Thursday, February 19, 2015

Chapter 48 - The Institute Of General Semantics: Part 3 - The Institute of General Semantics

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.

For several days in March, Korzybski lectured to the medical staff at Peoria State Hospital, Peoria, Illinois. His presentation there marked the end of his career as an independent, itinerant teacher. 
Kendig, Dr. Walter Baer, and Korzybski at Peoria State Hospital,
(The Peoria Star, Tuesday, March 22, 1938)
For the next twelve years—until his death on March 1, 1950—he would carry on his work under the auspices of the organization, the Institute of General Semantics (IGS), which he and a few of his closest students were in the process of setting up in Chicago. The state of Illinois incorporated it in May as a non-profit institution for “Linguistic Epistemologic Scientific Research and Education”.

Besides Korzybski, the Director of the Institute (the position he kept until his death), the founding trustees included Campbell, Congdon, Kendig, and Cornelius Crane. Kendig, having moved to Chicago to work with Korzybski, took the role of Executive Secretary and Education Director. Korzybski was named President of the Institute Board of Trustees and Crane, heir to a plumbing-fixtures manufacturing fortune, the Vice-President. Crane had had a number of personal consultations with Korzybski over the last year or two, which had helped him. Enthusiastic about general semantics, he had pledged a total of $50,000 to be paid out to the Institute in semi-annual portions of $10,000 each on the first of July and January of each year until mid-1940. He had indicated he might give additional money after that, but hoped the Institute by then would have begun to generate income on its own from seminars, book sales, and additional fundraising. (Alfred had wanted Crane’s pledge in writing, but Crane never got around to doing so.) Korzybski got Crane’s first check on July 1, 1938. The Institute was ready for business.

Korzybski had signed a personal lease for a little apartment to house the Institute. These quarters, at 1330 East 56th St. on the outskirts of the campus of the University of Chicago, had a large reception room or parlor for lectures, a dining room serving as a library, and two bedrooms for Korzybski’s and Kendig’s offices. Pearl Johnecheck, a young woman with a secretarial background who had studied with Korzybski and helped out at previous Chicago seminars, would serve as his office manager and confidential secretary. Pearl, who planned to become a psychiatrist, attended morning pre-med classes at the University of Chicago, and then worked at the Institute ‘part-time’—in other words from around 1:00 in the afternoon until some indefinite evening hour. She seemed to be one of the few people whom Korzybski could relax around—it doesn’t appear she had any significant ‘emotional’ problems that he ever had to deal with. He could depend on her to keep mum about his personal student files and private correspondence. Pearl, Alfred, and Kendig constituted the initial Institute staff, along with one or more clerical workers.

Pearl Johnecheck,
circa 1940
The humble first home of the Institute seemed a far cry from the headquarters for anything like an “International Non-Aristotelian Society”—Korzybski’s 1933 vision of a center for a world-wide movement of institutions of learning with the aim of reducing misevaluation in science and life. Still, the new Institute provided a partial fulfillment of Korzybski’s earlier dream. With its location in Chicago—a major, centrally located U.S. city and university center—Korzybski would no longer have to travel to teach. He could focus on working with so-called ‘normal’ people rather than institutionalized ones. (He was no longer referring to students as “patients”.) And he wouldn’t have to go it alone. He could develop his work further with the help of others. He looked forward to the fructifying effect of students from different professions coming to the Institute for assistance in applying GS in their fields. He also wanted to write more and to encourage others to write. The Institute would be able to serve as the conduit for further publishing, another old dream going back to the early 1920s when he first envisioned “The Library of Human Engineering”.

1938 certainly seemed like a good time for starting an institute dedicated to educating people about the perils of human evaluating—and what they could do about it. In March, 1938, just prior to the founding of the Institute, Nazi Germany had marched troops into Austria and annexed it. In May, while the Institute was being incorporated, Hitler and Mussolini declared their eternal friendship. Hitler was threatening Czechoslovakia over the Sudentenland, the German-speaking portion of Czechoslovakia bordering Germany. Both the British and French leaderships seemed prepared to appease Hitler in the belief they could thus prevent a wider conflict. Meanwhile in Asia, Imperial Japanese forces carried on with their brutal invasion of China, having recently accomplished that rampage of atrocities and mass murder now known as the “Rape of Nanking”, in China’s then-capital city. An atmosphere of concern, even fear, hung in the air.

