Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chapter 60 - SNAFU: Part 5 - Leaving Chicago

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.

Korzybski felt glad to be leaving Chicago. At least that’s what he told Ken Keyes a year later. Perhaps some ‘sour grapes’ were involved. Although the Institute building itself seemed just about ‘perfect’, he had come to feel disgusted with the city itself: 

...the whole lot of us was disgusted with Chicago, mis-administration due to politics [Chicago had remained an American stronghold of machine ‘boss’ politics]. We were plain disgusted, and that endless dirt. Did you ever live in Chicago? There [was] a 16th of an inch of black dirt everyday over the furniture. You can imagine that. It was due to soft coal in the manufacturing all around. It was a simply impossible place. Even the water happened to be plain mud. Couldn’t drink that water. It was a perfectly impossible city, so we were in a way glad to move. (23) 

The Institute’s proximity to the University of Chicago, along with whatever connections it had made there, didn’t provide any significant incentive for the Institute to stay in Chicago either. Some students and faculty had shown interest in Korzybski’s work and studied with him. A campus chapter of the Society for General Semantics had gotten organized. But there also remained a fair amount of unfavorable talk on campus about Korzybski, GS, and the Institute. Ed MacNeal, a University of Chicago student at this time, who had attended an Institute seminar, later noted a joke going around: “Do you know the difference between ceramics and semantics? Semantics is crackpottery.”(24) However, perhaps surprisingly to some, Korzybski had corresponded and established cordial relations—at least on the surface—with University President Robert Maynard Hutchins, and the Dean of Humanities, Richard McKeon. Neither man seemed particularly hostile and had given at least a positive nod in his direction.

McKeon, a philosopher and Aristotle scholar, had even given a number of talks in which he dealt with Korzybski’s work. Both Mira (taking extensive notes for Alfred) and Kendig had attended some of those sessions. In a letter to one of Korzybski’s students, Kendig observed:
...During the Fall [1943] Quarter, [McKeon] taught a public course on ‘Semantics and Modern Thought’. I attended some of his lectures and although he misinterpreted parts of S&S, he showed a respectful attitude and it was also evident that he had really seriously studied the book and his misinterpretations were honest mistakes. I had a very pleasant little meeting with him after one of the lectures. I heard favorable comments on me afterwards; also, Count Alfred had written him a very good letter, to which I understand, he reacted favorably. (25) 
Hutchins, an educational reformer and promoter of “the Great Books” program with Mortimer Adler, had made a small but friendly contribution to Korzybski’s “Introduction to the Second Edition 1941”. Korzybski had written to a number of people in 1940, including Hutchins, asking for examples of over/under defined terms in their fields:
...The most extensional answer was given by that brilliant jurist, Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, who sent to me his Convocation Address of June, 1940 with a letter, which he has kindly given me permission to quote, as follows: ‘I am afraid you will feel that all the words I use are examples of the errors you are attacking. Here is my last Convocation Address, with a sample in every line.’ Such a judgement is profoundly justified whenever language is utilized. This address is a splendid piece of work, and it implies the intuitive recognition of the fundamental neuro-linguistic difficulties we are up against. (26) 
Korzybski later wrote to Hutchins, “I repeat that in spite of your official ‘aristotelianism’, which is very unpopular and controversial, you are not an aristotelian in the vulgar sense, but you just protest against the abuse of Aristotle, with which we are in full sympathy.”(27) Maybe. But in spite of polite nods in either direction, there remained considerable distance between the Institute and ‘aristotelians’ (official or not) at the University. Nothing much had developed as a result of Korzybski’s and others’ efforts to connect—nothing that contributed any urgency to staying in Chicago. 

The fact that the Society for General Semantics had its center of activity in Chicago also did not provide a compelling reason for the Institute to stay in the city. Indeed, the Society had become a source of increasing frustration to Korzybski and his co-workers. As an organization, the Society had fallen seriously short in regard to two of the major activities for which it was founded (as set out in its 1942 Charter and By-laws): “to secure financial support” and to secure “wider recognition for the Institute of General Semantics as a center of training, study and research.” Among people who had an interest in GS and made inquiries and/or who wanted to help the Institute, there seemed to exist a great deal of confusion about the distinction between the two organizations. Mail to one often was addressed and got delivered to the other. Some believed that a significant amount of their membership fees to the Society, as publicly announced, was going to support the Institute. They wondered why the Institute was sending out additional fundraising appeals. Korzybski, Kendig, and Charlotte all perceived a lack of communication and cooperation from Society leadership on various issues. They believed both organizations could benefit by working together more. In spite of persistent efforts—including letters, and memos—to try to resolve their issues with the Society and to work together with it, things just seemed to get worse.

The failure to contribute any significant financial support to the Institute seemed mainly a result of the measures originally set out to do so. As specified in its by-laws, the society was to retain only $5 from any membership fee category (basic annual participating membership started at $10). Wendell Johnson, who served as the Society President from mid-1945 to mid-1947, wrote in 1947,
...from April of 1942 to June of 1945, the arrangement had secured only $2258.00 for the Institute, and the Society was in arrears to the extent of $166.75 (paid November 29, 1945). At the same time these payments had involved such a severe drain on Society funds that by 1945 it had become clear that the very continuation of the Society was being seriously endangered. (28) 
Not only continuation but also growth had importance to Johnson and others involved with running the Society. In addition to publishing ETC., the Society had in April 1945 started to publish a free, more-or less monthly newsletter for members entitled Quotesn—each issue would get sequentially numbered. Among other activities, the Society was also organizing lecture series and attempting to bring a number of study groups around the country under its wings as local chapters. To help do all these things, the Society had hired Anne Coleman (the former Anne Cleveland who had worked at the Institute) in 1945 as a full-time Business Manager. Later that year, she needed an assistant. Salaries, office expenses, etc., had stretched the Society’s meager income. If the Society was going to continue to exist—and to grow—something had to change in its arrangement with the IGS.

