Thursday, January 29, 2015

Chapter 44 - On The Road: Part 4 - Tears for the Human Cauldron

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Soon after he arrived in town, a feature story about him appeared in the January 23, 1935 morning issue of the Kansas City Times. The newspaper account gives a plausible portrayal—in keeping with other accounts and private letters of the time—of Korzybski’s appearance and state of mind. “The man who is so pessimistic that he has become an optimist stirred the human cauldron in a visit with friends at the Barstow school last night and laughed. It was so funny so tragically funny.” The newspaper article continued:
The whole world has been fooling around near the animal level because of assumptions based on the stupid definitions of words. And there was Count Alfred Korzybski, bald and dramatic, who has laid the foundation for a new start in a book,...“I am an optimist because I have reached the climax of pessimism and am ready to do something about it,” he said. “The old way of thought is hopeless, but there is another way. I am an optimist because I am so pessimistic that I doubt the doubts.”   
With a cane in one hand, wielded in the manner of the Polish nobleman, he took a few strides around the room. He is lame as a result of wounds received when he was a staff officer in the Russian army. Stupid, wasn’t it? By the way, there is an incident in connection with war which proves even Count Korzybski retains a few of the animal reactions...You know the experiments of Pavlov with his dogs. A bell would ring, food would be produced and the dog’s saliva would flow. After a time the saliva would flow at the ringing of the bell, regardless of the food. Bell—saliva, Count Korzybski likes to repeat the formula, bell—saliva; it explains so much of human response here on the near-animal level.
The animalistic response retained by Korzybski is tears. Whenever he thinks about the war, the tears flow. Last night he demonstrated. He started thinking of horrors, blinked his eyes a few times and there, sure enough, were tears. Purely mechanical. He explained that all the time he was thinking he was in a perfectly happy state of mind.

The Korzybski attitude, however is not so simple as that. He called it simple as he sat laughing at the abject horror in the human cauldron; but his hearers had to take a few long breaths and look blank from time to time.

“Don’t call me ‘high-brow!” he exclaimed. “A child can understand it. We teach it to 5-year-old children.” (11)

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
11. “This Is All A Mistake”. The Kansas City Times, 1/23/1935. AKDA 2.742.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chapter 44 - On The Road: Part 3 - Gypsy Teacher

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

1934 ended for Korzybski with a flurry of activity. He visited the Boston area for a couple of weeks in October to confer with John Lynn and other psychiatrists at McLean Hospital, as well as various people at Harvard and around Boston, including Miriam Van Waters, a woman teaching general semantics to some of the inmates at the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women. Then in November he made a quick trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to The Science Press headquarters to pay off the main part of the balance he still owed the printer. In mid-November he and Mira attended a daylong meeting of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, topped by an evening banquet given at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. The program for the day focused on the mental hygiene needs of children, with speakers calling for educational curricula and research. They seemed to be asking for just the kind of thing Trainor, Potts, Kendig, and others were in the process of doing with his work. 

The meeting may have served as the location for the following, related by Korzybski in 1947 to Charlotte Schuchardt [Read] who took notes:
A Situation. New York? 15 years ago? Important Psychiatric Meeting of foreign & USA psychiatrists, Meyer included. MEK [Mira] was with AK [Alfred]. [Adolf] Meyer of course was a god. MEK ‘knew better’ than AK. When we sat down to talk at table, Meyer brought a chair to me, pushed me down, said (in front of great specialists,.) ‘Don’t talk now, we are all baffled by GS let the Countess explain it.’ MEK burst into speech with the most [psychiatrically] idiotic stuff although the feeling was OK. ‘From an artistic point of view’. Of course the national and international authorities were ‘convinced’ GS was ‘all bunk’. (10) 

Few people knew the extent to which Mira had helped with Alfred’s work (not only supporting him financially but also making publishing decisions with him, and serving as a major editorial sounding board throughout the writing process). Yet Mira’s explanations of his work to others had often seemed inadequate to him. He seemed to have held her, as his wife, to a higher standard than he held other people. This complex of factors, suggested in the story above, would become a significant issue in Alfred and Mira’s relationship over the next few years, during which time he and Mira would again be separated for long periods of time—always a strain for them both.

At the end of January, Alfred would be leaving home to visit Barstow School, attend the Congress, and make other presentations. He would spend much of the next three years on the road: from 1935 into early 1938, Korzybski would crisscross the United States by train a number of times, giving many lectures and beginning his signature training-seminars. He would present to a variety of groups including children, college students, teachers and other professionals, as well as mental hospital staff and patients. He would continue to develop and refine his formulations and methods in significant ways as he seriously involved himself with helping individuals to adopt an extensional orientation in their lives. He would give several papers at conferences and publish one of them, plus an important review, in a psychiatry journal. His work would begin to gain an unprecedented level of public recognition (some of which became a mixed blessing). He would find crucial supporters who would help him launch the final, institutional phase of his work.
Korzybski crisscrossed the United States on passenger trains like this one.
The next few years would also tax him personally. He would have to deal somewhat helplessly from afar with his mother’s increasing disability and distress and then with her death. In 1936—after what seems like a precipitous move that he and Mira would make from their long-time Brooklyn apartment to Cambridge, Massachusetts—his relationship with Mira would come close to the breaking point. And during these years the great depression would continue and he would watch the world move closer towards an apocalyptic war he could predict but do little to prevent.