On July 6, the Institute sponsored its first Korzybski seminar. (He wrote to Mira that he felt so extremely nervous about doing it—believing so much depended on its success—that on the first night, he untypically soaked his bed clothes with sweat.) (13) The seminar ran for six weeks, until August 17 (although the personal interviews with Korzybski continued afterwards). Thirty-nine students met with Alfred twice weekly in the evenings—convenient since many of them were graduate students at the University of Chicago and/or taught at other institutions. Tuition was twenty dollars.

It seems unlikely that Korzybski—an inveterate newspaper reader—would have missed the following story, which made headlines midway through the seminar. On July 18, Douglas Corrigan had landed his single-seater plane in Ireland after supposedly trying to fly it from New York City to Los Angeles. He claimed that with the cloud cover beneath him and a stuck compass directing him, he had flown east when he thought he was traveling west. With “dumb luck” he ended up in Dublin instead of Los Angeles. Corrigan became a celebrity. His new nickname —‘Wrong Way Corrigan’ also became a favored label for anyone addled by a severe map-territory mismatch. (Suspicions remain that Corrigan—a seasoned airman—had indeed known what he was doing and faked his trans-Atlantic blunder in order to evade punishment from aviation authorities who had refused his initial flight plan to Europe.) This story didn’t just provide a lighthearted sidelight to more serious news. Korzybski was probably not the only person wondering about the ‘Wrong Way Corrigans’ who seemed to be running the governments and institutions of the world.

He felt he was in a position to help those who wanted to do something besides simply lament ‘wrong-way’ evaluation. In his first lecture he told the class, “Fear is ruling the world today. Why that fear? Because we have no rational means to be rational. It practically amounts to a world neurosis. In [general] semantics we will find means with which we can deal with these problems.”(14) On August 1, he was telling this first Institute of General Semantics seminar class:
I wonder if you have ever thought of the extreme dishonesty etc. going on in the world. Can you trust a Mussolini or a Hitler or a Jap? Can we depend on their promises? Can we have dependability; predictability? Do you realize the anti-human, anti-civilized [forces] depending on lies and treachery? You can see how personal issues spread to wider issues. This has spread across the world. Fear is the result, and fear is at the bottom of all neuroses. Is this class here only because of scientific curiosity? No. You want to get at some of these mechanisms. Lack of predictability and dependability is at the bottom of life today. ...(15) 

Dishonesty, lack of predictability and dependability not only characterized the extreme behavior of Hitler, et al., but also of more benign leaders. For example, after the annexation of Austria the situation for European Jews, especially those directly under Nazi rule in Germany and Austria was becoming desperate. While this first IGS Seminar was taking place, an international League of Nations conference called by President Roosevelt, was being held in Evian, France to discuss the fate of German and Austrian Jewish refugees. Delegates from nation after nation bemoaned the fate of the Jews. None of them, including the U.S., made even a tiny opening in their restrictive immigration policies (except for the Dominican Republic). At Evian the map had replaced the territory it was supposed to represent. The words of concern expressed there substituted for the policies actually needed.(16) 

Korzybski felt perpetually peeved by this kind of behavior, again demonstrated a few months later in September by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Deladier. The two leaders went to Munich for a conference with Hitler and Mussolini. There the British and French leaders acceded to Nazi demands to annex the Sudentenland in return for which Hitler promised to cease all further aggression. (Czech government representatives were not invited to participate in the deliberations dividing up their country.) Chamberlain returned to England with a piece of paper in hand, signed by Hitler. He declared to a cheering throng “I believe this is peace for our time.” Korzybski felt sheer disgust. (Several months afterwards, at the end of January 1939, he wrote to his friend R. B. Haseldon, “Since the Armistice I have never been so depressed as because of the latest Deladier-Chamberlain performances.”) (17) Korzybski felt confident that Chamberlain’s policy of appeasing the Nazis through negotiations and concessions wouldn’t work. He definitely expected Hitler to break his promises. Indeed, Nazi Germany soon invaded and annexed the remainder of Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939. Predictability. Korzybski had already predicted a second world war coming.(18) Feeling that the world desperately needed what he had to teach, he knew of nothing else to do but to work harder.

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. 
13. AK to MEK, 7/26/38. MEK Archives, Box 17. 

14. Korzybski, ‘Transcript of July,1938 IGS Summer Seminar’, p. 4. Unpublished. IGS Archives.

15. Ibid., p. 53. 

16. Dwork and Van Pelt. Holocaust: A History, p. 124. 

17. AK to R. B. Haseldon, 1/30/1939. Ralph Hamilton Papers. 

18. Korzybski 1937, pp. 20, 54, 143. 

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