Saturday, January 5, 2013

The State of Organized GS-2013: A Blunt Assessment

On January 10, I'll be flying to India, where I will stay for almost four weeks, to teach introductory and advanced seminar-workshops and give other presentations on "Radical General-Semantics" on behalf of the Balavant K. Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences, located in Vadodara, Gujarat in Western India. 

Many, if not most, people now interested in Korzybski's work don't know that organizational GS has begun to thrive in India over the last decade, while the original GS organizations in the U.S. have concurrently gone into sharp decline. I need to go into a little recent history to make that point clearer. This will put the amazing growth of GS in India in a fuller context. 

By the first decade of the 21st Century, the San Francisco Bay-Area International Society for General Semantics (ISGS), one of the two main GS organizations, could no longer sustain continued existence. It was absorbed into the Institute of General Semantics (IGS) in 2003-2004. Within a few years the IGS—after the promising opening of a dedicated teaching and archival center in Fort Worth, Texas—became ridden with contention-filled internal disputes among its board of trustees, and between some board members and the then Executive Director, Steve Stockdale.  Mr. Stockdale eventually resigned under difficult circumstances at the end of 2007. In 2009, the board of trustees of the by-then hobbled IGS, sold the Fort Worth center, "Read House" and moved to a rented office about a mile away, until relocating to the New York City area in 2010, where the office now appears to be a post office box in Queens. 

Most of the archival material so carefully preserved for years, then brought together at Read House by Mr. Stockdale and used by me in researching Korzybski: A Biography, was destroyed in the move and the small amount of remaining material is now orphaned—scattered among a few individuals, including myself, who managed to scavenge it before it got dumped as well. Most of the members of the IGS Board and its then Executive Director, Dr. Lance Strate knew nothing of the trashing of the archives by the few board members responsible. Both he and a few other members of the board were informed of the travesty by me after I found out.  

I want to emphasize here that I have the highest esteem for Dr. Strate, a man of great integrity and a friend, who later resigned his position. Dr. Corey Anton, another friend and man of integrity, remains on the IGS board, and has produced with Dr. Strate, the recent excellent volume Korzybski And..., published by the IGS. This and other activities of those two men represents a high point in the generally dismal recent history of the Institute. So things don't seem entirely doom and gloom for the Institute—just mainly. 

Presently, the severely downsized IGS—despite the presence of some good people on its board—suffers from a significant case of organizational amnesia, a loss of connection to the 'spirit' of Korzybski's work, and a subsequent loss of vitality, passion, and fruitful action. And honesty. As a result, the Institute of General Semantics (2012) no longer qualifies, as it did for just over 50 years after Korzybski's death, as the world center of korzybskian tradition, scholarship, and training. A painful admission for me. I openly addressed some of these issues, although in more general terms, in my 2011 presentation at the IGS Annual Conference in New York City). 

I have worked behind the scenes for a number of years to attempt to get redress for some of the mistakes that the IGS Board of Trustees bears responsibility for, sorely hoping not to have to make public the Institute's 'dirty laundry'. But I have finally come to the conclusion that the Institute of General Semantics' ongoing problems cannot be addressed and its healthy survival ensured until the painful history of past mistakes is faced and openly acknowledged by those involved. I guess that most of the present Board of Trustees don't know anything of what transpired. Those who do know something don't seem to have enough power yet to deal with those few colleagues directly responsible for the archives disaster. Given my long and public history with the organization, people from around the world interested in the korzybskian non-aristotelian outlook have contacted me—especially since the publication of Korzybski: A Biography—wanting to learn more and get involved with the Institute. It is difficult to refrain from telling them that mainly 'there is no there, there' at the IGS anymore. I do tell people who ask and wonder what's going on at the Institute, not to expect too much. 

The korzybskian stream still flowed strongly at the IGS for most of the years that my wife and I worked there in many capacities, however difficult the financial and organizational challenges that we faced at the time. But however much money the IGS has now, mainly from bequests, the korzybskian stream there has pretty much dried up. Unless mistakes are acknowledged, the lost links with the Institute's history and tradition restored, and present-day organizational challenges addressed openly and with action; I'm afraid that the Institute will slowly fade away. In its present condition, it seems to me more than anything else an impediment to carrying on Korzybski's legacy in the 'information age'. 

This little bit of painful history puts in clearer context the growth of Korzybski's work in India, where the Parekh Centre founded in 2009 by philanthropic industrialist Mr. B. K. Parekh, head of Pidilite Industries, has been thriving. Under the steadfast leadership of Professor Prafulla Kar and his staff and associates, the Parekh Centre has indeed become the most active and engaged independent GS organization on the planet with a dedicated building; a regular newsletter; a new journal, Anekant; and a vital and varied educational program offering a large number of courses and trainings all over India. The 'spirit' of doing and a desire to connect to the korzybskian tradition seems quite apparent there. Interest in GS is growing throughout the subcontinent nation. Thus the Parekh Centre's invitation to me, as perhaps the most prominent of the small number of living korzybskian-GS scholar-practitioners. (Accurate; though it sounds pretentious, even to me. It hasn't gone to my head; a fish can't get very big in a very, very small pond.)

So Korzbyski's work has really taken off in India. I'm looking forward to my trip there and want to give the Indians a giant  korzybskian boost; they've already given a huge boost to me. People interested in Korzybski's work in India and elsewhere, including the United States, should no longer look to the present Institute of General Semantics as a significant center of the discipline. Maybe this can change, but under its present leadership and board of trustees, the Institute of General Semantics has lost its direction. Right now, it's time to look to India, for the future of Korzybski's work.*

*There is also a lively, very active group in Australia, which I would be remiss in not at least acknowledging here. More on them later.