One evening, after the conference in Las Vegas, George invited Laurie Cox and Milton Dawes for supper. The conversation at the restaurant started with the question of how George got involved with General Semantics.
He told his story. Laurie and Milt were so intrigued that they decided that this deserved a wider exposure. They asked George if he would be willing to repeat his story through an interview and have it recorded. Happily he agreed.
Laurie and Milton - Can you tell us your story again George?
George - Sometime in my early teens, I had an Uncle who lived as an voracious reader, to the extent that he almost spent all his salary buying books. He went to the many different libraries including the embassy, consulate and university libraries. As a very well read person, he one day mentioned to me that Alfred Korzybski stated that the map is not the territory and the word is not the meaning that it represents. Now, when he said that, I got shocked, as a young boy, and I told him, "Look, Uncle, I lived my life as though the map was the territory and that the word was the meaning. Now that you tell me something extremely revolutionary and I need to read books by Alfred Korzybski and books read by him, to get to the bottom of it.
Milton - So that was like a tipping point for you
George - That one discussion with my uncle became a tipping point. Then between the ages of 13 and 16, I searched out for relatives in the US to actually plead with them to buy me a copy of Science & Sanity. In India it wasn't easy in those days to get the $30-40 to buy that book; you depend on a relative In America to get it, and you pay them back some day. India lived as a closed country like China where you could not send out monies, or receive monies. They lived like a closed economy - the whole country.
With the help of a relative I did get a copy of S&S between the ages of 13 and 16 which would have been around 1965-68. I always had interest in reading philosophers, especially the History of Philosophy by Will Doonan. I read many of the books written by Nietzsche and I found a very common thread between Nietzsche and AK. I read S&S once and I didn't understand anything, I read it again and again. That is not to say I understand it all even today.
Laurie - Did you read the scientific and mathematical part?
George - Yes, in fact when it came to those parts I took pieces of paper and followed the matters with it.
Laurie - What was your school education?
George - Around that time, I completed my schooling and my premedical training, and along with my medical training, I always had S&S sitting on my table, reading it along with my medical books. I studied Gestalt Therapy by Fritz Perls and I happened to live like a hermit - I didn't drink tea or coffee or any stimulant of any kind and I was a vegetarian. I studied medicine and during my final year I also studied Gestalt and S&S. When I slept I understood my dreams - when I woke up in the morning the whole dream seemed like an artistic picture telling me all about myself. Every part of the dream spoke to me - a beautiful awareness - that time of my life seemed like I lived in heaven or something - anyway after that I fell back into the decadence of having tea, coffee and so on and so forth.
Laurie - How did you integrate your studies with S&S and Gestalt verbatim.
Was there any conflict there?
George - Not really conflict, it became more like some kind of source of energy for my day to day studies of medicine and it assisted me greatly. I started practicing medicine and found more important than sleeping, I had to tackle the problem of providing employment for people, and I became very fortunate in that.
Milton - Tell us again about the people coming to you... you help them, then They go back and they get sick again because of the environment.
George - I practiced medicine as a family practitioner in the butcher colony where families of butchers lived in extreme squalor, poverty, dirt and bad hygiene, and almost invariably all of them all these tropical diseases, so they would come to my clinic and I would provide medicines and they would get well, but they would go back to the same life and come back, and sitting there I would question them about their lives and they would say they had 25-30 people living from just 1-2 bread winners. They really didn't have work. It dawned on me that the most important thing I should do is provide employment for these people. So I joined my brother Joseph in the import/export business, and devoted my time and energy into business, so I could provide work.
Milton - Another tipping point.
George - Yes, another tipping point. So we started to make curios made out of brass, and fortunately we got a contact in the US who placed orders and we sent loads of these to the US. One time one of the container loads fell under a massive snow storm and all the brass in that container load was tarnished, so I sent my brother to Tennessee with a polish boy to buff and clean the whole container and return the product to the buyer. I found in that 6-12 months I had no work, as my brother was gone and our buyer had been messed up with spoiled goods. During that time I wrote hundreds of letters to all the embassies asking if they could buy from India, and almost invariably every one of my letters got put into the trash can.
