New Civilization News: Rewards and Punishments    
 Rewards and Punishments20 comments
picture 16 Jan 2004 @ 13:35, by Flemming Funch

Here an article by Denise Breton and Christopher Largent about conditioning by rewards and punishments. The page shows badly in my browser, so I'm taking the liberty of including the text at the bottom. They mention the extensive research of Alfie Kohn on the negative effects of reward/punishment conditioning. Here are some of the problems:
• Rewards and punishments teach power-over relations. That’s the model. And when being on the receiving end of this model gets tiresome, we begin the mad race to be on top.

• Rewards and punishments corrupt human relationships, starting with the relation between those "higher" and "lower" in the reward-punishment hierarchy. Those under can’t tell the truth to those above them for fear of how "bad news" might further reduce their underling status. Even more commonly, those above don’t want the truth to be told. A May 1999 Frontline on the military career of Admiral Leighton "Snuffy" Smith, for instance, featured Smith confessing that during the Vietnam War (when he was a pilot), his superior wouldn’t let him report that he had failed to achieve his bombing objective. The higher-ups didn’t want the truth; they wanted only "we’re winning the war" reports.

• Rewards and punishments teach image management. Appearing to be good is more important than being good.

• Rewards and punishments require surveillance. We must be seen to be doing good or doing bad to get what we "deserve," so someone must be observing us—all the time.

• Rewards and punishments replace internal motivation with external motivation. This is a biggie, and the crux of it all. We don’t do what our inner guides tell us, what we love to do, or what we feel is right. We do what rewards us outwardly. Our inner motivation, what we get from our souls, is not controllable. For us to be made controllable, we must be unplugged from our soul source, and something external must be put in its place—something others can control. Given this agenda, rewards and punishments are inevitably soul-denying.

• Rewards and punishments teach selfish manipulation: "What’s in it for me?" "Can I avoid being caught?" In Beyond Discipline (p. 22), Alfie Kohn quotes eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant: "If you punish a child for being naughty and reward him for being good, he will do right merely for the sake of the reward; and when he goes out into the world and discovers that goodness is not always rewarded, nor wickedness always punished, he will grow into a man who only thinks about how he may get on in the world, and does right or wrong according as he finds advantage to himself."
It is rather obvious, really. The conditioning approach pre-assumes that you are a mindless robot who can't tell right from wrong, so you need to be trained into the proper pavlovian responses. Right answer: you get a piece of cheese. Wrong answer: you get an electric shock. That is a horribly barbaric view, and a false one. But, seeing that this is the predominant method used in the world of educating us into knowing how to act, it is no great wonder at all that we're rather messed up.
• Rewards and punishments hide real consequences, replacing them with artificial reward-punishment consequences. CEOs don’t think about real-world consequences—polluted air and water or human suffering; they think about financial rewards.

• Rewards and punishments replace inner integrity with the model that everyone "has a price." When people work only for rewards and behave selfishly, it doesn’t mean that they’re bad people or that humanity is innately greedy. It means they’re behaving exactly the way the culture has programmed them to behave—and then told them that they’re bad for doing it. How’s that for crazy-making?
Well, read the whole thing, this is vital stuff. And I'll give you a gold star.




Escaping Planetary Oppression Mechanisms:

Part 1

Rewards and Punishments


© 1999 Denise Breton and Christopher Largent



Ever since we’ve worked on The Paradigm Conspiracy, we’ve been digesting Alfie Kohn’s work on rewards and punishments. It’s revolutionary. Rewards and punishments—as every parent, teacher, employer, minister, and politician knows—are our culture’s most common mechanisms for social control. Whoever has the power to punish or reward has the power to control others—to assert power-over status.

B. F. Skinner’s behaviorist psychology (reducing all behavior to stimulus-response dynamics) was only an academic formulation of the culture’s embrace of this device. Everywhere in our society and on most of the planet, the carrot-and-stick approach is accepted as an appropriate method for getting people to do what we want, birth to death. Not long ago, for instance, someone lectured us on how wonderful such an approach is, how it can produce perfectly behaved animals, children, and spouses—as long as we have the means to bribe or coerce them into the desired behavior.

