Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

An Interview Withigs President Martin H. Levinson

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

An Interview Withigs President Martin H. Levinson

Article excerpt

How were you introduced to General Semantics?

I was introduced to general semantics in 1979, through an adult education course taught by IGS trustee Harry Maynard titled "How to Improve Your Thinking and Communicating Ability." The course really should have been called "General Semantics 101" because it was basically a GS intro course. Maynard assigned several chapters in Wendell Johnson's book People in Quandaries over the length of the semester but I found Johnson's ideas and writing style so compelling I finished the text in the first month of the term. In the remaining weeks, Johnson's clear and engaging critiques on the usefulness of general semantics to solve problems of everyday living motivated me to read other GS classics, like Language Habits in Human Affairs and Language in Thought and Action. I read Science and Sanity a few years later.

How do you think the Institute of General Semantics has fared under your presidency and what is going on now with the Institute?

I consider it a great and honor and privilege to have been selected to serve as President of the Institute of General Semantics, an organization that has been promoting general semantics since 1938 (we celebrated our diamond jubilee last year). When I first came into the role in 2008, the Institute was on very shaky financial grounds and it looked like we only had a few years to go before the Institute would have to dissolve. I proposed to the board that to stay viable we would need to cut salaried staff and relocate IGS headquarters to a less expensive venue. That recommendation was accepted and I'm pleased to say the Institute of General Semantics is now in excellent financial shape and the future of IGS looks bright.

As president, I am one of fourteen board members that help shape the direction of the Institute. I deem myself a colleague in this endeavor and am extremely gratified to be working with a dedicated and smart group of individuals who have come up with terrific ideas and strategies to move the Institute forward.

To wit, the Institute continues to publish the quarterly journal ETC: A Review of General Semantics (haven't missed an issue in seventy-five years), is publishing a new GS book series, and is distributing books and other educational matter through the IGS bookstore. Institute representatives attend academic conventions as exhibitors and presenters and attend UN/NGO meetings in New York City. The Institute sponsors the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture/Symposium every year, which draws presenters on GS topics from the United States and internationally and features major figures who deliver the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture. The Institute is also active in social media and maintains a state-of-the-art Web site where people can find information about GS and download general semantics materials.

And we are not resting on our laurels. The Institute is constantly exploring new ways to disseminate GS and advance the field such as providing online courses, e-books, and engaging in partnerships with other GS providers. The Institute of General Semantics is committed to help GS continue its run as a relevant and practical system for constructive human time-binding.

Do you think there are aspects of general semantics that should be looked at to move the system forward?

General semantics is largely premised on the scientific method, which is about observation and experimentation. Its formulations are open to revision based on that method. I would like to see more research done on GS to move the field forward.

A number of GS ideas and formulations have been appropriated by various specialties. Albert Ellis, the founder of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), was quite candid in his 1991 AKML talk that REBT is heavily indebted to general semantics ideas. The communication field has also adopted GS notions, frequently without attribution, and incorporated them in different ways. …

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