Alfie Kohn: People Are Not Pets
This timely piece by Alfie Kohn is Ryan catnip.
Carol Black on Twitter: ""The conclusions that rewards frequently kill both interest and excellence have, if anything, grown more solid in the intervening decades." #ProTip Grades=rewards @TG2Chat… https://t.co/ZNsNNzZM3l"
Our company doesn’t do rewards for these reasons. They’ve been shown over and over to be counterproductive. This has been conventional wisdom in my habitats for years. HBR, for example, has been talking about this for 25 years (citing Kohn back in 1993).
And even though the average American corporation resembles a giant Skinner box with a parking lot, no controlled study has ever, to the best of my knowledge, found a long-term enhancement in the quality of work as a result of any kind of incentive or pay-for-performance plan.
I don’t recall finding any such study when deciding what to do in our company. IIRC, everything went the other way, recommending against reward systems. We did not implement any of the rewards systems we had experienced at our previous jobs. Instead: fair pay, good benefits, good culture.
When we survey our employees each year, the things that come up as most important to work satisfaction are culture and impact. We have some tag clouds showing the things people prioritize the most. I’ll dig those up later.
I keep coming back to the phrase “primitive moral development”.
Behaviorism perverts everything: companies, schools, platforms, networks, nations.
Ryan Boren on Twitter: "Educators and tech workers, do we want to be in the business of behaviorism? Persuasion and Operant Conditioning: The Influence of B. F. Skinner in Big Tech and Ed-tech https://t.co/WKc48MRWCF"
As does the grading and ranking of children:
Ryan Boren on Twitter: "The grading and ranking of children perverts everything. "the last time marriage partners sorted themselves by educational status as much as they do now was in the 1920s." https://t.co/nliOFiBI43… https://t.co/8W2eOiPDVY"
The politics of resentment thrive on downward-blaming deficit ideologies. Our notions of accommodation are framed in deficit ideology and behaviorism, and disabled and neurodivergent people experience the resulting structural ableism and PTSD.
Accommodation encourages the harmful ableist tropes of people being "special" and "getting away with" extra "privileges" and "advantages". Accommodation is fertile ground for zero-sum thinking, grievance culture, and the politics of resentment. The terrain of accommodation is hostile and fraught. The topography is designed for attrition. Navigating it consumes spoons while fueling internalized ableism, anxiety, depression, and burn out. We must change the framing to survive. We must change the default.
The downward blaming instincts of behaviorism and deficit ideology contribute to blaming political violence on mental illness (something the ActuallyAutistic community deals with after every shooting). Here’s a related thread from an autistic community leader (and author of an upcoming book on the history of disability for Simon & Schuster).
My contribution to the thread, with a quote on behaviorism from Silence of the Lambs shared by another tweeter:
Ryan Boren on Twitter: "“You've given up good and evil for behaviorism.” “The ability to medicalize evil renders it an individual flaw.” We’re awash in behaviorism and deficit ideology that directs thinking away from systems and toward individuals. https://t.co/WKc48MRWCF… https://t.co/PFu6VoFsiX"
“We’ve given up good and evil for behaviorism.” Another way of framing that is that we given up structural ideology for deficit ideology.
I tell folks I work with: “The social model of disability”, “deficit ideology”, and “structural ideology” belong in the working vocabulary of inclusive designers and developers. Spotting deficit ideology is an important skill. When we’re designing within its frame, change the frame.
Private equity loves behaviorism. Silicon Valley tech bros make good money baking it into platforms and algorithms and breaking democracies in the process.
Private equity is now pushing ABA, the cause of a lot of PTSD in the autistic community. ABA is the Darth Vader of behaviorism, even in its forms that don’t use aversives. The waters are muddied about what is ABA these days since various things call themselves ABA in order to get insurance coverage. Autistic people oppose them all. I hope I never see ABA in an email from DSISD.
I am watching the US education system not very subtly invite punishment back into the mainstream classroom. This appears to be driven by the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).
History will not look back favorably on this age of behaviorism—where we reduced people to OCEAN psychographics and mashed their buttons. Primitive morals indeed.
There is no future in behaviorism--not one worth having. We're seeing what it does at scale. The pain will accelerate.
Fledgling phrases, aphoristic reductions:
Structural ideology, in its various guises, is a common ground and a powerful lens. Structural ideology and bodily autonomy unite movements.
Design is tested at the edges, and you need structural ideology to do something about it.