Alfie Kohn has collected mountains of research in his books—Punished By Rewards, No Contest, Beyond Discipline (a good, short summary), and What to Look for in a Classroom. We may also mention one of many technical scientific studies Kohn draws on in his books: Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s book, Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. The jury is in that rewards and punishments are destructive to the human psyche. Nor does it take rocket science to understand why:

• Rewards and punishments teach power-over relations. That’s the model. And when being on the receiving end of this model gets tiresome, we begin the mad race to be on top.

• Rewards and punishments corrupt human relationships, starting with the relation between those "higher" and "lower" in the reward-punishment hierarchy. Those under can’t tell the truth to those above them for fear of how "bad news" might further reduce their underling status. Even more commonly, those above don’t want the truth to be told. A May 1999 Frontline on the military career of Admiral Leighton "Snuffy" Smith, for instance, featured Smith confessing that during the Vietnam War (when he was a pilot), his superior wouldn’t let him report that he had failed to achieve his bombing objective. The higher-ups didn’t want the truth; they wanted only "we’re winning the war" reports.

• Rewards and punishments teach image management. Appearing to be good is more important than being good.

• Rewards and punishments require surveillance. We must be seen to be doing good or doing bad to get what we "deserve," so someone must be observing us—all the time.

• Rewards and punishments replace internal motivation with external motivation. This is a biggie, and the crux of it all. We don’t do what our inner guides tell us, what we love to do, or what we feel is right. We do what rewards us outwardly. Our inner motivation, what we get from our souls, is not controllable. For us to be made controllable, we must be unplugged from our soul source, and something external must be put in its place—something others can control. Given this agenda, rewards and punishments are inevitably soul-denying.

• Rewards and punishments teach selfish manipulation: "What’s in it for me?" "Can I avoid being caught?" In Beyond Discipline (p. 22), Alfie Kohn quotes eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant: "If you punish a child for being naughty and reward him for being good, he will do right merely for the sake of the reward; and when he goes out into the world and discovers that goodness is not always rewarded, nor wickedness always punished, he will grow into a man who only thinks about how he may get on in the world, and does right or wrong according as he finds advantage to himself."

• Rewards and punishments teach a stressful, competitive, "me against others" view of life, a sense of personal separateness that leads to alienation and anxiety. We discovered in our university classes, for instance, that over 80% of the students had blanked out on exams at least once during college. Their minds couldn’t override the stress. Even worse from their point of view was their dislike of the "me against them" classroom model. One student summarized this on one of her papers: "I don’t want to feel good when someone else fails, but I’m so afraid of failing that I feel relieved when someone else does. I feel bad, but it makes it easier for me to get a good grade." These feelings are not this young woman’s personal creation; the structure of grading inspires it.

• Rewards devalue genuine human activity. Take learning, for example. Humans love to learn. Babies would rather learn than eat. But when rewards are introduced, the message is that learning is not as important, not as valuable, as getting the reward. Learning no longer counts as much as "getting the grade." No wonder children are most enthusiastic about school in their first years: first grade, first year of high school, or first year of college. By the time they graduate, they dislike school and conceive of themselves as just doing time until they can get out. Their innate joy of learning is gone.

• Rewards and punishments hide real consequences, replacing them with artificial reward-punishment consequences. CEOs don’t think about real-world consequences—polluted air and water or human suffering; they think about financial rewards.

• Rewards and punishments replace inner integrity with the model that everyone "has a price." When people work only for rewards and behave selfishly, it doesn’t mean that they’re bad people or that humanity is innately greedy. It means they’re behaving exactly the way the culture has programmed them to behave—and then told them that they’re bad for doing it. How’s that for crazy-making?

• As Kohn’s title Punished by Rewards suggests, rewards in particular take the fun out of life. We’re supposed to think that chasing after rewards and avoiding punishments is fun—the game of life. Kohn found that when people were rewarded even in insignificant ways for doing something they loved to do, they no longer took enjoyment in it. They no longer chose to do it freely. Introducing rewards took all the joy out of it.