One of these letters was dropped into the trash can in a London office. Just then, two young Scottish businessmen walked into that office and said they needed a contact in Bombay. The person who trashed my letter said I just threw out a letter from someone who could help you. My letter was given to these young businessmen. They came and visited me in Bombay on the strength of that letter. At the time those two businessmen had 17 stores in Scotland selling leather jackets, so my brother and I started working for them manufacturing jackets. They grew to 400-500 stores in the UK. They had a concession in every Debenhams Store, House of Fraser, British Shoe Corporation, all the stores. In total over a period of over several years they bought a total of 1,300,000 jackets. They were black or brown solid colour jackets. We could provide work for thousands of families in India, and that really made a big difference, and at one time we were responsible for about 10% of the exports of all of India. The buyers specialised in woman's jackets, and if you walked down Oxford Street in London, you could see that almost every girl was wearing jackets made by us. It was an amazing thing for me to walk around in London and see so many people wearing jackets my brother, myself, and our workers had produced.
Laurie - What motivated you to become a Doctor of Medicine?
George - All of us in India are given massive value and motivation to study. Different to the Western countries where you say to the kids to do what you like, you sing, you know. There is a lot of peer pressure to study. I didn't think that studying medicine would do me any harm, and I practiced, then found out it made sense to provide employment. Then in the 80's I came out to the US, again in pursuit of General Semantics, because I wanted to come here, not only to be a long distance member of the Institute, but wanted to visit the Institute, go to the Seminars, go to the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lectures, and get a close contact with GS. I still hold that as a passion. I stopped making the solid black or brown jackets and started custom making them in any colour, any logo, anything, anywhere and no minimums. We lay the whole thing on the computer, go back and forth on email and make sure the customer, he or she, becomes extremely happy with it. Once the design and colours were approved, we started sewing and making the jackets. This has become a speciality in the last 15 years, and we have built up a very good name in the industry, and I believe we make some of the finest custom jackets on earth. My brother George oversees the production in India. We also have a small garment factory facility in Manheim in Pennsylvania.
Laurie - You could interview the customer and get what the customer wants, and you have a map of what the customer wants.
George - Then I email a colour picture of that. I have 4 employees taking care of all this. It is very small, the turnover is only half a million dollars a year.
Laurie - How easily did you change from medicine to business.
George - Well it became a process. I remember the one year I worked as a family practitioner - I would practice from 7am-10am, then 5-10pm and also in the office from 10am-5pm. I used to have long days working hard before I transitioned over. A 15 hr day. I was in my late 20's, around the time I had just got married.
Laurie - Did you find that tiring?
George - Well at that young age you feel like you can conquer the earth, you have so much energy, very motivated. It becomes like nothing to work like that. Now, that I am nearly 50 I couldn't work 15 hours a day, but it felt like nothing to do that in my 20's and 30's.
Milton - Tell us about the role of GS
George - GS helped me through every little process of everything I did. I think it makes me conscious of abstracting and it makes me so aware, and you ust get good at whatever business that you do.
Milton - And your relationships with people.
George - Oh yes, absolutely.
Laurie - Stopping there to talk about the study of Science and Sanity, because there are some in Australia doing this, you said in the Restaurant you didn't understand it the first time. What about the second time?
George - Second time I got some inkling of what Korzybski wanted to say.
Laurie - So each time you got more. You would have found some of the
George - Some of it such as thalamic-cortical integration was not a problem because of my medical training. Regarding the mathematical part of it, it is more or less high school mathematics, which is not that difficult to understand, at least at the time. Now I have become rusty in that sense and I haven't read S&S for a long time now.
Laurie - No, but I get the message that you persisted even though the first readings didn't give you much at all. Why did you re-read it? Why was that?
George - It was just that the message he conveyed became so captivating, so real, so practical, and I would read in between Manhood of Humanity and I would get my relative to get the cassettes of the study of the structural differential and I remember listening to the tapes while I walked on the Madras beach in India.
Milton - A similar thing when I first came across S&S - I read it and first reading I couldn't understand a lot of it, but like you I thought there was something there, and I wanted to get at it, and I kept reading and reading and it wasn't until I came to Canada that I discovered that there was an Institute.
Laurie - Why did you come to Canada?
Milton - I felt like a a change from Jamaca, and I came with the Jamacan Dance Company for Expo 1967 and the Pan American Games, and when I got the feel of Canada, I went back and applied for some jobs.
George - In S&S it talks about the institute, and that is where I found out
Laurie - Where your studies in English?
George - Yes. The Western world has the misconception that the Indian people do not know English, but exactly like America or Australia and countries that lived under British Colonial Rule, as a result of that we have a massive middle class (400-500 million people) who speak English well. All the Medical School curriculum is in English. The medium of instruction is in English.
Laurie - My University training was in Anthropology, so I am very interested in cultures. You changed from the Bombay culture to the Pennsylvania culture. How about what they call "Culture Shock" in Melvin Toffler's terms.
