Still a cult...

Some wonder how General Semantics can be a cult when some quite respectable persons find value in it and when some educational institutions still teach it, at least in name.

The answer is that General Semantics as a term does not signify a single idea. General Semantics can be a cult, it can be a practical method of verbal expression, and it can be 'common sense,' generally known folk wisdom passed down through the ages.

A philosopher named Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) said the name is not the thing named, and a mathematician named Eric Bell (1883-1960) said the map is not the territory (Korzybski often is given or takes credit for this saying of which he made frequent use). Before that, Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) wrote, "words are but the signs of ideas," and John Locke (1661-1756) wrote, "We should have a great many fewer disputes in the world if only words were taken for what they are, the signs of our ideas only, and not for things themselves." This is the heart of what realism General Semantics has, and there's certainly nothing wrong with this notion that words, ideas and things are not the same. This distinction of words, "experiences in the psyche," and things was noted by Aristotle. Some who link themselves with General Semantics go no further than this, and with this, there is no cult.

Some, perhaps even the majority, use the term General Semantics to refer to the package of language usage developed by S. I. Hayakawa (1906-1992) and popularized in his 1941 classic, Language in Action (later revised as Language in Thought and Action). Hayakawa was inspired by Korzybski and took Korzybski's ideas as his starting point. But Anatol Rapoport (1911-), himself a devotee of this school of General Semantics, pointed to the clear distinction between Korzybski's and Hayakawa's approaches:

It [Hayakawa's book] clarified the basic ideas in Korzybski's magnum opus, Science and Sanity, retaining their full strength but trimming away the author's narcissistic posturing and obscure verbiage. I read Science and Sanity in Alaska in 1943 and at the time dismissed it as pompous nonsense. But soon afterward I stumbled on Hayakawa's miniature masterpiece and changed my mind.

Again, there is nothing inherently unrealistic or cultic about Hayakawa's approach to teaching thinking, speaking and writing.

But then General Semantics as expounded by Korzybski was and still today is cultic. It goes far beyond language usage to incorporate the notion that insanity is due to ordinary logic, and therefore, General Semantics is a system of psychotherapy or even psychiatry. It goes far beyond language usage to incorporate the notion that man is unique among the animals and that man's method of communication is itself a system of ethics, called "time-binding" (a term trademarked by the Institute of General Semantics fifty years after Korzybski's death, in itself a cultic action). It goes far beyond language usage to incorporate political notions that "superior thinkers" (in this case, 'scientists') should be ruling the world based on 'scientific principles' and that public speakers should be licensed to show their qualifications in language usage, Korzybskian-style. Korzybski's political system opposes capitalism (which he sometimes labeled "commercialization") in all forms, calling it "infantile" and destructive to mankind. Such cultism is retained and displayed by those in the ever dwindling 'movement' of General Semantics, the ones who are the unthinking fanatics out to convert and change the whole world.

Lest you think this aspect died out in the 1930s when socialist political systems were popular in America, and when pre-science Freudians tried to cure the mentally ill (those with abnormal brain chemistries) by having them talk about their Oedipus complexes, and when utopian societies were deemed inevitable in the near future, here are some excerpts from a 1999 article which amounts to no more than a religious sermon (available at various locations on the web Link 1 Link 2) written by a Trustee and award-winning Instructor of the Institute of General Semantics:

Some eighty years ago, Alfred Korzybski formulated a theory of values, a general theory of sanity and psycho-therapy ...

This is the cultic medical quackery aspect of General Semantics (and even the hyphen is ritual cultism, a Korzybskian "semantic extensional device" to "improve thinking").

With time-binding we can also improve the efficiency of nuclear devices. We can make more effective land mines; we can become more sophisticated in rationalizing our prejudices and inhumane behaviors; and we can increase the unsane 'thinking' of others as well as ourselves.

This is how mankind can use the General Semantics ethical system in a negative fashion. (The word "thinking" is placed in quotation marks to indicate that it's a suspicious concept.)

"Encourage all members of the U.N. to appreciate themselves as representatives of time-binders. And adopt and promote the time- binding principle as a U.N. guideline for developing better human relationships - globally".

This is an update of Korzybski's dream (and delusion) to have the Institute of General Semantics become part of the League of Nations, advising the governments of the world how to govern, not based so much on science, but rather as based on this cultic mystical ethical system called "time-binding."

General Semantics, in one sense of the word, the sense of Korzybski himself, was a cult from the day it was born and it remains a cult today in 2002. The fact that there coexists Hayakawan General Semantics and some pragmatic common sense General Semantics does not negate the cult and the cultic movement which this website exposes.

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