Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Maybe Our Times Were the Best Times

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Maybe Our Times Were the Best Times

Article excerpt

Note from the author

Sometime in the year 1930 the scholarly, boyish looking president of a young book-publishing company found on his desk for submission the better part of an unedited manuscript to be titled Science and Sanity. In his words he "struggled through the onionskin pages of carbon copy" becoming more and more excited by what he read. As it turned out the material did not suit this highly literary house, but it sparked a close friendship between Joseph Brewer and Alfred Korzybski.

Five years later Joseph Brewer became the president of Olivet College, a tiny liberal arts college in central Michigan. Brewer's ten-year tenure as president introduced a remarkably innovative concept of education based on the Oxford Tutorial System. He staffed his faculty with exceptionally dedicated and visionary men and women who believed with him that a college should graduate individuals who have learned "to live in fellowship with the wisdom of the world." To enhance that goal he used his wide range of contacts to keep the campus full of visiting authors, poets, and artists who mingled with and inspired the students.

More than once Korzybski was invited to be one of these guests. Then in 1937 Korzybski offered a fourteen lecture seminar on the campus attended by over 100 of the barely 300 students and faculty of the college. Fortunately a transcription of that seminar is available today through the Institute of General Semantics.

In the fall of 1939, I enrolled as a freshman at Olivet College thus missing that remarkable seminar by two years. However many of those who had experienced it, both students and faculty, were still there and general semantics, though not referred to by that name (when we said "Semantics" we assumed Korzybski.) had become an essential ingredient of the philosophy of education on that campus.

I carried awareness of and respect for Korzybski's work and later that of S. I. Hayakawa and tended to gravitate towards what I would describe as critical thinkers, but I never consciously focused on a study of general semantics. I never tackled the daunting tome Science and Sanity itself. I constantly wondered, though, at the pervasiveness of uncritical thought that often seemed more like non-thought. I gave Olivet College great credit for influencing my way of experiencing life. But it was only in this past year that my "AHA!" moment came with the discovery in the pages on the IGS website that the seeds sown by A. Korzybski on the campus of a small Midwestern college were the foundation of my approach to human existence.

I share this here because it seems to me we agree that the world desperately needs a dissemination of the principles of general semantics. And it seems clear also that the vast majority of people are never going to pursue serious study of the subject. The vast majority of the human race never pursued Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Gallileo, Newton or the many other break-through thinkers of human history. And yet all those ideas filtered into acceptance and the daily practice of civilizations and societies.

It seems evident that Korzybski himself was acutely aware that the academic world was the place for his work. Teaching teachers who teach teachers is how we promote the flow of important ideas. In October of 1941 the editor of Household Magazine, Nelson Antrim Crawford, looked at Olivet College and wrote the following:

  "This is not a program for everyone. It presupposes ability, though
  nothing resembling genius. What it contemplates even more is a desire
  for real education--a wish to understand the world and be useful in
  it. Young people with such ambitions get neglected in standardized
  school systems, from kindergarten to university. I, for one, am glad
  to see them get a break--and I wish an increasing number of schools
  and colleges would give them a break. I am concerned not only for
  their happiness, but more for the future of our country, which is
  going to need increasingly men and women of truly liberal education. … 
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