The Problem Of Control
Power and control tend to go hand and hand. The more power one has, the more control they have over others. Those in power desire to control those who have no power and so it goes. This has been an age-old problem since the beginning of time. The weak and subordinate tend to fall victim to this notion of power. They find themselves helpless to get out from under control of other people and things. Yet, there is the belief that man has the free will to pick and choose in all things accordingly. But how true is this?
According to David Barash (2005), in his study of B. F. Skinner, he examines the power of control and its effect on people from Skinner’s point of view. He notes, “The problem is to free men, not from control, but from certain kinds of control.” Skinner believed that humans were behaviorists that were controlled and influenced by their surroundings. Man reacts to them accordingly, either in positive or negative ways. This gives way to choosing ignorance over a knowledge of self and that is what weighs in on his decisions.
If Skinner’s claim is to be believed, if our behaviors are influenced by our environment, then do we truly possess free will? In one regard, making choices based on our influences is still being controlled. We are allowing something else to dictate our decisions that are best suited for us. In a sense, by choosing what is befitting to us, that is the free will part, but we still have to first be exposed to our experiences in order to arrive at a decision.
This can be more fully understood in the premise of the “free society”. Skinner defines a “free society” as “one in which the individual is controlled by agencies other than government” (Skinner, 1965). He believed that the presumed faith in the common man was a guiding principle that gives democracy its power. That faith is placed in others who control the various agencies. In other words, man is at the mercy of others in his quest to be free. Skinner makes the point that by dividing control between the various agencies, it makes control of the human race much easier than under a unified system. To that end, the old saying, “he governs less who governs least” (Skinner, 1965), talks about the overwhelming power of government and agencies. The more power each has, the more likelihood a misuse and abuse of power will exist. We have seen this all too often in the various scandals within our government from the Veterans Administration debacle to the Secret Service’s misconduct while on duty. We see many within powerful organizations fall from grace because of their deviant actions. Even in those instances, they have a choice that they believe is based upon free will, yet, they are no freer than anyone who has lost their freedom.
Many believe by being able to make choices they are free. However, there are always parameters that weigh heavily on every decision we make. If we were truly free, there would never be any consequences, good or bad, for our decisions and actions. Consequences, in and of themselves, limit and control us. For example, if one decides to commit murder, he makes a conscious decision to do so. However, his decision is not a free one. He will be arrested, put on trial and spend the rest of his days locked in a jail cell. Ultimately, his decision to murder was based on insinuating factors that contributed to his decision to murder. Although it is wrong to murder anyone, there is always a root cause for it. That root cause controls the murderer and brings justification to the free will in the murder’s choice.
Skinner makes the claim that in a democracy the power of control if often offset by something. Two things always stand in direct opposition to one another and thus this takes on a cancelling out effect of both. For example, education tends to trump economic controls and government regulates freedoms of speech, religion, and most recently the right to bear arms. There are amendments in our Constitution that serve as protective barriers to government controls, but somehow, we are living in a time where the government is having more and more of a say in the everyday lives of its citizens. One of the most recent measures of control by the government is implementing universal health care; making it mandatory for every citizen to have health care. A very appealing case was made to the public as to why it was important to have health care. For the uninsured, this was an appealing, plausible justification for the mandatory regulations. Even at the prospect of being fined for not obtaining it was not enough to deter those who needed it most. This was the catch, however. Those that needed found themselves in a position to want it despite having gone without health insurance previously. They believed they were being given a choice and the opportunity to have health insurance. They saw it as an option. What they failed to realize is it was not an option. Government controls took their free will away.
The problem of control is that creates a false sense of security for the individual. Society believes controls are a good thing for maintaining peace and order. There is the inherent belief that by having guidelines and a sense of order to follow, it allows one to retain his ability to make choices and decisions; that being free will. Yet, in essence, it gives an enormous amount of power to those in control while limiting the rights of those who are dependent upon it. The more power one has to enact controls over another leads to corruption and the eventual demise of a society. Controls are not necessarily a bad thing, so long as control is controlled.
The problem with control is that there is nothing freeing about it. The mere definition of control means to restrict. Man believes he is in control of himself by virtue of being able to make choices that are conducive with his own beliefs. However, every action is in reaction to something. As Skinner surmised, man’s decisions and free will is the by-product of influence, which is a means of control in itself. It is always going to be contingent upon something else and that will forever be the real determinant of all things.
Barash, D. P. (2005). B.F. skinner, revisited. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(30), B10-B11. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/214678007?accountid=12085
Skinner, B. F. (1965). Science and human behavior. New York: Free Press.