Friday, May 22, 2015

Chapter 60 - SNAFU: Part 6 - With Friends Like These...

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.

Hayakawa’s standoffishness had continued, as had his failure to consult his “Consulting Editors” Korzybski and Kendig, and the increasing lack of rigor in his own writing and in the general content of ETC. Korzybski’s pleasure at seeing his “Veteran’s Re-Adjustment” paper in the summer 1946 issue of ETC., must have quickly deflated when he also saw the five-page “Terms in General Semantics: A Glossary” by Hayakawa and Anatol Rapoport. Among other misstatements from Korzybski’s point of view, the two men continued presenting ‘general semantics’ as a kind of ‘semantics’. Korzybski felt seriously nettled. He later wrote to Hayakawa:

Practically every ‘definition’ misses the main point and trend of my life work. For instance, what is said in the glossary about the use of the term ‘semantic’ in my ‘General Semantics’, i.e, in a new theory of values, is entirely misleading, for reasons explained before. Such initial common errors must lead automatically to further more aggravated misinterpretations,... 
Unfamiliarity with a new discipline might be historically forgivable, but what is unprecedented among serious individuals is that the authors should undertake such misevaluations in my lifetime without ever consulting with me, although they lived then only a few blocks away from the Institute. I saw the glossary only after it had been printed and distributed to the public. Such behavior may seem unbelievable, but it is all there, in print, a public document of misinformations. (33) 

It didn’t help Korzybski that Rapoport had become Assistant Editor. (He would remain in that role—or later “Associate Editor”—for several decades.) Rapoport looked up to Hayakawa as his mentor in ‘semantics’/‘general semantics’ and the two became close friends. He surely qualified as one of the people least likely to help Hayakawa modify his misconceptions about Korzybski. Indeed, Rapoport probably helped amplify and solidify many of Hayakawa’s negative attitudes.

Anatol Rapoport was born in Russia in 1911. His parents, who had consciously rejected their Jewish roots, raised their son as an atheist and socialist. He remained a dedicated leftist all his life. Coming to the U.S. with his family in 1922, he pursued a career in music as a young man, studying piano in a conservatory in Vienna from 1929 to 1934. He toured Europe, the U.S., and Mexico as a concert pianist in the mid-1930s, before realizing the unlikelihood of his success in that career. Disdainful of business as a bourgeois capitalist pursuit, his growing interest in science and mathematics led him to enter academic life. He applied to the University of Chicago and after only a short time as an undergraduate passed a comprehensive exam and entered graduate school to study mathematics in 1938, obtaining a PhD in 1941. (With an interest in applying mathematics to biology and sociology, he would later become well known for his contributions to mathematical game theory.) In 1938, he also joined the Communist Party, U.S.A. Although he resigned from the Party—on orders from its leadership—when he joined the U.S. army in 1941, he continued to admire Joseph Stalin for some time afterward and maintained his loyalty to the Soviet Union as a model of democracy until sometime around mid-1948, when the so-called Lysenko affair, which banned the study of genetics in the Soviet Union, finally burst his Bolshevik bubble.(34)

Rapoport’s deep ambivalence about Korzybski and his work began when he first encountered Science and Sanity in 1943 or 1944 during his wartime army air force service in Alaska. Someone loaned him a copy of the book.
My first impulse was to dismiss Korzybski as a crackpot. [This or similar epithets about Korzybski—often attributed to ‘others’—often came up later in Rapoport’s writings.] I was reading Hegel’s Science of Logic at the same time, and the “non-Aristotelian system” constructed on a “law of non-identity” looked to me like an impertinent and awkward imitation. I could not see how anyone could take Korzybski seriously. But Hayakawa evidently did, as I was told by a Red Cross girl who had read Language in Action and talked the G.S. lingo. I recalled what I had heard about that book, borrowed it from her, and was enchanted.  
My attitude toward Korzybski changed from contempt to anger. If this was what the man meant, why didn’t he say so... Why couldn’t Korzybski write lucid prose like Russell’s or Hayakawa’s?... Why could not Korzybski be at least logically rigorous? If he was not a crackpot (this previous impression of mine was now vigorously shaken), why was he so repetitive, verbose, pugnacious, redundant and self-congratulatory, manifesting all the symptoms of crackpot delusions? (35)

Rapoport never did shake off that impression, although he felt enough of a pull from Hayakawa’s work to inspire him to send in his first article to ETC., which Hayakawa published in 1944. (Korzybski liked the article.) Later that year, his first encounter with Korzybski reinforced his negative attitude even further. While on leave he went to Chicago, where his parents still lived, and visited the Institute while Korzybski was lecturing. He was invited to sit in and found Korzybski’s lecture dull, his demonstrations unimpressive.
...To the extent that the lecture had a topic, it was that “things are not what they seem,” something Longfellow had said in a sentimental poem a century earlier. Bored by the lecture, I scanned the audience and recognized Hayakawa...He was the man I really wanted to meet.... 
After the lecture, I introduced myself and was cheerfully greeted. Hayakawa insisted on introducing me to Korzybski, to whom, he said, he had spoken about me. We went to Korzybski’s study, where he, too, greeted me with disarming warmth. It was embarrassing. I had formed an unflattering opinion about Korzybski’s intellect...Korzybski’s first remark to me made the situation definitive: “You have read Science and many times?”  
I made some noncommittal remarks about rereading certain portions and started halfhearted attempts to engage him in a substantive discussion about his assumptions, lines of reasoning, and conclusions. It was useless...(36) 

