Australian Society of General Semantics Inc.
A Brief Letter from the President: January 2007
"It's time" again - Time for enjoying our holidays, time for reviewing the year past, time for ambitious New Year resolutions, time for considering prospects for the year(s) ahead!
Thank you, AGS members, for your expression of confidence in electing me as the second AGS President. The role of "Successor to the Founding President" is one that I adopt with a sense of profound inadequacy - Think what became of those who tried to take over as successors to Alfred Korzybski Anyway, I'll do my humble best.
Thank you, Laurie, for your leadership in working with GS over so many years, often somewhat alone, and then in sharing with others. I am profoundly grateful for your role as a mentor and teacher of the value of living with passionate purpose. It is my pleasure and privilege to take "the AGS helm" for a while, remaining alert to your ongoing counsel and leadership. I trust that our efforts in bringing the Society into a incorporated legal framework and formalising the record of our objectives, membership and activities, will bear fruits as a time-binding investment.
Thank you to the loyal office-holders, for your work to-date in incorporating the Society, keeping statutory records, collecting (and spending) money, maintaining the library, hosting and presenting activities. Thank you also for those volunteering to do it again for the coming year!
We've had another very steady year, with the loyal core of members obviously finding some personal benefit in our various activities. Members have participated enthusiastically, developed warm friendships, and built on their knowledge and application of GS.
Professor Isabel Caro at the University of Valencia, Spain, has been appointed as the first Honorary Member of AGS. It is proposed that Honorary Members be appointed in recognition of a strong personal relationship with AGS, in cases where they are not in a position to take part in the proceedings A few additional Honorary Memberships have been proposed.
We have had a few prospective new members at AGS activities; however none have stayed-on in the last year. We have real difficulties in recruitment, as traditional promotional means such as newspaper or other advertisements have been very ineffective. Apart from people finding "Science and Sanity" in libraries, by far the most effective introduction to GS has been by personal recommendation. Let's all rehearse our response to that most feared question "What is GS?" (Is it like asking a Christian "What is God?")
This year we hope to do better, with Laurie's "Coffee Club" and an improved AGS web site. Use of posters and other means to promote further AGS activities beyond Sefton in Sydney will be considered as resources permit. Some "special projects", yet to be actualised, may prove to be an effective outreach.
Our Group Activities
Last year, as for several recent years, a small but steadfast subgroup of our members has gathered in Sefton on Tuesday nights for study and reflection.
The monthly one-day seminar series covered wide-ranging topics including ...
Applications of general-semantics
Seeking "Unmediated Truth" - "Fiction" in the Pursuit of "Fact" ?
Relationships between Fact & Theory
Mythology - Mapping "Fact" or "Fiction"?
General-semantics and human relationships
Korzybski, Jung and the Buddha - A Conversation over Lunch
The Effect of Language on the Nervous System
Procrastination and some ways to reduce it.
Christmas get together – Movie, discussion over dinner.
Presenters utilised a variety of techniques to maximise interest and retention. One of the familiar challenges is to meaningfully include newcomers, as well as "moving ahead" with new material for old members (Oops - members of long-standing).
Sadly, GS literature is characteristed by what newcomers might label as "jargon", with special words and uses of familiar words in a new context. Many of the recent writers in GS have made an effort to communicate effectively in "everyday language", but we struggle to "maintain rigour and purity" while attempting to make sense to the "uninitiated".
Not all of our meetings are dedicated to processes of intellectual rigour. The beginnings and endings of get-togethers are a time for sharing experiences and plans at a personal level, since many of us have a long-standing association, but do not see each other between GS meetings.
This is not an elementalistic division between "business and personal" matters, since much of the "GS study time" utilises case-studies drawn from our own lives and consideration of how to use GS on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, what would be the purpose of the discipline if it could not be applied thus?
I think that our frequent friendly dissention, for example, on the issue of whether a meeting contain too much frivolity, too much socialising, or too much jargon, are an inevitable outcome from our various personalities, origins, and objectives. It would be an unbalanced group indeed if we were all the same (Oops - very similar) in these respects!
If we confine our expectation of potential AGS members to those who love reading "Science and Sanity", then the field would be limited indeed. Pauline's insights and application of GS principles into the personalities and processes of her family life are just as relevant as those that I might bring from my workplace, or David from his research environment.
A vital element in the value of the Tuesday evening and monthly daytime gatherings has been the hospitality offered by Gavan. This has extended not only to use of his home and its many facilities, but to provision of the most enjoyable meals for various numbers of participants. He has even packed hot meals for transport to other venues when required! The multi-tasking Gavan seems to be able to maintain an input of wisdom from his other lives and incisive commentary on the presentations, all while brewing and serving excellent coffees, boiling rice and stewing amazing creations (including vegetarian options) - and even insists on doing the washing-up! Thank you, Gavan.
Pauline and her family have generously invited us to their creek-view home in Towradgie a number of times, for a refreshing change from city life.
Inter-meeting contacts by way of telephone, email and special visits have been an integral part of the networking.
The AGS Library, kindly hosted by Gavan, has continued to grow during the year, with the addition of periodicals and volumes. I have found it a most useful resource to access, without having to maintain lots of books of my own. One way to ameliorate the clutter of notes and articles etc. is to organise them electronically on our website. This has advantages of sharing them around, making them searchable, and ensuring secure storage and backup.