During this period, Korzybski’s whirlwind pace gave the impression of a traveling road show. He gave lectures and taught seminars wherever he could, preferably for at least his expenses. He was looking for sponsors and trying to develop interest in his work so ultimately he wouldn’t have to continue moving around as an itinerant, gypsy teacher.

By the end of 1937, plans—spearheaded by two of Korzybski’s psychiatrist students—would be set in motion for an Institute of General Semantics to be formed in Chicago. From May 1938 on, the Institute would give him—if but little rest—a home base to work from and a small staff of people to help him teach, develop, and promote his work. But at the end of January 1935, the future of his work seemed hidden behind a giant question mark, as he said goodbye to Mira and headed west—first stop, Kansas City, Missouri.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
10. Memo, “BIOG.”, 4/16/1947. IGS Archives.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chapter 44 - On The Road: Part 2 - "The Horror of Hitlerism"

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

In the latter part of 1934, Korzybski had been busy writing. In September, he worked on and sent out a letter to co-workers like Kendig and Trainor. The letter emphasized the extensional practices he felt people must make habitual in order to apply his work. (Kendig, who recognized the letter’s importance, later included it in Korzybski’s Collected Writings.) (1) 

He also intended to finish the “Outline of General Semantics”. He planned to present it at the Ellensburg Congress and then use it for further publicity. For this purpose, he had sent drafts of it to some of his friends for editing, including Philip Graven. Korzybski’s reaction to some of Graven’s comments, related to the topic of “Hitlerism”, demonstrated some of Korzybski’s concerns about the state of the world at the time. It may also partly explain his further falling away from the already strained relationship with Graven.

Throughout 1934—though under the gaze of foreign governments and the international press—Germany, in its second year under Nazi rule, had further descended into barbarity. On June 30, in “the night of the long knives”, elite SS storm troopers, who had pledged their special loyalty to Hitler, murdered Ernst Roehm and the other leaders of the SA Brown Shirts, a Nazi party militia that had formed from the street thugs who had served Hitler during his rise to power. When President Paul von Hindenburg died in August, Hitler became President of Germany as well as Chancellor. The German military establishment, which had been concerned about encroachments on their leadership by Roehm and the SA, seemed assuaged by Hitler’s purge of them. Every German soldier was asked to swear an oath of personal allegiance to Hitler. His power seemed complete.

In the meantime, political opponents, Jews, Romany (Gypsies), and other German ethnic minorities, the mentally ill, and mentally retarded, as well as overt homosexuals, among others, were beleaguered by increasingly harsh Nazi laws. German Jews remained the special targets of the Nazi government. Seven to eight percent of the German Jewish population had already fled the country by the end of the year. Like the kind of semantic (evaluational) infection Korzybski had written about in Science and Sanity, antisemitism—including government-sponsored discrimination against Jews—had become widespread throughout not only Germany, but Eastern and Central Europe, including Poland. Alfred had followed the news of all this and felt deep concern, making references to the problems of Hitlerism and Germany in his “Outline” draft— references which Graven found objectionable.

As already noted, Korzybski had long felt an almost indefinable sense of connection with Jews and Jewish culture. This connection became clearer earlier in the year, when he read an article that appeared in the Spring 1934 issue of the American Scholar, “The Essence of Judaism” by Hans Kohn, a Prague-born, Jewish historian and political scientist then teaching at Smith College. The article presented a bold contrast between Hellenism, the static, ‘space’ orientation of Greek civilization (more or less equivalent, in Korzybski’s terms, to ‘aristotelianism’) and Judaism, the dynamic, ‘time’ orientation of Jewish civilization. To Korzybski, the Nazis represented an extreme example of the first. Whereas, the orientation Kohn depicted as ‘the essence of Judaism” seemed to Korzybski like what he was aiming for with ‘non-aristotelianism’. He had already recommended the article to Graven in August 2 and referred to it again in a letter to the psychiatrist on September 29, partially quoted below:
...I know you associate often with people who praise Hitler. [In 1934 America, this was by no means an anomaly, and Graven’s German-speaking wife apparently had strong positive feelings towards the new German regime.] But also you do not read carefully reports from the world (I DO STUDY THEM). Hitler happens to be a sick man,...on his nerve[-]shaken masses he has succeeded of imposing his conditions. Even now Germany is a victim of this illness as the world enmity and fear will doom them as an outstanding nation. They base their whole movement on falsified ‘science’. I write about it because one cannot profess Gen. Sem. and not perceive the horror of Hitlerism. You know he hates the Jews. All of us as persons have perfect right to select their friends, but these personal attitudes should never be generalized. This issue is fundamental for us and between us. PLEASE read carefully in the American Scholar, Spring, 1934 an article by Kohn ‘The Essence of Judaism’. With some revision of language what he says is profoundly true, but applies not only to Jews but many individuals in every nation...Remember please the issue is sharp either ‘space-binding’ etc., Greek and animalistic, or ‘time-binding’, Gen. Sem. and human and sane. We are up against these issues dear Philip, it is better to be forewarned. (3)

