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the World with Behavioral Comunitarianism:
Richard W. Malott1
Behavior Analysis Program
Department of Psychology
Western Michigan University
Word version of this article
Me and my sister, Peggy Jo,
Started out for Kokomo.
But driving the Brute2 is mighty quirky,
And we ended up in Albuquerque.
The Brute went fast
And the Brute went slow
Oh, my god,
We’re in Mexico.
Hermosillo, that is.
CLUELESS IN HERMOSILLO
Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, four hours south of the boarder. Population
600,000. And they’re all Mexican. And not one of them Mexicans
has the decency to speak English.
Six P.M. and dark’s coming fast. Strangers in a strange land.
An RV park’s supposed to be around here somewhere. But so’s
Peggy’s concerned. What is Los Horcones?
It’s a behavioristic commune a handful of 20-year-old Mexican
hippies started 5 or 6 years ago, somewhere out there in the dessert.
Peggy’s even more concerned. Do you know them?
Well, sort of; they’re familiar strangers from our Association
for Behavior Analysis conferences. (About 80% of the ABA members are
familiar strangers; every year, you say hi, as you’re passing
in the lobby, and you promise to hear each other’s presentations,
and you never do.) And, yes, they said they’d love for us to
visit; and, no, they don’t know exactly when we’re coming.
Now Peggy’s ready to go back to Tucson, but I’m driving.
And from their WWW site, I’ve gotten detailed directions on
how to get to Los Horcones. But, though the Brute is only 28 feet
long, I can’t find them.
The Pemex gasoline-station phone directory has the number and address
of one of the members. I call and get an answering machine. The gasoline
attendant explains that the address is just a few blocks away. Well,
that’s not right because Los Horcones is out in the middle of
the dessert. Los Horcones? Si. The place where they teach the little
children? Yes. Oh, si, it’s out highway 16. You mean, some illiterate
Mexican gas-pump jockey in this huge city has heard of this funky,
little hippie commune? No way.
We can’t trust him. There’s a Green Angel, a Mexican government
employee whose job it is to drive a green and white pickup truck around
the countryside, rescuing stranded gringos. Really. Los Horcones,
si, it’s out highway 16 about 60 kilometers (36 miles).
At the taco stand near the start of highway 16. Los Horcones, si,
At the pool hall, in Colorado, 15 kilometers out on 16. Los Horcones,
si, straight ahead.
I don’t think you’d hit four for four, if you asked the
average Kalamazooian on the street where the WMU Psych. Department
All guide books stress traveler’s #1 rule: Never drive at night
on Mexican highways. Potholes, rocks, stray cattle, people on bicycles,
and a bandito lurking behind every cactus.
At last, there’s the sign: Los Horcones. Whew. We open the gate,
drive a half-mile back a dirt road, open another gate, and lights
ahead. Civilization. Safety.
We homed in on the light, which was coming from the community dining
room where twenty people were enjoying a snack of crackers and cheese
that 16-year-old Carolina had brought back from France. They all jumped
up and greeted us, with handshakes, cheek kisses, and hugs. (Los Horcones
is so full of warm fuzzies that it’s almost hazardous to walk
through a group of Horconites, because of al the hugs and shoulder
pats. This can be disconcerting if you’re from Converse, Indiana,
where husband and wife won’t even kiss each other on the check
unless it’s in the privacy of their own bedroom and the lights
are off. But having spent my formative years around Don Whaley, I’ve
developed a fondness for warm fuzzies, so I had no problem. My sister
could fend for herself.)
It turns out that the handful of 20-year-old hippies are two, middle-age,
middle-class married couples; and Los Horcones has celebrated it’s
26th anniversary. (Well, it seemed like it was only 5 or 6 years ago
when we first passed each other in an ABA lobby.) Now, I don’t
know anyone of my generation or younger who has managed to stay married
for 26 years, at least not to the same person, and especially no behavior
analysts. Furthermore, communes are hell on marriage. So the longevity
of the two marriages was impressive. But what really impressed me
was that their commune had survived for 26 years; those things go
out of business faster than mom and pop video-tape-rentals stores.
Twenty-six years makes Los Horcones one of the oldest intentional
communities in the Western hemisphere (really).3
Although the four founders are no longer in their 20’s, many
of the members of Los Horcones are. I asked one of them how long he’d
lived in the commune, and he looked at me with a puzzled expression,
like didn’t I understand? Then he said, “All my life.”
All my life! Like we’ve got someone who’s been reared
all his life in a completely behavior-analytic environment. “There
are seven of us; four of Mireya and Juan’s children and three
of Linda and Ramon’s children.” A whole first generation
reared with behavior analysis. “There’s also a second
generation; my sister’s two children.”
Now it’s been my observation that behavior analysts aren’t
any better at rearing their own kids than they are at keeping their
spouses happy and keeping themselves happy with their spouses. (It’s
not that we don’t know how to do it, especially the child-rearing
part. It’s just that preachin’ ain’t practicin’.
It’s just that raising our children ain’t our job; telling
other people how to is our job. And giving them demonstrations, and
feedback, and gold stars, and so forth. But when we come home, our
job’s done. And, besides, we can always implement that household
token economy tomorrow. Right now, we’re tired, we’ve
got a headache, and the NFL playoffs are on the tube; give us a beer
and shut those kids up.)
However rearing the first generation of behavior-analytic children
was the job of Los Horcones. The first generation was the great demonstration
project. It was a 24 x 7 job.
How many of you are still living at Los Horcones? “We all are.”