As a result of this initial meeting he wrote elsewhere, “I decided to write him off. But I didn’t. The basic idea of what he called “general semantics” stuck with me.”(37) What stuck with Rapoport seems hard to fathom, given his condescending attitude toward Korzybski. However, as Rapoport struggled away from the communism he still embraced in the mid-1940s, ‘general semantics’—at least Hayakawa’s version of it—probably served as a lifeline to a saner viewpoint and to somewhat more moderate views on science and values in human life. He eventually did express a number of useful things in doing so. But, like Bertrand Russell, he seemed most comfortable in the theoretical realm; when it came to practicing a ‘scientific approach’ in his own personal conduct—certainly in relation to Korzybski—Rapoport appeared quite remiss.

For their part, as reflected in correspondence, Korzybski and his colleagues remained unfailingly cordial and often complementary to Rapoport, even when later honestly confronting differences. They liked his early ETC. articles, in 1945 inviting him to lecture on one of them, “The Criterion of Predictability” at the Institute Holiday seminar—which he did. But although Korzybski invited him numerous times to attend a seminar, Rapoport stayed away. He never attended more than a few of Korzybski’s lectures. He spent little personal time with Korzybski or any of the people from the Institute. Yet based on this limited experience, he felt comfortable—after Korzybski’s death—alluding in public print to Korzybski’s ‘demagogic’ personality, his incompetence as a teacher, and the ‘cultism’ of “Korzybski-ites”, an unspecified group of people whose distinguishing mark may have amounted to the fact that they had more respect for Korzybski than he did.

In addition to the barely veiled personal attacks from the early 1950s on, Rapoport until the end of his life consistently pooh-poohed Korzybski’s originality, the scientific status of his system, and its practical value. Korzybski’s individual work with students seemed to him no better than the faith healing of primitive medicine men. He found Korzybski’s terminology irritating. He saw the extensional devices and the structural differential as gimmicks. Of the latter he wrote in 1975, “I have always remained in the dark about the point of this demonstration.”(38) 

Whatever faint praise he gave, it seems clear from private letters that he came to find Korzybski insufferable. In 1956 he wrote to Russell Meyers [who most probably sent the letter to Kendig, since a copy of the letter got into Kendig’s files]:
We [Rapoport and others from the Society for General Semantics]...were able to stem the tide of contempt which kept pressing against g.s. prestige in academic circles. We knew this contempt was rooted in A.K’s buffoonery and in his complete negation in his personal conduct of all the principles he preached. On the other hand, those of us who enjoyed the respect of honest scientific workers were sometimes successful in explaining why AK’s vision was important and just what his peculiar contribution had been. (39)
As a man in his mid-sixties, Rapoport wrote in 1976: “Korzybski’s lasting achievement consisted in pointing out the dangers of [a severely polluted semantic environment] at the time when its toxic effects were just becoming manifest.”(40) In theory, Rapoport seemed to genuinely appreciate this. But for most of his life, he never appears to have questioned the toxic effects of his own public misrepresentations and downgrading of Korzybski and his work. (To Hayakawa’s credit, he appears to have never descended to disparaging Korzybski in public print as Rapoport did.) In his autobiography published in 2000, Rapoport—approaching his nineties—admitted with hardly veiled irony that “I now take perhaps somewhat unjustified exception” to the view in academic circles of Korzybski as a crank.(41) Did it entirely escape him that his own decades-long denigration of Korzybski may have helped to promote that view?

Until the summer of 1946, Rapoport seems to have kept his misgivings about Korzybski to himself. But then, he confessed,
...When the Institute moved to Connecticut, there was no longer any necessity, dictated by decorum, for either Hayakawa or me to maintain personal contact with Korzybski, and we talked about him freely. Our talks were not centered on Korzybski’s baffling excursions into neurophysiology (Hayakawa didn’t give a damn about the colloidal level and things like that). We talked about the man himself...(42) 
“Ahh,” as Korzybski might have put it, “those ‘sweet’,‘sweet’ human relations.”

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. 
33. “Korzybski’s ‘Protest Letter’ to the Editor of ETC”, March 1947. Reprinted in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 820. 

34. See Certainties and Doubts: A Philosophy of Life where Rapoport revealed his admiration of Stalin and devotion to the Soviet Union during the late 1930s and a good part of the 1940s.

35. Rapoport 1976. p. 352. 

36. Ibid., pp. 352–353. 

37. Rapoport 2000, p. 80. 

38. Rapoport 1975, p. 385.

39. Anatol Rapoport to Russell Meyers, 4/18/1956. IGS Archives. 

40. Rapoport 1976, p. 365. 

41. Rapoport 2000, p. 79. 

42. Rapoport 1976, p. 354.

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