On October 10, Graven wrote back to Alfred:
To put it mildly, I do think your comments regarding Hitler were exceedingly biased, unfair, unkind. He merely represents a reaction to gangster diplomats of Europe. Look what they did to our Wilson. It is regrettable to hear you voice such jingoist petty politics. (4) 

Korzybski responded quite mildly to his friend but firmly reasserted his position about the unique semantic (evaluational) status of the Nazis, who seemed to him to be consciously but perversely using linguistic, evaluational manipulations (propaganda) to further their pathological political aims. The two men discussed this and other business in letters over the next month. Finally, on November 15, Korzybski wrote to Graven, that among his other editorial helpers with the “Outline” draft, “...all approved the inclusion of the German tragedy in it (really human tragedy).”
Dear Philip you do not want me to be scientifically dishonest. I would feel this way if I would disregard one [of] the most serious tragedies on human record. I know through personal connections and friends you feel differently...As the author of G.S. I have a further vision, quite clear which as yet is not explained in writing, as it is extremely long to write, but the movement of Hitler...[is] definitely culturally retrogressive, anti-semantic, anti-world culture, etc., a very long list, and in all honesty, I as a student of individual and group behaviour cannot disregard this...What I will do however is change the term ‘hitlerism’ which may be considered by some ‘offensive’ and make a serious human sentence out of it, which could not be considered ‘offensive’ or anything else,...(5)

Korzybski had deferred to his friend by taking some of the ‘juice’ from his article (probably to its detriment). Nonetheless, Graven still seemed offended, asserting without irony: “I must accuse you of talking sheer rubbish whenever you open fire on the Germans and poor little [H]itler...I do not believe you can be fair to the Germans in one sentence, nor in a chapter...”(6) Graven didn’t seem open to reconsidering his stand.

By the following year (1935), after he began his intensive period as an itinerant lecturer, Korzybski had stopped giving way to Graven’s opinion. He was beginning to make public his views about Hitler and Germany—even predicting a second world war. In August 1935, while he was in Berkeley giving a three-week seminar at the Williams Institute, a local paper carried the following story:
Count Sees Germans As Menace To Peace 
“A sick nation of 66,000,000 people led by a sick man will plunge the world into another war!” 
Thus Count Alfred Korzybski, world-renowned “human engineer,” now lecturing at Williams Institute in Berkeley, characterizes Germany and her Fuhrer, Adolph Hitler, and predicts another conflagration as the result of Germany’s determination to turn backward on the path of human progress.  
The distinguished Polish scholar whose recent book, “Science and Sanity,” is acclaimed by many of the world’s foremost scientists as the last word on “the true nature of man,” analyzes Germany’s persecution of the Jews in psychological terms:  
“The Jews have always had a sense of the time process. They were dynamic, drivers, time-binders. Jesus, Freud, Marx, Einstein—all were conscious of the fourth-dimensional time-world.  
“Hitler is avowedly Aristotelian, and in constant opposition to Jews because of a fundamental antagonism. The Greek or Aristotelian, was a static orientation. 
“Einstein was the first to catch up with the modern world. Germany which considers itself scientific, disowns him!”...(7) 

The following day this short follow-up piece appeared in the same newspaper:
This open expression of views, unpopular at a time when most Americans seemed isolationist, would have made it more difficult for Alfred to avoid discussing the topic with his friend. And as time went on, he became even more vociferous. By 1937, he was more urgently sounding the alarm against Hitlerism, publicly suggesting that concerned psychiatrists ought to get involved in fighting it—a theme he would continue to develop.(8) Perhaps not surprisingly, the frequency of Alfred’s correspondence with Graven gradually dwindled until the two friends eventually ceased having contact. Graven’s early attitude toward Hitler seemed to have demonstrated something Korzybski noted in the “Outline”, and which he often repeated elsewhere: “...even one identification, can ruin a human life, a science, or a social, etc., system.”(9) Or a friendship.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
1. “Letter to Co-Workers”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, pp. 729–735. 

2. AK to Graven, 8/16/1934. AKDA 30.199. 

3. AK to Philip Graven, 9/29/1934. AKDA 30.164. 

4. Philip Graven to AK, 10/10/1934. AKDA 30.156–159. 

5. AK to Philip Graven, 11/15/1934. AKDA 30.134. 

6. Philip Graven to AK, 11/23/1934 AKDA 30.130. 

7. “Count Sees Germans As Menace To Peace”. Oakland Post-Enquirer, 8/9/1935. AKDA 2.792.

8. “Hitler Called “Sick Boy”; Rulers’ Mental Test Urged”. Asbury Park, New Jersey Evening Press, 11/24/1937. AKDA 2.877. 

 9. “An Outline of General Semantics”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 213. 

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