Of course, humans are no dummies. Since roughly the age of two, we know that there’s a control agenda going on and that we’re the object of it. We know that the struggle that follows makes us feel out of sorts, stressed, bad about ourselves, and chronically ill at ease. That’s when the mechanism shifts into fancy dress. Rewards and punishments are couched in other terms. They’re "for your own good," to use Alice Miller’s title (a "must read" on this subject). Or they’re God’s order, here and hereafter. Or they’re justice. Never mind that 2500 years ago in the most famous book on justice (Plato’s Republic), Socrates argued that the standard of rewards and punishments—everyone getting his or her due—is an inadequate and unacceptable definition of justice. Still we accept the reward-and-punish mechanism under the name of justice, even when no one, not even the few rewarded, feels justly treated by this model.

Our question (as professional philosophers) is, why do we accept almost without question a social mechanism that shapes humans in ways that become almost immediately destructive? After all, rewards and punishments are a human, cultural convention. They’re not the only way to run a society. In The Chalice and the Blade and The Partnership Way, contemporary anthropologist Riane Eisler suggests historical alternatives, as does the late historian of religions Mircea Eliade in his many books on ancient cultures. Similarly, Alfie Kohn offers alternatives for building true educational communities in Beyond Discipline.

We fall for the model because we’ve been programmed to—we’re reward-and-punishment "Manchurian Candidates"—and because we’ve been sold an all-or-nothing fallacy, the false dichotomy of "either you punish or you permit." As Kohn recounts (Beyond Discipline, p. 31), one guidance counselor shouted at him, "You’re telling me that if a kid comes up to me in the hall and calls me a son of a bitch, I’m supposed to let it go!" What Kohn really suggested, of course, is that there are many ways to communicate to the kid that such behavior is unacceptable, but the only method that will always fail in the long run—that will get only temporary compliance followed by resentment—is reward-and-punish.

Whatever benefit we achieve (or believe we achieve) by producing a desired behavior is short-lived. The benefit begins to fade almost immediately—as soon as the punishment (or reward) is taken away. As Kant observed, even if we offer children an "incentive" to perform kind, selfless, or civic-oriented deeds, the message is that goodness must be bought—done for a bribe—and is not good to do in and of itself. If someone comes along and offers a child more to do something harmful, what choice will the child make, having been raised to respond to bribes and never learning about the intrinsic quality of deeds? For short-term, soul-denying control, we sacrifice long-term, substantive development—soul-building.

What’s more, reward-and-punish is the only method that will not build a relationship. Notice that the counselor didn’t even entertain the idea of community. He didn’t think about a troubled relationship that needed to be healed. He didn’t ask why the kid said this. He didn’t even realize that there are many ways to restrain troublesome behavior until he has time to get to the root of it (and he’s a counselor—that’s his job). All these questions, ideas, and methods had been driven out of his mind by programming, so he responded to Kohn in a way that was, well, out of his mind.

In the last analysis, we know that the carrot-and-stick model produces two effects in us. First, we’re rendered controllable so that we can be dominated by anyone who claims power over us in any social system, from our families to our governments. Second, we no longer do what we love to do, what our inner guidance wants us to do, and what we came here to do, therefore what the universe needs us to do. If we follow rewards and punishments, we have a hard time following our souls.

We can, however, change the model. One way to start is to examine our own carrot-and-stick programming. How has it affected each of us, inwardly and outwardly? Alfie Kohn’s books were a starting place for us. It made us question all the ways we’ve internalized the reward-punishment model. If we’re not making a ton of money, for instance, does that mean we’re not rewarded, therefore that we’re not doing a good job, therefore that we’re not as good as someone who is financially well-off? If, on the other hand, we are making a ton of money, does that mean that we’re doing what’s ours to do, that we’re better than other people, that we’re pursuing our true destinies? In our heads, we may know that measuring our lives by money is nonsense, and yet our emotions have been conditioned by the how-big-are-your-rewards model.

We can also rethink what those in higher-up positions are doing. The natural response is to be intimidated or outraged by the rich and powerful. We look at people who are obsessed with gaining control or money and who have no qualms about abusing their top-down positions, and we think, "Gosh, aren’t they awful? How can they do that? What are they thinking? Have they no feeling?" It’s true that they do awful things, but the fact is that they’re behaving exactly the way they’ve been trained to behave from their earliest years. Their extreme versions don’t make them more powerful or terrifying; it makes their soul-loss more blatant, and yes, more damaging to the collective good. Further, the fact that some individuals embrace the inhuman model more readily than others doesn’t mean that humans are innately cruel, selfish creatures. It means humans are programmed to act in inhuman ways, and in some humans the programming is spectacularly successful.

