Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chapter 18 - Alfred And The Jews: Part 5 - Lifelong Misconceptions

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.

Notwithstanding Korzybski’s subsequent greater knowledge and more accurate perception (which indeed did lead him to marvel), he never quite overcame certain misconceptions about Jews. For example, reinforced by a misreading of the Hebrew Bible, he considered the notion of “the chosen people” a doctrine of racial superiority and a precursor of Nazism.(20) For someone who prided himself as a constructive and sympathetic reader, I opine that Korzybski failed by his own measure here. Without knowing the accompanying rabbinic commentary based on oral tradition, the Hebrew Bible—in terms of the normative Jewish interpretation—cannot be adequately understood. Korzybski gave no indication that he ever recognized the importance of this commentary and tradition where, as Chaim Potok later pointed out, “...The notion of an assumption of responsibility, not superiority.”(21) Korzybski’s error here may have resulted in part from a tendency towards a crude anti-clericalism that he never quite got away from—despite his stated opposition to dogmatic atheism. His truncated view of Jewish belief was one that he shared with many ‘enlightened’ people, including a number of assimilated Jewish intellectuals. That alone didn’t make him an antisemite—only mistaken.

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. 
20. See “Hitler And Psychological Factors In His Life” in Korzybski’s “Introduction To The Second Edition 1941” of Science and Sanity, p. lxxiv.

21. As Chaim Potok later wrote:
...The notion of an assumption of responsibility, not superiority. That the notion of chosenness may have been the basis for various theories of national and racial superiority indicates to me nothing more than that all ideas are potentially corruptible when taken up by small minds. That does not mean that those with great minds should cease thinking…Judaism is one configuration of thought and action. There are many others. Judaism is the responsibility of the Jew. As such, it makes no claim to being the only source of salvation for the world. Its sole criterion for the worth of one who is not Jewish is whether or not he observes the universally applicable Noahide Code. Such observance, in the Talmudic terminology of approbation, makes the non-Jew worthy of the world-to-come. Some of the rabbis of the Talmud went even further: a moral non-Jew is more worthy in the eyes of God than a sinful high priest. [The Conditions of Jewish Belief, pp. 175-176] 

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