Laurie's studies in Linguistic Sociology received an impetus from materials discovered during his trip to the UK. This is a field closely allied to GS, with abundant scope for cross-fertilisation. David has supplied insights from his ongoing research in corporate decision-making. Robert has shared material from his work in social justice and inflammatory letters to the media. Betty, Pauline and Dion have shared matters from their professional and private lives.
These contributions all inform and enrich our interactions. They can all be considered in the context of (for example) evaluation, semantic reactions and levels of abstraction. The challenge is not in having a nice time discussing them over cake and coffee, but in applying powerful principles when the cake and coffee are long finished!
AGS is a small but valued member of the global GS community. Laurie and David, when visiting the Society and the Institute in the USA, many years ago and again recently, were warmly received as close friends and colleagues.
Our library continues to receive copies of "ETC", which is full of news and articles from the GS community. David, in particular, has been quite successful in having his articles published there.
Last year, David attended the Conference and Seminar in the USA, renewing acquaintances and participating in proceedings.
Laurie & Betty fulfilled an ambition to visit Professor Isabel Caro in Valencia, Spain. After many years of Laurie studying Isabel's writings, they enjoyed making her personal acquaintance, with many hours of discussion and sharing. We should certainly consider Isabel "a friend of AGS".
Last year, Gavan happened upon a TV snippet of Milton Dawes drumming in the park in Montreal, and was able to record some of it. Milton has telephoned us at times over the last few years, and I was able to return the favour and have a long conversation with him recently, at minimal cost. The advent of low-cost phone-cards and email have certainly facilitated communication at a personal level.
Greg Hoffmann's visit to us in 2000 inspired his book "Searching for Unmediated Truth", set in Tasmania. Who would have thought that we would have such a role?
Our website www.ags.org.au has accumulated a considerable amount of material from our activities etc. Although historically somewhat primitive in presentation, it has attracted several enquiries and has much greater potential.
The website is an important medium in terms of linking us with the global GS community, presenting our material to a vast audience and attracting membership. I believe that it is a powerful medium for time-binding investment.
I am grateful to David for his re-vamping of the "home page" to enhance presentation and functionality. There is still much to be done in terms of presentation, content and visibility to search engines by keyword etc. However we have made progress, and are continuing to develop.
Contacts with other Disciplines
GS cannot flourish in a cultural vacuum, so it is important that we forge links with other like-minded groups and individuals. Like "all" good communication, I propose that this should be a two-way process: we need to improve our own awareness of alternative disciplines, to compare and contrast them to what GS has to offer.
Laurie's long-standing association with the Social Developers' Network (SDN) was reinforced last year when some of us joined SDN members in Canberra for a structured meeting and an informal meal. This provided some enhanced mutual awareness and possible further interpersonal contact.
Individual members bring experiences and links to the group as a matter of course. My own contact with the Jung Soc. in Canberra, and an ongoing Jungian discussion group, has been a most valuable source of information and insight into group process. This, of course, acts in both directions, and I believe that all members carry learning and insight into their wider lives.
But we are surely not developing these contacts to the fullest extent possible. Perhaps initiatives like exchanging journals, and placing materials into libraries should be explored. Providing guest speakers for other groups can be an effective form of introduction. Our web site can certainly be developed to make us more accessible to those in search of the wisdom and fellowship that we offer!
Financial and Legal
Thank you to our loyal Office Bearers for the past year and volunteers for the current year. The jobs of Pres, V.Pres, treasurer etc are not onerous, but are important.
Our Incorporation is important to provide the Society with an enduring legal identity transcending the flux of members and office-holders. I think that this is a really important time-binding concept. Thank you to Gavan and David in working to accomplish this.
We continue to effectively manage our small cash-flow, based on collection for seminars, and expenditure on IGS Membership, Subscriptions and reference materials. Although the absence of financial commitments protects us against financial peril, we are unable to fund, for example, any substantial public events, promotions or travel exchanges.
Laurie's proposed initiative in bringing new people together in a "coffee club" setting has the potential to introduce new members to AGS, as GS techniques are used to consider issues of concern to the participants. Laurie's great experience in small-group work, and Betty's perceptive and personable contribution, should prove effective in forging a group that is most valuable for the participants,
The space-time-defying trialogue which occurred when the Buddha, Carl Jung and Alfred Korzybski came to lunch, and questions arising therefrom, have consumed considerable seminar discussion time. Dion has adventurously suggested that this be filmed with "serious actors" as a special project. I look forward to this with keen anticipation - Thank you Dion for proposing this initiative. It goes to show what experience, talent and resources lurk within our membership.
Prospects and Challenges for the Year Ahead
We continue our weekly and monthly meetings and wider correspondence with a small but very loyal membership. This obviously fulfils a need in the members and plays a role in the world-wide GS community. I have been heartened by the very warm response to our correspondence and visits with our international colleagues.
However, we have not been successful in expanding our membership, forging effective links with like-minded organisations locally, or contributing in a corporate manner to public or academic debate. We have not established any presence beyond the regions convenient to our own travels. That means that we are not time-binding in any real fashion, beyond our immediate and personal spheres. (Let me know if you disagree with this assertion!).
My ongoing participation in AGS is very satisfying in terms of social contact, personal and professional development. I have great respect and affection for the members, and value your friendship. But these are personal benefits, and I don't feel a great sense of AGS contributing strongly to our community.
Perhaps 2007 will be the year when we strengthen ties with local and international communities, expand our membership, and devise effective channels for communicating our discipline to a wider public.
PS: These ramblings are the author’s personal opinions and assertions. They do not constitute an “AGS Annual Report”. Corrections and discussion are warmly welcomed.