But don’t you want to get away? “Not permanently. We travel.
But Los Horcones is our home.” Travel? “Yes, Mexico, the
United States, Europe. For example, last year Carolina wanted to go
France, so we sent her over, and she lived with a family there and
went to high school for a semester. That was her first experience
with a traditional family and traditional classroom education? She
liked it, but she prefers Los Horcones.”
Didn’t you guys go to school? “No, we think we learn
more and better here at Los Horcones.”
No high-school diploma? “Oh, yes, we take the exams and get
No university? “We often go up to the University of Tucson and
sit in on their classes, but not for credit. We have a house in Tucson.”
One wall of the work manager’s office is covered with weekly
hour-by-hour schedules for each Los Horcones member. And those schedules
include not only work, but also study and writing. For the kids, this
includes studying Spanish, English, math, behavior analysis etc. And
yes, everyone speaks excellent English, a much better than my Spanish.
And when I’m talking to 16-year-old Carolina, she doesn’t
ask, “What’s your sign?” (Barf, gag.) She asks,
“Who’s your favorite philosopher?” And I promptly
reply, “Ah, ah, . . . who’s yours?” “I’ve
been reading Kierkegaard lately and I like him. I really like to read
philosophy, but I don’t think I always understand it; so then
I ask one of my brothers to explain it.” (By the way, Carolina
may be the only 16-year-old girl, on either side of the boarder, who
will reliably get up for a 5:00 A.M. 10K, sun-rise run every morning,
well, almost every morning.)
THE PUDDING FOR THE PROOF
So what about these brothers? These guys who’ve spent all their
lives in the Los Horcones educational system. After dinner, I sit
around the dinner table, with them, some of the other young people,
and the village elders. I use opening gambit, #23, just getting the
lay of the land. “For example, most behavior analysts couldn’t
even tell you how to extinguish an escape response, you know, Rudolph
the rat’s lever-pressing that turns off the shock in the Skinner
box.” And Juan Jr. immediately says, you mean, like you leave
the shock on even when Rudolph presses the lever.” Bingo. The
guys really bright. And having one out of four boys turn out bright
is better than average.
A major premise running through Los Horcones is this Skinner-Sidmanian,
flower-child nonsense that we should build a world free of aversive
control and its radioactive fallout. It’s almost a behavior-analytic
religious credo. So whenever the village elders aren’t looking,
I take it as my moral responsibility to corrupt their youth, to point
to the dark, aversive-control underbelly that supports their sweetly
innocent practice of what they, so often, erroneously call positive
reinforcement, for example, to point to the necessity of deadlines,
both natural and man-made. To argue that the existence of a deadline
sets the stage for paradise lost. To argue that the existence of a
deadline means our behavior is under the control of avoidance contingencies,
avoidance of the loss of the opportunity to get a smile, or a “Well
done,” if not avoidance of a sharp tongue that stings more than
the overseer’s whip. To argue that these aversive deadlines
loom over all of our productive behavior.
And all four of these brave brothers defend the indefensible with
courage, well-honed logic, and fluent mastery of the behavioral basics.
But all four brave brothers are so intellectually and behavior-analytically
skilled, and more impressively, so intellectually honest, that they
eventually acknowledge the necessity of aversive control in the smooth
flow of life at Los Horcones. It’s rare that I see even a Ph.D.
college professor who can so objectively evaluate challenges to his
or her own credos. But when I do see anyone whose analyses are so
controlled by logical integrity, be it student, professor, or Horconite,
so logically controlled that they are willing to abandon life-long
assumptions; then I’m impressed. So it turns out that Los Horcones
scored four out of four, not one out of four as I had originally assessed.
This is the first chapter in a monograph that, knowing me, will probably
only have one chapter, though I have hardly begun to make a dent in
the list of important Los Horcones topics I want to cover. But the
children of Los Horcones are the pudding of proof. However, I’ve
only written about the children as intellectuals, not as athletes,
artists, world travelers, hard-workers, communitarians, entrepreneurs,
expert professional behavior modifiers, and sociable, charming young
people, the fruit of the past, the seeds of the future.
I haven’t written about the 20 beautiful, stucco buildings,
painted in earth colors, and covered with artful artifacts of Mexican.
Nor the 240-acre ranch with 20-foot cactuses. The wonderful, nutritious
meals that have caused me to gain 5 pounds in 8 days (as a gluttonous
degenerate, with no satiation mechanism, this is my only problem with
Los Horcones). Nor the two ostriches running outside the window of
el Bruto as I write this, nor the peacocks, parrots, parakeets, and
more traditional farm animals.
I haven’t written about the four founding members. About turnover,
about problems, about the many positive and financially profitable
interactions with the Hermosillo community, about plans to start a
Los Horcones Dos in Spain. And most importantly, I haven’t written
about their world-class, behavior-analytic autism program, one of
the oldest such programs in the world, nor about the great wisdom
and the great behavioral procedures that have arisen as a result of
running this program for 25+ years.
Had the reinforcers of gonnzo journalism not gotten control of my
keyboard, I might have made a slightly larger dent in the list of
topics. But if you want to be sure to find out more grab me at ABA
or WMU and I’ll bend your ear interminably. Better yet, check
out their web page at http://www.LosHorcones.org.mx,
and go to Los Horcones to pay them a face to face visit (if they can
accommodate 40 grade-school kids and 20 college kids over night, without
a mishap, they can certainly take care of you for a week, or a month,
or a summer, or a sabbatical).
Hasta la vista, amigos.