These insights help us initiate a strategy of social-system transformation—a journey we can take together.

• We can shift our attention from the programmed image to who we are in our souls, from what’s rewarded by society to what we really love.We can see how powerless those in "higher" positions really are—puppets to soulless programming gone mad, however clever they are about acting out their soullessness.

• We can make intelligent distinctions: realizing that a reward for control purposes is different from being paid for our work, for example, or that punishment is different from restraining unacceptable or destructive behavior, or as Alfie Kohn notes, that getting compliance is not the same as building a community.

• Combining higher spiritual insights about who we are and what the society should be, we can claim our humanity and demand that our cultural systems support our efforts to be who we are.

• Changing whole systems is a big job, but it’s an even bigger job to keep cleaning up one mess after another—the suffering and destruction that the reward-and-punish system generates. What’s the first thing to do when a tub is overflowing and flooding the house? Not reaching for the mop but turning off the faucet. That’s what system change does.

And system change to more soul-honoring models is where our spiritual destiny lies. Gandhi was right about the spiritual being practical. When we name the oppressor and get back in touch with our souls, we engage in the best and highest we can do, which inevitably changes the world.


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20 comments

16 Jan 2004 @ 15:31 by swanny : Interesting sort of....
Can I have a blue star instead....
I read it but it was somewhat disappointing.
It identified a problem but then sort of fizzeled
in terms of offering any alternatives.
So in a way it did sort of half or 1/3 of a job
in itself and I'd give one popcorn out of four....
Although thank you Ming for presenting it...
It is a very revalent matter for discussion.
We should have to expand the paradigm and discern
what the crux is. Are there alternatives
or are we in a free enterprise and capitalist economy
bound to the reward punishment paradigm and senario....
How could it be changed.....?
What are the alternatives...?
What is the true nature of social economy....?
What is being said here....?
It seems the boat has been sort of missed....
There is an incompleteness to their hypothesis...
They have failed to identify the vital elements
and issues and not postulated any alternatives.
Okay okay.....

then the issue as I see it is the question of value
and values.....
They missed the boat on values.....
Reward and Punishment vs Value for Value


sir  



16 Jan 2004 @ 15:36 by ming : Alternatives
You're right, now that I notice it. We need some alternatives of course. And ultimately the answer is for people to develop their own inner barometer, and to help others doing so. But it would be nice with some more hints on ways of doing that.  


16 Jan 2004 @ 15:37 by Natalie @82.35.40.38 : Reward & Punishment
Where's my gold star? I've read it all (was it to get the gold star reward?) I mostly agree with Kohn's thesis. But there's something to be said for the motivation that a potential reward can provide. For example, if you're a writer working away for years in your lonely garret (or ivory tower etc.), following the dictates of your soul but unheard and unknown, it's not unlikely that you will be discouraged sometimes and wonder if you can go on. But if one day someone comes along and says they will publish your as-yet unfinished opus when it's ready, you are suddenly filled with new energy and hope. So the 'reward' system in this case acts as confidence-booster and encouragement. You would probably carry on finishing your book even without it, but the knowledge that it now has a possible audience just makes the workload easier to carry.  


16 Jan 2004 @ 16:55 by scotty : just a wee thought !
Tonight I watched a program where there was 'Zapping' ( a few minutes of flitting from one subject to another ) maybe you saw this Flemming ? - and there on the screen were images of people recieving their 'punishment' !
Two women were stoned to death for adultery - a man had his hand chopped off for stealing - another man had his eye torn out for having 'looked' at a woman !
Punishment doesn't always seems to be the most effective method of encouraging 'good' or 'moral' behaviour no matter how terryfiying the penalty might be!

Barbaric morality and barbaric justice ! Jeeze !  



16 Jan 2004 @ 16:58 by lugon @80.58.19.44 : with or without
Carrot-stick works well in "reality is worse" learning situations. I really think I must stop my child from playing with high voltages. It may work well in other situations but I think the list is rather limitted.

Using a useful model where it's not useful is a sign of mental rigidity.