George - I would not call it culture shock in the sense. If you were to view this from a historical perspective, if we view cultures as a sort of wave that goes up and comes down, goes up and comes down, we will realise that at one stage we had the rise and fall of the Hindu culture, then we had the Persian culture, then the Greek and so on and so forth. So as of today we live during the rise and fall of western civilisation. Whether you live in China or any of those places, people wear pants and shirts, which become a symbol of western civilisation. Let us imagine the Persian civilisation. During those days people all over the world would wear robes because there lived the Persian civilisation. To go from a lower level of western civilisation as represented in a third world country like India, to a higher level of western civilisation such as the US is not so difficult as you grow towards order. Lets say an American went to Afghanistan, they go from order to chaos, or order to lesser order. They will find it difficult, but when you go from chaos or lesser order to higher order; for example, in India I became used to driving around cows and dogs and anything else on the road with nobody bothering much about stop signs and lights or anything. Out here that won't do, you have to follow everything accordingly or you will get a ticket and you have to pay for it. So to go from that to order is not difficult, but once you get used to this you cannot get back.
Milton - People would get impatient with all the cows and goats on the road.
Laurie - what do you think about the bubble theory, Milton?
Milton - I was thinking about that some months ago. Remember I mentioned that I was trying to define for myself words like truth and beauty, time and space, and have constantly been trying to look at things from a cosmic perspective. So a few months ago I came up with this notion of the bubble theory, as I decided to call it. Think of a boiling cauldron of soup. You would have it boiling, and bubbles come up...some subside, some remain for a while. You have bigger bubbles and smaller bubbles. Sometimes bubbles merge, gobble Up others, get to big...and explode.
I see everything in the universe in terms of bubble theory. So you think of anything, you have an emergence, a growth, a development, and maybe sometimes a sudden collapse. Rome, England, Spain, for instance were once big bubbles in terms of their colonial holdings, having gobbled up smaller 'bubbles' (less powerful countries). You have mergers and takeovers in business. Fads come and go. You have countries invading others and getting bigger than they can manage. When you think of someone like Saddam Hussein and the Iraq situation; or the Soviet Union, I see the sudden collapse of these regimes like bubbles exploding. Now you have western civilisation as George mentioned...like any other, the western civilisation can also suffer from an explosion or a recession if we don't take into account the lessons from history. With cell phones, computers, satellites, global locating devices, bombs, missiles, germs, etc., all the crooks, bandits and bad guys of the world, can bubble up against the rest of us. The terrorist bubble is emerging. And our 'leaders' don't yet seem to realize the global seriousness of this... A classic case of 'bad' guys against 'good' guys.
George - Another thing I want to mention with Iraq - today we have a certain level of civilisation in the western world whether you mention the US, or Western Europe, or NZ or Australia or England or any of these countries and then you have an in between level like India and China where it is not so bad, then you have another level like Afghanistan and Iraq and some of the African countries - in other words when I see TV every day and see Bagdad, I can see Bombay 40 years ago. You can actually see different levels of time when you just go around the world.
Laurie - The average American, Australian or Englishman in the middle class of any one of these countries whose orientation has been confined to their area would find this impossible.
George - To them it might be like a frog living in a well. The frog has no life outside the well, according to this frog the whole universe is this well. I became very fortunate to live in Bombay, and now live in the US, and watch TV and see Bagdad looking just like Bombay 40 years ago. And to that extent you can travel back in time. If you want to see the US looking like 100 years back during the the wild wild west when you had now rule and guns and people shooting each other, you see the same thing in Afghanistan or Bagdad now, so you can go back in time when you see different parts of the world
Milton - You can see 'bubbles' - some bubbles are just coming up, but a bubble that happened long before is just coming up so it isn't so new.
Laurie - Doesn't it follow that our western politicians would be steeped in their own particular culture and would rely on their own similarities between say Australia, England and the US - that kind of outlook and neurosemantic environment would give them a very warped perception.
George - Absolutely. For that matter in order to overcome the difficulties we have in Afghanistan and Iraq, we need the mentality to overcome. From the Western perspective we don't have the mentality of how the people think to overcome the problems there. You need to have the developing countries such as India etc who have a similar mentality to the Iraqis in order to overcome the problems and provide some order and civilisation. If you just go from civilised countries and try to overcome the mentality of a less civilised culture. On a daily basis you see people being bombed and killed.
Laurie - I can't see how our western "leaders" could understand the problems of improving the bottom cultures like Iraq and giving them an improved way of life by words alone. The terms intension and extension
apply. Extensionally they wouldn't or couldn't understand. Intensionally they think they do.
