Academic journal article et Cetera

Changing "Human Nature"

Academic journal article et Cetera

Changing "Human Nature"

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

I DON'T KNOW WHETHER you folks experienced this -- how could I? -- but when I grew up in Smalltown, U.S.A., I heard bore after bore saying to one another, "Well, you just can't change human nature." Shaking of heads, in wonderment, out of respect for the presence of one of the eternal verities: "Yup. Thas ri'." They offered this observation as a blazing insight, as an explanation for various distressing happenings, as a semi-sanctimonious explanation for conflicts with the local mores or laws, etc.

Then along came that old tease, Alfred Korzybski, who said, "We need not blind ourselves with the old dogma that 'human nature cannot be changed,' for we find that it can be changed. We must begin to realize our potentialities as humans, then we may approach the future with some hope. We may feel with Galileo, as he stamped his foot on the ground after recanting the Copernican theory before the Holy Inquisition, 'Eppur si muove!' The evolution of our human development may be retarded, but it cannot be stoped." (1; p. xxiii) He repeated that assertion in almost the same words in the conclusion to "What I Believe," reprinted in reference (2; p. 1xiii). In the latter version, however, he added a proviso after his first sentence: "[if we know how]."

2. A Centenary Celebration

A friend and advisor of mine in the Department of Philosophy at the Universidad de Costa Rica, Dr. Luis Camacho Naranjo, invited me to give an address before the (quite small) Philosophical Society of that university in the fall of 1979, which I did. (3) We had just passed the exact date of Korzybski's centenary (on July 3), but I took this occasion for my modest contribution to the celebration of that event. In addition to the usual recitation of the biographical details of his extraordinary life, plus optimistic aspects of past and potential developments of general semantics and the various organizations that support the field, I tried to offer something a little novel.

Despite the obvious importance of the matter of "human nature," changing "human nature," and how to change it... Korzybski had not collected his views on these issues into one convenient place. So I tried to do so, and to include the fruits of this search in my presentation. The steps involved: (1) Write the material in English; (2) Translate to Spanish; (3)Have typed by bi-lingual secretary who unfortunately knew more English than Spanish, from a philological point of view; (4) Edit, removing obvious goofs; (5) Have re-typed. I felt reasonably proud of the final version.

When the evening came (why did I get myself into this?), I read from the manuscript, always a thrilling way to present material. Probably in places the intonation contours conveyed a less-than-complete understanding of some nuances by the reader. At the end, inviting questions, only one professor wanted more information: "What relevance did Korzybski's thought have for the class struggle?" A spirited discussion ensued, at the completion of which we all felt that the others needed some serious counseling, and, as we say in Texas, nobody should try to operate any heavy machinery. Some days later I forwarded a copy of the address to Dr. Allen Walker Read, who eventually replied that he did not read Spanish.

I have continued to feel that Korzybski's views on the matter of changing "human nature" have some importance; I want to share them with you.

3. How to Do It

I assume that we do not need to belabor the point as to whether we should at least try to change what we generally regard as "human nature." At this point please allow me to invite attention to the quotes that encase the terms "human" and "nature " This amounts to a serious issue: the quotes say, "Watch out! These words belong to the group of high order abstractions that may stimulate very different semantic processes in different people" (due to their multiordinality (1; p. 14)). The material given below includes the results of continuing to reflect on these issues, and hence goes rather beyond that given in reference (3). …

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