Saturday, May 30, 2015

Chapter 61 - "I Don't Care A Damn About Those Yahoos...": Part 5 - "I Have Done My Job"

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.

Alfred did worry about Mira, who at the start of 1947 had begun having problems with arthritis again. He and Charlotte—who had begun addressing her letters to Mira “Dear Edgy” instead of “Dear Countess”— stayed in touch mainly by letter and telegram. Pearl Johnecheck Scofield, still in Chicago, would see Mira when she could and also wrote to Alfred. In July, he heard from Pearl, now a mother, that she and her husband and son planned to move to Tucson, Arizona at the end of the year (largely because of Pearl’s health). Devoted to Mira, Pearl wanted to take her with them since Mira seemed to her rather isolated, unhappy, and now unsafe on her own. The weather in Arizona might also ameliorate her arthritis problems. They would need money from Alfred to build a small cottage for her near the house on the ranch property to which they planned to move. Alfred didn’t consider this a good move for Mira for a number of reasons, not least of which the cost—around $7000—more than they could afford. Mira seemed eager to go. He told her to hold off on making any decision about moving until he came to Chicago, which he planned to do after the August seminar (he ended up coming with Charlotte in November). When Pearl did move, Mira didn’t. 

Later in the year, he and Charlotte contacted Evelyn Garlick, who had done secretarial work for them at the Institute in Chicago. They asked Evelyn and her husband to keep tabs on Mira. In addition, the janitor of Mira’s building and his wife helped her with shopping and checked up on her frequently. And she was getting taken care of by some new doctors at Billings Hospital, who seemed to be doing a conscientious job. Regarding her problems, Mira seemed as stoic as Alfred did about his. She kept busy, reading a great deal and sending him books, newspaper articles, cartoons, etc., that she thought he might find useful. She also provided a sympathetic ear to him, as one of the few people in the world to whom he could vent his feelings. He wrote to her in August, expressing what was not an isolated sentiment:
...I know you ‘love’ mankind and this can not be helped. Personally I don’t care a damn about those yahoos and in many ways I am sick of them. Do not forget I am a world war veteran and the originator of my work. I have done my job, let others carry on if they want to. In my two books I gave all the credit to you, and privately, between you and me, I did my work and carried on uniquely because I want you independent and being taken care of. (25)

About his own health, he let Mira know that he felt in not-too-bad condition. He did have his aches and pains, his muscle cramps, his g...d... hernia, his heart ‘misbehaving’ if he exerted himself too much, his various cold ‘bugs’ when he got run down from fatigue. Still, he considered himself healthy enough, with some possibility for creative work left, if he didn’t have to squander his time struggling to keep the Institute afloat. Mira sent him encouraging notes—whatever value his work had for advancing civilization (and she believed it had considerable value), the eventual ‘manhood of humanity’ didn’t seem likely until long after her and Alfred’s coagulations. Alfred agreed with her. He seemed quite aware of his own mortality. He noted to Ken Keyes in early July, “People die like hell at my age” [and younger and older acquaintances and friends too].(26)  The deaths of Kurt Lewin and Cassius Keyser may have served as additional reminders that he needed to get on with his work while he still could.

Lewin had unexpectedly coagulated on February 12, at the age of 56. Alfred read about it in The New York Times and considered it, “a real loss, as he was very creative.”(27) The two met in person at least once and carried on a cordial correspondence over several years. While writing Science and Sanity, Korzybski had despaired about the scientific state of ‘psychology’. When Lewin’s Principles of Topological Psychology came out in 1936, Korzybski began recommending it to his students, seeing it—whatever its faults—as a pioneering non-aristotelian effort. By 1947, Lewin’s ongoing research served as one of the main factors convincing Korzybski that an adequate science of human behavior had indeed begun to develop.

Perhaps Lewin in turn had begun to see the relevance of GS to social psychology. He had used an illustration from Science and Sanity in one of his papers (28), had responded to Korzybski’s request for examples of over/under-defined terms for the “Introduction to the Second Edition” of S&S, and had agreed to serve on the organizing committee of the 1941 GS Congress in Denver. Lewin probably learned more about Korzybski and his work while at the University of Iowa, where he carpooled with Wendell Johnson. Lately, as Director of MIT’s new Research Center for Group Dynamics, Lewin had been involved with the Office of Naval Research and just a few days before his death sat beside Korzybski’s student who worked there, Navy Captain Karl F. Poehlmann, at a meeting of the Navy Advisory Panel on Human Relations.

Whatever lost possibilities Lewin’s death represented, Korzybski and others at the Institute would retain a deep interest in his work. In the next few years, Kendig would attend workshops at the National Training Laboratory (NTL) set up by some of Lewin’s students in Bethel, Maine and would introduce the NTL “T-Group” method of group discussion at the Institute seminar-workshops. When the first posthumous selection of Lewin’s papers, Resolving Social Conflicts, came out in 1948, Korzybski grabbed it up, studied it carefully, and made notes for a review in which he planned to deal with an important topic of the book, a topic he had long wanted to write about—Jews and antisemitism. Korzybski never managed to get the review in shape to publish, but he did put the Lewin volume on a short list of books he recommended and that the Institute sold.

On May 8, another death occurred with undoubtedly much greater significance for Alfred. His friend and mentor, the ‘dear dear old man’ Cassius Keyser died just a week short of his 85th birthday. Over the last few years, the two had only occasional contact by mail and had last seen each other at one of Alfred’s lectures for Scripta Mathematica. Elton Carter, a student of Irving Lee and of Korzybski (at the 1949 summer seminar-workshop), wrote his 1950 doctoral dissertation on Keyser, and many subsequent articles relating Keyser’s work to that of Korzybski. In one such article, Carter noted the “fundamental similarities...between Keyser’s and Korzybski’s Gedankenwelts”(‘thought’ worlds) (29) and their common concern for the humanistic aspects of science and mathematics in the pursuit of human excellence, which Korzybski had devoted himself to turning into a practical methodology for living. Of all the mathematicians/scientists whom Korzybski personally knew, Keyser more than any other served as his best friend, greatest influence, most enthusiastic supporter, and ablest critic. As a tribute to his friend, in the upcoming Second Edition of Manhood of Humanity, Korzybski planned to add Keyser’s Chapter XX on time-binding from Mathematical Philosophy to the book’s appended material and to express more explicitly than he had before his indebtedness to Keyser for the mathematician’s help in the book’s editing.(30)

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. 
25. AK to MEK, 8/15/1947. AK Archives, Box 22, Folder 1. 

26. Korzybski 1947, “AK Biographical Material”, p. 496.

27. AK to Karl F. Poehlmann, 2/17/1947. IGS Archives. 

28. Lewin, “Regression, Retrogression, and Development” , in Field Theory in Social Science, p. 89. 

29. Carter, “Keyser’s Gedankenwelt And General Semantics”, in General Semantics Bulletin 38, p. 137. 

30. Korzybski 1947, “AK Biographical Material”, p. 222.

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