I guess even mental rigidity has its own (limitted) place. :-)  



16 Jan 2004 @ 18:35 by ming : Signals
Where it is very useful, I think, is in giving us signs of whether we're on the right track or not. Like, thanking somebody, or smiling at them, or hugging them, or buying their book, might show them that I like what they're doing. That's certainly a more truthful signal than if I ignore them, despite liking what they do. Likewise, if I do something, I'm looking for signs of whether it is working or not working. Not necessarily praise, not necessarily words, but I'm looking for indicators to steer by. I think we all need indicators to steer by.

So I don't think at all the point should be to not let people know whether you like what they do or not. But I think it maybe needs be the response we really mean, rather than a manufactured response intended to condition the recipient. If I'm happy with you, and I feel like showing it, that's good of course. And if you bore me, and I ignore you, I need to be free to do that too, of course.

So, I think what is potentially damaging is automated responses. If we don't really see and feel and listen to each other, trying to understand what we're doing and why, but we just give a canned response based on a simplistic input. Say a bad word - go to your room. Do your homework - get a cookie. It is more important to look deeper and hear why somebody talks the way they do, and notice whether that homework really is helping them or not.  



16 Jan 2004 @ 21:02 by Jon Husband @24.87.28.174 : Alfie Kohn
Alfie Kohn's book Rewards and Punishment was actually a very important influence on me. It and a dozen or so other books, were responsible for me giving up a 150K per year job (10 years ago) because I started to look at the world differently. I feel like I woke up (even though the "social justice", "environmental awareness" type of person was living inside me since I was a kid, the demands of getting a job, making a career, and that damn testosterone got in my way from about age twenty to forty or so.

Any way, Alfie Kohn got a lot of things right in his book, and wow, what a rock to roll up-hill he has chosen.  



17 Jan 2004 @ 05:33 by ming : Kohn
Yeah, not something to easily persuade the world to change. But I guess we can one by one choose something different, despite our personal loss of good rewards, and then one day we might notice that it has all changed.  


17 Jan 2004 @ 07:56 by Cody @67.10.193.176 : Parenting basics
Basic parenting classes nowadays teach you to replace rewards and punishment with natural consequences and encouragement. Though sometimes the difference is a matter of mindset and emphasis than actual results. Parents cannot let children experience natural consequences that they are not developmentally able to handle, so they must create consequences for the child to experience that at least attempt to match the nature of the offense.

For instance, we don't micromanage our daughter's schoolwork although she inevitably fails to turn in several assignments and gets a bad progress report. But she loses priviledges when this happens (we cannot let her fail out of school, obviously) because until she regains her "focus" she is not allowed "distractions" such as TV, video games, Internet, etc.

The opposite side of the coin is encouragement. My daughter has a love of reading. I occasionally gift her with books, both ones I know she wants and ones I think she'll like. That's not a reward, it's encouragement. When she shows us she is more responsibile, we expand her priviledges a bit. Again the consequences match her actions.

The big drawback is that this approach takes a lot more thought, time, and creativity than a simple spank and lollipop approach.  



18 Jan 2004 @ 22:05 by maxtobin : On the button Flemming!
As ever a very relevent and excellent post.


• Rewards and punishments replace internal motivation with external motivation. This is a biggie, and the crux of it all. We don’t do what our inner guides tell us, what we love to do, or what we feel is right. We do what rewards us outwardly. Our inner motivation, what we get from our souls, is not controllable. For us to be made controllable, we must be unplugged from our soul source, and something external must be put in its place—something others can control. Given this agenda, rewards and punishments are inevitably soul-denying.

Says it all! I don't understand the need to have an alternative here at all. To ID the situation and the 'problem' is the first step. A Sovreign and free society would of neccessity be a dynamic and ever changing sort of environment to explore the nature of true RELATIONSHIP. To become comfortable, really comfortable with being forever in an ongoing and dynamic relationship, puts the ego in its place and helps us to free ourself to the possibilities of the divine moment.  



21 Apr 2004 @ 20:11 by Phil @152.163.252.4 : rewards and punishments
in my class they talked about what would 3 rewards and 3 punishments in 20 years and 30 years and finally 40 years from now in life be? can you help with this ?  


22 Apr 2004 @ 09:29 by ming : Punishments
What rewards and punishments will be like in 20 or 30 years? Or what the future effect of rewards and punishments now would be?  


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