In February 1945, the Society board had prepared a proposed revision to the by-laws that would change membership categories, fees, and the amount of money given to the Institute.(29) According to its own by-laws, such a revision would require a vote by all Society members, but no vote was taken. Nonetheless around July—soon after Wendell Johnson became President—the Society sent out a new membership invitation brochure. The brochure simply announced the new membership fees as an accomplished fact, including a range of $4 to $9 per year to become a basic Participating Member. One could reasonably expect a larger number of people—paying the reduced $4—to join; according to Society bylaws, it would not have to contribute any of this to the Institute. (Not surprisingly, over the next six months, the society’s membership more than tripled.) (30)  Korzybski undoubtedly saw the brochure.(31) It seems astonishing that anyone on the Society board could expect Korzybski to ignore this ‘little’ change.

At the end of 1945, Korzybski had gotten another surprise from the Society—Wendell Johnson’s Editorial in ETC. as the Society’s new President. Johnson announced plans to encourage the teaching of general semantics in schools and colleges, to organize local chapters, start a ‘Semantic[s] Book Club’, provide financial support for scientific research dealing with ‘semantic’ problems, conduct more lecture series, etc. The several-page editorial notably omitted mentioning either the Institute or Korzybski, whom Johnson had not consulted. So much for securing “wider recognition for the Institute”. Korzybski, who had promoted the Society from its beginning, believed Johnson’s editorial violated the Society’s own By-laws (which had not been changed) and compromised those of the Institute. Furthermore, if the Society was going to carry out its programs without consulting and coordinating with Korzybski and his colleagues, it seemed more likely to pull income and interested people away from the Institute—helping to keep the Institute financially strapped.

If not destitute, the Institute at least qualified as seriously short of money. From July 1945 to May 1946, about 75 percent of the Institute’s earnings still came mostly from participants’ fees from Korzybski’s seminars and consultative interviews—along with publication sales and other services. Only about 25 percent of Institute operating income came from donations. For such a “non-profit pioneering Institution” as the IGS, Kendig wanted that ratio closer to 50-50.(32) Without a serious fundraising campaign, Korzybski would have to continue with the never-ending round of seminars he’d done for so long to keep the Institute going. He would not have the freedom to do the writing he wanted or to focus his teaching on advanced training to develop competent teachers of the methodology and to train leaders in various fields who could apply it.

The Institute had demonstrated it could do serious fundraising on its own. In the summer of 1945, an ‘emergency’ campaign had quickly raised enough money to hire Francis Chisholm for a year to do special educational projects. (Chisholm decided to decline the position and instead joined the English faculty at the State Teachers College–River Falls, Wisconsin, where he spent the rest of his academic career.) Nonetheless, Korzybski and his colleagues had considered it better to work with the Society. In the fundraising letter sent out in 1944 (sent again in 1945), they had purposely promoted membership in the Society as a way to support the Institute—given the Society’s founding mission to do so. In so promoting the Society, the Institute had held back a full-blown fundraising campaign of its own. Johnson’s editorial came as a definite blow.

Perhaps Johnson’s neglect of Korzybski and the Institute resulted from distraction. He had completed the manuscript of a book on ‘the semantics of personal adjustment’ in the fall of 1945. People in Quandaries, to be published by Harper & Brothers, expanded on Johnson’s monograph published a few years before by the Institute. The book included his own development of GS formulations and applications in psychotherapy and speech pathology (stuttering) with material he’d amassed on teaching GS and an appendix on research. Publication had gotten delayed due to post-war paper and labor shortages. Distraction and preoccupation—how else could one account for Johnson writing to Science Press in March to ask them for permission to quote from Science and Sanity? Korzybski finally got the note in May. Having known Korzybski for so long and having had his own monograph published by the Institute, Johnson surely must have known that Science Press was not the publisher and that he actually needed to contact Korzybski directly. A quandary to ponder—no doubt. Korzybski demonstrated no interest in pulling away from Johnson. He had continued to write enthusiastically to others about Johnson’s teaching and research. When Johnson’s book came out later in the year, Korzybski wrote a congratulatory letter to him and had the book placed on the Institute’s list of publications for sale. Korzybski invited him to lecture at the upcoming seminar-workshop. And Johnson was later invited to join the Institute Board of Trustees. Nonetheless Johnson’s detachment seemed indicative of a general attitude among leaders of the Society—an attitude epitomized by Hayakawa, as Editor of ETC. perhaps the group’s most prominent figure.

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. 
23. Korzybski 1947, p. 335. 

24. MacNeal, p. 47. 

25. M. Kendig to Eleanor Parkhurst, 3/3/1944. Ralph Hamilton Papers. 

26. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. lxviii. 

27. AK to Robert Maynard Hutchins, 9/24/1941. IGS Archives. 

28. Wendell Johnson, “Editorial – Report of the Retiring President of the Society for General Semantics”, ETC. Vol. VI, No. 3 (Spring, 1947), p. 232. 

29. “Charter and By-Laws of the Society for General Semantics, Proposed Revision, February 1945”. AKDA 41.561 [IGS Scrapbook]. 

30. Wendell Johnson, “The Society for General Semantics”, ETC., Vol. III, No. 2, p. 140. 

31. “Benefits of Membership in the Society for General Semantics”. AKDA Scrapbook 41.564 

32. Kendig, IGS Student Newsletter, Summer 1946, p. 8. AKDA, IGS Scrapbook 5.42–49.

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