Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Institute and the Society: A Self-Reflexive Assessment of Two Organizations, One Discipline

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Institute and the Society: A Self-Reflexive Assessment of Two Organizations, One Discipline

Article excerpt

"Almost from the beginning, confusion arose regarding the two 'official' GS organizations that operated independently out of two separate offices in Chicago. "


THIS YEAR marks three noteworthy anniversaries within the community of general semantics. The fast issue of ETC: A Review of General Semantics, was published by the Society for General Semantics 60 years ago this fall; the Institute of General Semantics was founded 65 years ago; and Alfred Korzybski introduced general semantics in his seminal work, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics, 70 years ago.

As the two organizations now stand on the threshold of radical restructuring for the future of the discipline, this historical perspective is offered as prelude for the changes to come.

The Institute of General Semantics (IGS, "the Institute," 1938) The Institute was established as a not-for-profit corporation in Chicago in 1938. The incorporation certificate listed the names of four Incorporating Trustees: Alfred Korzybski, Cornelius Crane, Douglas Gordon Campbell, M.D., and Charles B. Congdon, M.D., (Campbell and Congdon were both affiliated with the University of Chicago Health Service). Additionally, Marjory [sic] Kendig was listed as an "ex-officio member of the Board." In its original organizational structure, the Institute did not provide for members or memberships. Korzybski served as both Director and President of the Board, Kendig as Education Director and Board Secretary.

The Institute published "A Memorandum" by Alfred Korzybski in 1940 to document the impressive accomplishments of the two-year-old organization. "A Memorandum" lists the names and affiliations of the original thirty-one "Honorary Trustees" and the names of 138 colleges and universities represented by students or professors who had attended seminars at the Institute, it summarizes the "Results of Training in General Semantics and the Mechanisms Involved"; and it reports that 3,000 copies of Science and Sanity had been sold "on direct order without advertising or sales promotion."

The Society for General Semantics (SGS, "the Society," 1942/43)

By 1942, the Institute faced mounting financial difficulties. Several of Korzybski's prominent students, including S. I. Hayakawa, Wendell Johnson, Irving J. Lee, and others primarily in the Chicago area, formed the Society for General Semantics. The Institute published an eight-page "Prospectus" for the new Society in April 1942 that carried the title, etc: The General Semantics Bulletin.

The "Statement and Preamble" to the Prospectus began:

   The hopes and plans of many people interested in general semantics
   are finally being translated into action. The Society for General
   Semantics is now under way. Some may say that this is an importance
   time for an undertaking of this kind. Maybe in some ways that is
   true, but in a deeper sense the wider dissemination of the
   extensional method is more important now than ever. We are aware
   of the uncertainties and difficulties we are facing. That, however,
   is not a sound reason for shrinking from our responsibilities. If
   the formulations of general semantics have value for cultural
   reconstruction--end we believe they have--then the time for
   action is now.

It continues, addressing one of the Society's primary objectives:

   ... To be specific: one of the purposes of this Society is 'to
   secure financial support and wider recognition for the Institute of
   General Semantics.' This financial support will be procured both by
   the collection of dues from the membership and by the encouragement
   of gifts to the Institute.

   ... Through the Society it is hoped that all those deeply interested
   in Korzybski and his work will have an opportunity to formulate and
   carry out  sound program for extending the understanding and use of
   general semantics. … 
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