George - Even if they attempt to do it, it doesn't make sense to take the whole world around with you, or the majority of the United Nations, I think.
Laurie - Like General Semanticists the Anthropologists are not listened to either. There is a failure in developing countries like England and America (Australia (our number of anthropologists) is too small to count) for Governments to listen to their more informed Anthropologists. I don't classify myself as an Anthropologist, though I have 2 degrees in Anthropology, as I haven't done field work in another culture. It is almost impossible to appreciate the value that an Anthropologist who has studied in the chaotic cultures will have a far better map than the officials in the Governments in the western societies. I am not saying that all politicians should live like an anthropologist in a bottom culture. I just don't think they would. If they understood it sufficiently, they would listen to the anthropologists.
Milton - They would see the terrorist bubble. This bubble had come up many times before... although at a smaller scale.
George - AK mentioned that asymmetry becomes more real than symmetry. You look at people, my face, Milton's face for example - another wrinkle on that side than the other - one half is not the same as the other half. So far we live in wars of symmetry. My soldiers, your soldiers make a big band with a bugle and they fight. We no longer have a symmetrical war. We have an asymmetrical war. This is so much like the prophecy of Korzybski.
Laurie - The difficult change period that Korzybski predicted.
George - Right, the realisation of asymmetrical comes into being. I heard some politicians mention this war as an asymetrical war and that becomes very much in tune with GS language.
Milton - I remember the days when you have the soldiers lined up, two fronts against each other, then someone introduced gorilla warfare... as usual the soldiers line up in the familiar orderly fashion... and people jump out of the bush shoot at them... and disappear - as in Vietnam.
Laurie - I think the reason I did Anthropology at a late age was because AK referred to GS as a generalised Anthropology. The only thing I could do reasonably well was Anthropology.
Milton - Long ago I thought there were too many lawyers in Government, and they needed Anthropologists and Historians, as when facing problems we need that kind of thinking to look back at what we have been doing over thousands of years to realise we can't keep thinking and behaving like that.
Laurie - I take it your children have grown up Americanised.
George - They have, in fact. One boy has studies in the second year of Engineering in Florida, the other boy is studying his the first year of Engineering in West Virginia, and my wife and I have the task of earning $60,000-70,000 per year to pay for their schooling, but as long as we work, we can manage. She specialises in computer data base business, working for Johnston and Johnston in NJ.
Laurie - How do you now evaluate your own career?
George - I evaluate it as a successful career. I have come here and started this successful business and employed people and hopefully get more
business and grow.
Milton - What is the role of GS in your life, business and family.
George - I use it all the time. I don't know if you can bring it down to words, because all I can say is that I use GS.
Laurie - On a minute to minute basis.
George - All the time, constantly. Every time someone says something I tend to evaluate it and become conscious of my abstractions. That in itself becomes a great use in itself. Just becoming conscious of abstracting.
Laurie - I think you said we can act as models to people if we are successful in western terms, and people will ask what has he got that I haven't got. Would you like to talk about that?
George - Yes. Sandy Berman said so clearly that he and a lot of people study GS, but he used GS to enrich himself and become a multi-millionaire.
Laurie - He stressed that a lot of this is becoming financially successful. Don't be frightened of being a success financially.
George - And he ascribed all his greatness a lot of his success into his use of GS. Therefore if like Sandy, if we have many Sandy Bermans, a lot of successful people, and all these successful people ascribing their success to GS obviously we will get through the tipping point. Right now we have one Sandy Berman. Let's say we have thousands of Sandy Bermans.
Laurie - Yes, but I can't see too many people being prepared to read S&S once - I just can't see that many people…
George - Though S&S becomes quite a tedious book. Manhood of Humanity is not a tedious book. That is easily readable, easily understandable.
Laurie - To you it was. Not to me.
George – Anyway…
Laurie - It wasn't in the early stages. I can read S&S as if I were reading a novel, but I haven't read it right through once yet. I started on Stewart Chasers "Tyranny of Words", then I started to read some bulletins at the time (the 50's) and that led me onto Irving Lee's "Language, Habits and Human Affairs" which then led me onto Wendell Johnston's correspondence course. Finally I did Anthropology. I see your point. Those other works are far more likely to be read and understood.
Milton - This is one of those situations where like taking out stuff from the trash - we didn't realise what a fantastic story you had to tell about your involvement with GS, and the value of it in your life.
Laurie - Thank you. That was wonderful.
George - I enjoyed every bit of it. Bon voyage to both of you.
Milton - I bid you a safe flight back to Sydney.
Laurie - I will be using the Internet from now on. I had been too swamped.