Thursday, February 12, 2015

Chapter 46 - "Shoot All The Mothers!": Part 6 - "Shoot All The Mothers"

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.

The following event probably took place around this time. I heard Dr. Campbell relate the story in person many years afterwards at the 1979 Korzybski Centennial celebration:
...I knew one very well-to-do man who was impressed by Korzybski and GS, and suggested that we meet his mother, who was very wealthy, and that she might endow an institute, which was what I hoped would happen. Korzybski was somewhat difficult to manage in those days, to put it mildly. I didn’t know how he would behave at a North Shore reception that was being given in his honor. However, he agreed to go. We went to this event and he behaved superbly with all the charm of his aristocratic background.  
Well, she started questioning him about the increasing problems of juvenile delinquency and what did he think about it and wasn’t it bad and so forth, and what could we do as a group to combat juvenile delinquency in Chicago? He held himself in control quite well, which was a lot for Korzybski, and it was at this point that I was beginning to get a little anxious as to what might come out. 
He began to talk about the juvenile delinquent being a product of a family situation, with defects in the parenting of the children and particularly the failure of the American mother to do her job properly. He went on and she said, “Yes, but now tell me what would you do to prevent further problems of delinquency?” He said, “I would shoot all the mothers,” [Laughter] So with that --[Laughter]--the party broke up rather quickly and--[Continued Laughter]--and the Institute was not financed by this famous family,...(19) 
No one can know for sure why Korzybski made his ‘little joke’, but I’ll take a stab at an explanation. Korzybski would openly admit that, although he was usually polite, decorum and respectability were not qualities he had much use for. It seems likely to me he said what he said to take the wealthy lady ‘down a notch’. If she and the people at the party couldn’t laugh it off and instead felt offended by his jest, he wouldn’t have wanted their money. Perhaps he had had a little too much to drink as well. In any case, it might have served him better to keep his mouth shut.

Mira found out about what happened, probably from Campbell or from John Lynn, who was in communication with Campbell. She did not take the news lightly. Indeed, combined with the verbal slap Alfred had given her about the material she had sent him (the intent of which she felt he had misunderstood), she became increasingly upset and angry.

Alfred was continuing to write to her, reporting on his work with 46 and others, as if nothing else had happened. By the end of October, Mira had stopped writing regularly to him. She had tired of his scolding and the seemingly endless number of letters about his ‘sick’ students. He had put off returning to Cambridge for months. She was waiting for him to show some concern in something besides his work, i.e., in her and their home life. She also hoped he would recognize that he had some responsibility for problems regarding both his work and their relationship. She was communicating with Campbell, Lynn and others in an attempt to explain her concerns and to give some justification for the earlier material she had sent to them. But her attempts to explain her actions to Alfred’s friends and colleagues simply backfired. Alfred went to Campbell, who made things worse by sharing some of the material Mira had sent—including the July letter to Lynn containing Mira’s worries about Alfred’s drinking. Alfred became furious and angrily wrote to Mira accusing her of broadcasting their private lives and “killing” his work. Mira in turn wrote an angry missive entitled “All Mothers Should Be Shot” excoriating Alfred for his shooting of “silly-slogans that don’t fit and have torn M.E. psycho-logically as successfully as explosive bullets could physically.”(20) As Mira would say, they had gotten themselves into a very vicious circle.

While Congdon seems to have kept himself out of the fray, Campbell had gotten himself into the unenviable position of mediating between Alfred and Mira and in that role had made more of a mess of things. Meanwhile Lynn, still a psychiatric resident and—as Mira had concluded—rather naive, was making the bad situation even worse by hatching serious doubts about both Mira’s and Alfred’s sanity and sharing his suspicions with Campbell and Congdon. Lynn, who earlier had so confidently sent a telegram to Alfred announcing Mira’s ‘cancer’, didn’t seem to question the soundness of these psychiatric ‘diagnoses’ either.

In early December Alfred finally returned to Cambridge. Mira was not at home. She had checked into a hotel (probably boarding the monkey with the veterinarian who had previously taken care of it). Initially, Alfred didn’t know where she had gone. His only contact with her was through Dr. Lynn with whom she was checking in by phone every day. It took some cajoling on Alfred’s part to break the impasse with her, which he finally managed to do. As far as he was concerned, Mira had had a ‘breakdown’, which he attributed to Dr. Lynn’s influence. To Alfred, the psychiatrist seemed to be showing signs of serious disturbance himself. Lynn was apparently presenting his concerns about Korzybski’s sanity to others at McLean Hospital and around Boston. Alfred’s reputation in the Boston area seems to have sustained serious damage.

Within a month, the storm had passed. He and Mira were seeing each other and talking and had managed to patch up their relationship. Clearly, Mira had come to feel peripheral to Alfred’s work—not an inaccurate assessment. But underlying all that, her undying devotion remained. The extremity of her upset seemed partly due to that devotion and her assessment that Alfred was not living up to his own teachings. Although she realized she had made some serious mistakes as well, his stubborn resistance to seeing her point of view bothered her immensely. “Donk”, for Donkey (rhyming with Mira’s “Monk”)—the nickname they both used for him in letters—seemed at times a quite fitting name for Alfred. 
(small cast-metal desk statue of donkey)
Gift from Mira Edgerly Korzybska 
to Alfred Korzybski 
By this time, Mira had concluded that her efforts to be helpful had made a mess of things and she didn’t want to have anything more to do with the ‘semantic family’ or to be involved in Alfred’s work. She decided it would do her good to take a long trip to South America to travel and paint and get some distance to sort out their relationship. She brought Kik to the Polakovs who had agreed to keep the dear monkey (Alfred was just too busy to care for the high-maintenance pet by himself). By the end of January, Mira was on a ship on her way to Argentina. She would spend most of 1937 and 1938 there, especially in Buenos Aires, and would travel to Brazil (Rio de Janeiro) and Trinidad as well, before getting back to the United States at the end of 1938.

What happened to Dr. Lynn? Indications from Alfred’s letters to him, and to Campbell and Mira, suggest that by the spring of 1937 he was struggling with some serious adjustment problems of his own. He left McLean Hospital around that time. By the fall, he had apparently improved enough to get married. Korzybski got a wedding invitation in August. He was in contact with Lynn over the next year but in March 1938 still felt uncertain enough about the psychiatrist’s stability to ask him “...not to do further harm to me..., as you did before by propagating sick attitudes toward my work,...”(21) Lynn didn’t seem to take offense at Alfred’s scolding. Letters he wrote to Alfred later that year, show an unreservedly friendly tone. Alfred’s letters also appear congenial. They seem to have dated their problems. By 1940, Lynn was in New York doing research at a neurological institute and training in psychoanalysis. He continued with an occasional friendly letter to Korzybski for at least a couple more years. However, his great involvement with and ambitious plans for GS had gone kaput.

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. 
19. “Douglas Gordon Campbell, MD: An Interview with Helen Hafner, Mary Morain and David Waggoner, MD”. General Semantics Bulletin 47: 65-66. 

20. “All Mothers Should Be Shot”. IGS Archives. 

21. AK to John G. Lynn, 3/3/1938. IGS Archives.

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