Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Institute of General Semantics - 75 Years and Still Standing

     For several days in March, 1938, Alfred Korzybski lectured the medical staff at Peoria State Hospital, Peoria, Illinois. His presentation there marked the end of his career as an independent, itinerant teacher (which had ramped up ever since the publication five years earlier of Science and Sanity). By the time of his Peoria lectures, Korzybski and a few of his closest students had already begun the process of setting up the Institute of General Semantics (IGS) in Chicago, which the state of Illinois incorporated in May 1938 as a non-profit institution for "Linguistic Epistemologic Scientific Research and Education". Remarkably today, seventy-five years later, the Institute still exists. It has never been easy. 

Until his death on March 1, 1950—Korzybski would carry on his work at the Institute (which moved to Lakeville, Connecticut in 1946). Korzybski: A Biography provides a detailed account of IGS history during those first 12 turbulent  years. Accounts of the Institute's subsequent years can be found in various now-somewhat-hard-to-find articles by Charlotte Schuchardt Read and others. I've provided some recent updates of the last somewhat tumultuous decade (See my 2011 presentation at the IGS Annual Conference in New York City and my January 2013 blogpost The State of Organized GS-2013: A Blunt Assessment, which both focus on recent organizational difficulties.) However, as Korzybski: A Biography clearly documents, from its beginnings the IGS  struggled with difficulties of various kinds, some of which threatened its survival—even with Korzybski at the helm. Difficulties, sometimes severe, continued after Korzybski's death. (In my years, starting in 1979, of serious involvement in IGS educational, management, and publication activities I was one of a number of people who had to deal with many of these problems). But somehow the Institute survived it all. And despite recent problems and organizational downsizing, it still does. 

Will the Institute of General Semantics survive as a viable organization carrying on Korzybski's legacy for another 75 years? I don't know. I do feel confident that if it is to do so, those people who run the organization now, its Board of Trustees, will need to do a lot more than they already have done to renew their understanding of Korzybski's work and of the aims and history of the organization they are responsible for. And they will need to renew their commitment to carrying on the legacy that Korzybski and others left us. Not just words but actions are needed. Complacency and indifference have a way of sneaking up on even the best of us. And the creeping organizational amnesia (which I've alluded to elsewhere and which may have started long before any of its present members sat on the Board of Trustees) will have to be reversed. Without a deep and thorough knowledge of the discipline of GS, including the history and traditions of the Institute,—which I presently see lacking in the organization—it will be impossible to adequately build upon what's been done already. That's what conscious time-binding requires. In order to learn, it's necessary to realize that you don't already know something. Those who don't know can then get help if they seek it, because there are still a few people around who know quite a bit—hint, hint.

In the meantime, I send the Institute of General Semantics my best wishes—Happy 75th Anniversary and Many More!


Anonymous said...

As a member, can I start impeachment procedings, vote of no cofidence, or something legal on the institutional side of things? I'm reasonably serious. I only pay $50, but that's something. Members should have some sort of say.

Steve Keane

Milton Dawes said...

Bruce asked: Will the Institute of General Semantics survive as a viable organization carrying on Korzybski's legacy for another 75 years? I don't know.

I don't know either but will offer this: I predict a low probability for The Institute's survival if at least the following are not addition to the variables Bruce mentioned.
1.A renewal of "Basic Weekend, or 1
week seminar-workshops to attract
new 'students' to the system.
2.Renew:Advanced Seminars" for 'older' students and those interested in 'teaching' the system.
3.Renew "Teacher Training Seminars".
4.Organize occasional "Face to Face" trustee trustees can at least get to 'know' others.
5. Develop and institute a new approach for approving individuals nominated for trusteeship. Since from the By-laws, trustees nominate and select new trustees, I consider this process vital for the survival, operational relevance, and respect for 'The Institute'. If the importance of trustee selection is not valued, I predict a continuing depreciation of The Institute's operations.

Some requirements for trustees selection:Individuals must have an excellent knowledge of the system
and it's history. Must have read
Bruce's "Korzybski Biography". "Should have a high regard for the system as a potentially valuable contribution to our human welfare, including 'teachable methods' for addressing our increasingly disagreeable, conflict afflicted, and conflict creating human world. Individuals must show a certain level of passion for the survival 'visibility' and usefulness of general semantics as a psychological time-binding
tool, to be applied towards
increasing the proportion and
number of 'saner' behaving human
being at diverse levels. Individuals nominated for trusteeship, should demonstrate a willingness to work creatively towards attracting new 'students', and promoting the system.

For the survival of The Institute, there should be occasional in house seminars where the system of general semantics and it's present
standing is discussed...and the
operations of 'The Institute'
are evaluated (a tough one)
6. Trustees should select more topical topics for the AKML..and accept only those presenters who stick to the topic in their submissions.
7. Korzybski's concern was for "the sanity of the human race". I don't think this is achievable...but who knows? Anyway with this in mind, Trustees could focus more on attracting those individuals whom are already thinking along general semantics lines but have no knowledge of the labels, principles and methods. (That's how I became attracted to studying and applying the system.)

In my opinion "The Institute" could advance in stature by "operating in a manner that presents to others a model for how an institution following general semantics principles operates."

I consider general semantics worthwhile promoting and wish that present trustees would do more, much more to honour their trust. I could 'say'more. But I will stop for now.
Milton Dawes