Monday, September 22, 2014

Chapter 20 - Manhood of Humanity: Part 5 - Kudos and Criticisms

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.

Even though he felt grateful for the newspaper coverage, Alfred seemed inclined to raise his eyebrows at the purple prose of screaming headlines. But he hardly had a right to grumble about the exaggerations of headline writers. Both he and some of his friends sounded at times as if the discovery of time-binding signaled the imminent coming of the messianic age. Reading some of his letters of this period does give a sense of overreaching. For example, did Alfred actually discover and formulate a “natural law, of equal if not more importance than the law of gravitation” as he wrote to more than one friend.(18) Did the theory of time-binding indeed provide the first scientific understanding of wealth? (19)  

Keyser had warned him about this sort of over-the-top enthusiasm which could sometimes burst through in his speech and writing. Keyser considered Korzybski’s work and approach of such value, it didn’t need to be goosed with exaggerated-sounding claims which might put off potentially sympathetic members of his audience. But especially in this early period of his formulating, Alfred seemed to have a particularly strong urge to help—or even to save—mankind. Sometimes this urgency—this impatience to do away with what he saw as preventable ignorance about the nature of Man—created an obstacle in the form of rhetorical excess. On the other hand, would Korzybski have gotten as far as he had or continue to develop his work further, if he hadn’t considered his definition of Man of such great importance? Would he have gotten so far in stimulating the interest and enthusiasm of others? Readers’ enthusiasm seems apparent not only from some of the published reviews but also from unsolicited letters Korzybski received from many individuals over the next few years when the book was still much in the public eye.

Though Korzybski may have succumbed to hyperbole at times, he remained open to criticism. This continued throughout his career. He had every intention of getting the things he was formulating as right as he could get them. He had sought criticism when he first approached authorities in the fields Manhood touched upon to review his manuscript (people like Moore, Keyser, Polakov, Wolf, and Loeb, amongst others). He also asked for honest commentary, critical or otherwise, from his friends and they often gave it to him. Not all their comments were laudatory. He subscribed to a clipping service—which gathered positive, negative, and in-between reviews and book notices from around the country. And a few individual readers also sent their unsolicited critical comments and reviews. Although positive reviews pleased him, he wanted people’s honest opinions.

Some criticisms, he found, missed his intended points, either partially or entirely. If he could account for this by some failure of expression or lack of clarity on his part, he tried to correct it when he could. On the other hand, some of the people who missed the point seemed determined to misinterpret him or to go out of their way to nit-pick. Depending on the person or situation, he would often make an effort to communicate further to get his point across before giving up. A second broad category of individuals had legitimate questions, suggestions, factual corrections, or logical points. He saved every review and letter and appeared to try to learn from them all. He gave every personal comment or letter the utmost attention.

The protestation of Mrs. E.B. Darling, a lady from Berkeley whom he had met, provides a small example. An animal-lover, Mrs. Darling had been deeply interested in Alfred’s explanations of time-binding and wanted a copy of the book. However, Korzybski’s distinction between humans and animals seemed to imply to her the possible denigration of animals; she had serious misgivings. Korzybski wrote:
Dear Mrs. Darling:
I am sending under separate cover a copy of my book “Manhood of Humanity”. I do not wish to hurt your feelings, kind feelings toward animals, as a soldier and farmer I know animals and love them. In my book I use sometimes an expression “beast”, but this expression does not apply to animal, animals are just dear animals, “beast” is applied only and exclusively to man-animals which because man is not an animal when he wants to be an animal he becomes a “beast” in every respect LOWER than an animal. With this in mind I hope you will like the book.
Very sincerely yours. (20)

His definition of humanity and his exponential law did present problems. Humanity was defined in terms of its capacity to make progress. But how was progress to be exactly defined in order to be observed and measured?

Nonetheless, whatever its flaws, he continued to affirm the significance of what he had done. His law or formula did indicate an exponential, accumulative potential in humans, the existence of which he affirmed throughout his life. Others before him may have observed and commented on the phenomenon but as far as he knew, no one before him had isolated and labeled it in functional, actional, comparative terms—as he had done—and affirmed it as the necessary starting point for a deductive science of Man. For Alfred, who held the model of the exact (or mathematical) sciences as an ideal, such a science of Man should aspire to be as postulational as possible, i.e., based on initial definitions and premises comprising a theory to be elaborated deductively, tested, and revised.

To Keyser and others, Alfred could certainly admit some frustration about the limits of his own formulating. Even within the book, he had noted some of its limitations. The book “aimed to be only a sketch [p. 204]. ...Many topics have not even been broached [p. 208].” While writing the book, he had felt more directly interested in social and economic issues and reform. Now he no longer wanted to elaborate upon the implications/applications of time-binding for economics, politics, etc. Rather, he wanted to understand the mechanism of time-binding—how it worked. Manhood provided a start, but he still hadn’t gotten to the core of what he wanted to understand.

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. 
18. AK to William J. Fielding, 4/24/1921. AKDA 11.548-550; AK to Basil Manly, 6/13/1921. AKDA 11.369. 

19. AK to William J. Fielding, 6/12/1921. AKDA 11.387. 

20. AK to Mrs. E.B. Darling, 7/13/1921. AKDA 11.226.

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