Sunday, May 10, 2015

Chapter 59 - A Matter Of Character: Part 4 - Beyond Lip Service

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.

As Korzybski had put it in “A Veteran’s Re-Adjustment,” “Learning must be in deed and not mere lip service, and this is the main difficulty.”(11) David Levine was finding out for himself about philosophising lip service in relation to GS. Born in Boston in 1929, the precocious 16 year old from Norfolk, Virginia, had completed one year of high school before passing a test to enter the University of Chicago as a sophomore in 1945. To make extra money, he got odd jobs waiting tables and washing dishes before starting to work at the Institute as an errand boy for Charlotte. Soon afterwards, Kendig invited him to take Francis Chisholm’s 1945 summer introductory course. He found it an eye-opening experience, particularly the schema of “logical fate” which he applied in his math and philosophy courses with “favorable results.” (He later recalled that the premises-conclusions diagram helped him to get an “A” in his philosophy class—and the philosophy professor found it useful too.) Around this time, he met Korzybski and heard him speak, although the two did not get to know each other until two years later. When David talked to Kendig about further studies, she got him a second-hand copy of Science and Sanity. David took two weeks off from his classes to read the book. He felt “stunned” by the time he finished it and immediately began the first of what would become many re-readings.(12) 

David worked at the Institute in Chicago for only about a year. He wouldn’t have an opportunity to take a seminar with Korzybski until 1948. However, he definitely seemed ‘besotted’ with GS, a condition he described in an article published in 1953:
The organization of a University of Chicago chapter of the Society for General Semantics gave me an opportunity during 1946 and 1947 to verbalize in large quantities about general semantics. Such intense over-verbalization about GS seems to be the ‘standard’ reaction to an introduction to GS. While such verbalization may be ‘standard,’ later I found it empirically to be an extremely unprofitable expenditure of time and energy. My only time-binding comment here is, that if you must run off at the mouth about GS to any chronic degree, then for pity sake relax, preferably with a drink in one hand, and make up your mind you’re not going to accomplish a hell of a lot. I emphasize relax, because if you get too ‘deadly serious’ in your verbal escapades, I find through personal experience you may actually injure yourself as well as others. 
On the campus of U of C a great deal of ‘neurotic’ over-verbalization about GS probably wouldn’t distinguish you from the rest of the denizens, but if a fellow in the ‘outside world’ who has a reasonably responsible position to fill engages in intense verbalization, ‘crusading,’ ‘lecturing,’ etc., it may cost him his job, his family’s peace of mind, etc., and in general could get him the unsavory reputation of ‘crack-pot.’ (13)  
Such crusading might repel potential students, preventing them from taking Korzybski and his work seriously. If they did get interested, over-verbalization would divert them from the necessary personal work involved in the discipline. Admittedly, this very aspect of Korzybski’s teaching, his focus on “the personal adjustment of his students” might bother others. As Allen Walker Read noted years later:
...More and more [Korzybski’s] purpose came to be to have an impact on the society of his time. To accomplish this, the whole person must be involved, with the reactions of the nervous system restructured. For the academic intellectual, this intrusion into his personal life arouses antagonism. Most of us have resistances to assaults on our ways of evaluating. Some people cannot stand it and have left seminars in the middle of them. (14) 
Korzybski had carefully studied the issue. “In every seminar I learn something about the difficulties which my students confront when they try to apply GS to life, which helps me in formulating new approaches, and in fact the discovering of new mechanisms which are perhaps crucial.”(15) A major part of the problem was that mastering extensional methodology required more than reading a book or attending a lecture. Internalization required practice. Many if not most people could benefit from the personal guidance of a teacher—the more individualized the better. This was the main reason he insisted on continuing his work with students in personal interviews.

At this point, looking to the future when he would no longer be around, Korzybski felt more than ever the need to develop a core of qualified people to carry on his work. Such people definitely would need to have an adequate verbal understanding of the non-aristotelian formulations. More importantly, they would need to have adequately internalized the extensional methods of GS. Such individuals would be in a position to apply and teach the work in the way he intended. Over the first part of 1946, he and Kendig developed a new program to do this (as part of the larger IGS development program they had long hoped for). They announced it in the first item on page one of the Summer 1946, IGS Student Newsletter:
DEMAND GROWS FOR APPROVED WORKERS IN GS as indicated by many items in this letter. To designate those whose qualifications and training in General Semantics in their own line of work have been approved by Korzybski, the Trustees are creating the title Associate of the Institute of General Semantics. Teachers, physicians, lecturers and all other workers in any field who wish his approval and official recognition of their competence are invited to qualify for appointment as an ‘Associate.’ In general, they will be expected to take some refresher training in the Non-A discipline and have a conference with Korzybski. Other qualifying procedures will not be subject to standard routine but will vary with Korzybski’s evaluations of the individual’s status in personal mastery of the discipline...(16) 
(Because of continuing limitations of money and personnel over the next few years, this plan never took off.) 

Whether they became Associates or not, additional educational material could provide guideposts for students wishing to develop in the direction of the new man and woman that Korzybski had envisioned. People would find stories of personal experience valuable. He had acquired a large file of autobiographical statements and correspondence from the students who had seen him for interviews. He also had materials from students of his students, like the veteran who had taken Elwood Murray’s class in Denver, upon whom the “Veteran’s Re-adjustment” paper had been based. As an educator and not a psychiatrist nor psychotherapist, he didn’t feel he would get taken seriously by writing standard clinical-sounding case studies. Instead, Alfred would provide some commentary as he had done in the “Veteran’s” paper, but the material would basically consist of students’ self-reports on the struggles, successes, and failures of their ongoing self-reeducation.

Many of the letters he got from students—briefly recounting positive and/or negative results—wouldn’t do. Without knowing more details about the students’ lives, a reader would have trouble understanding what they were talking about. In February, Korzybski had received, about a week apart, two letters from one person; they exactly suited his purpose. A reader wouldn’t need much else than these letters to get a good sense of the process of struggle and internalization that this student—whom he renamed Smith1—depicted.

Korzybski got permission from Smith1 to publish the letters along with Korzybski’s reply to him, wrote a brief commentary to introduce them, and had the document mimeographed. He began to distribute the Smith1 document “Letters on Non-Aristotelian Retraining” to select people as an example of how serious students could benefit from working to apply this ‘new type of thinking’ to themselves. (The Smith1 letters were published in the General Semantics Bulletin in 1951 and republished in Korzybski’s Collected Writings.) Korzybski prepared a second set of letters from another student, renamed Smith2 , later in the year and made plans to prepare a series of such pieces from his personal correspondence with students. But various disruptions and projects that became more pressing made it impossible for Korzybski to devote the necessary time before he died to carry out what he called “The Smithn Series of GS Life-Histories.”(17) 

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. 
11. Korzybski, “A Veteran’s Re-Adjustment and Extensional Methods” in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 547.

12. Personal Interview–David Linwood [Levine] with Bruce Kodish, conducted on May 11, 2005. 

13. Levine, David A. “A Student’s Progress Report on Some Applications of Korzybskian Methodology”. General Semantics Bulletin, 10 & 11, Autumn-Winter 1952-1953, p. 63. 

14. Allen Walker Read 1984, p. 17. 

15. AK to C. B. Congdon, 2/6/1946. IGS Archives. 

16. IGS Student Newsletter, Summer, 1946. AKDA, Scrapbook 4.246.

17. Notes on “The 
Smithn Series of GS Life-Histories”. IGS Archives.

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