Australian General Semantics Society Inc.




Robert's trip to New York
for the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture -
RJ's Presentation to the Symposium

26 October 2012



I was privileged to attend the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture (AKML) on Friday evening,
and the Symposium on Saturday and Sunday.  Here is my account of the proceedings

It was a great experience for me, and certainly a boost for the AGS liaison with our parent organisation,
the Institute of General Semantics (IGS).  

I am most grateful for the generous support of AGS and IGS in this venture.

RJ's Presentation: “GS Downunder”
Watch the video



Hello everyone – I’m Robert James, from the Australian General Semantics Society (that’s AGS). 

Firstly, I must express a little concern over the suggested title of my greeting “GS Downunder”. 
As you can see, Australia is clearly at the centre of the world – North America is round the back somewhere.
However, when you have to travel at 1,000Km/Hr for 18 hours to get here, you'd have to wonder ...



In Oz, we often preface a public address or sporting event announcement with an acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land.   My home-town Canberra, is still home to the Ngunnawal people, who have occupied it continuously for something over 40,000 years. I often consider how their ancient footprints are now covered with concrete.   

So I would just like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, which I understand is the Iroquois and the Algonquins people.

I sometimes find Canberra, a city of 350,000, to be too big for me, and each time I see a new set of traffic lights, I contemplate leaving town.



Then I go to Sydney or Melbourne, many attractions, but not so nice to get around.


Now I see the Big Apple: similar size to Canberra, with 25 times the population!



History of AGS - Laurie's long-standing passion


Laurie Cox was a friend of my father’s with the Royal Australian Air Force during the War in New Guinea in the 1940s. 

In 1952 he encountered Louis Herbst via a copy of The Bulletin in a doctor’s waiting room,
and was led to believe that GS may be a highly effective form of therapy .. 

Dad had a lot of respect for his mate Laurie and his GS message,
so I have been infused with notions of Time Binding and the Structural Differential since the age of three.



Laurie was joined in founding AGS in 1990 by Andrew Lohrey, a Member of the Tasmanian State Parliament,
and one of the earliest political “Greenies”.  Andrew and others, questioned the time-binding value of damming the wild Gordon and Franklin Rivers by such acts as chaining themselves to bulldozers, and were briefly gaoled for their efforts. 

However, they were successful in having the area World Heritage listed,
and wilderness destruction over-ruled by our High Court. 

In 1984, Laurie looked-up GS membership and visited Laurence Inskster and George Doris in the UK,
forming a strong friendship, which was sadly terminated when they both passed away.

In 1989, Laurie attended the Intensive Conference and Course of 11 days and nights,
making friends with Milton Dawes from Toronto, Gregg Hoffmann from  Milwaukee,
Paul Dennithorne Johnston and Bob Pula (now deceased, as well).

Laurie and Betty toured the USA for three months in 1990, making GS friends in San Francisco and New York.

In 2003, at age 85, Laurie came to Las Vegas to receive the Talbot Winchell Award,
which was particularly meaningful for him. 
I remember when people congratulated him, he emphasised that he saw this not as recognition of achievement,
but as an expression of support for his future work. 
Contemptuous of any notion of retirement, Laurie was busy making fifteen year plans, as he still at the age of 94.


Laurie & Betty

His dear wife Betty was by that time suffering from Dementia,
so I enjoyed the privilege of staying with her in the familiar surroundings of her home in Sydney for a couple of weeks
while Laurie enjoyed the accolades of his colleagues, exploited the conference and networking opportunities.


Wild Wild West Motel

 Apparently the "Wild Wild West Motel" in Las Vegas where he stayed, has never been the same since!


Laurie worked for many years in the area of Mental Health,
and had great respect for the work of Isabel Caro in Spain,
on the application of GS to Psychotherapy. 

In 2006 he and Betty went to see Isabel in Valencia,  forming an enduring friendship,
but when Betty became lost in Singapore Airport (which is not a small building),
and got separated from Laurie in the London Underground,
it became evident that they should probably not be planning any further overseas trips.


Milton and Gav

We were fortunate to have been visited by Milton Dawes at our Coastal Seminar
in 2003, and have some non-verbal experience with his extraordinary drumming.

I don't know if Gavan and Milton formed a "Purple Shirt People Day" conspiracy,
but they certainly got on well together!

Milton’s  prolific publication of GS material has been a rich source of material for our monthly seminars.


Gregg Hoffmann

Gregg and Pauline Hoffmann joined us for a series of seminars,
then again for special events that we organised to coincide with the Sydney Olympics in 2000.



We value our connections with Vanessa Biard in France,
continuing the work of the European Association,


Dom Heffer

and Dom Heffer in the UK.  This is some of his extraordinary art!

My wife Jeanne and I are planning some travel, which hopefully can build on these connections. 
Jeanne, and Laurie’s daughter Judy, are anxious to meet and compare notes
on the value of Art in communications.
(Dom spoke on this at the AKML last year).


Significance of the group to participants: Migration from NZ, Wedlock, etc.

Our little group has made a real difference in the lives of the participants.

Dave Hewson

Our friend and key teacher Dave Hewson read Science and Sanity in two months in 1983,
after being led to it by van Vogt's science fiction novels.  

He followed up quickly by reading Harry Weinberg's "Levels of Knowing and Existence"
and Rapoport's "Operational Philosophy",
and attending the "Intro to GS Course" in Connecticut.

Excited by this introduction, he re-read "Science and Sanity",
and went on in 1991 to train for the "Advanced Teaching Certificate"
with Bob Pula and Professor Stuart Mayper.

Dave also attended Poughkeepsie's "Intro" seminar in New York in 1997/98, 
then discovered that AGS was established just across the Tasman Sea in Sydney. 

We enticed him to leave his mum and join us in 1999, which was quite an acquisition for us. 
He has since done presentations at seminars here in 2005 and 2006,
and had articles published in "ETC". 

In these journeys to the US, David travelled around to visit numerous GS people, forged strong personal ties,
and was most grateful for the hospitality, encouragement and support  that he received here. 

One of  these contact was Ed MacNeal,
whose work on the "Decision Atlas" was the subject of our seminar just last Saturday in Sydney.   


Gav and Pauline Wedding

Gavan and Pauline were so enchanted by the GS formulations encountered in our deliberations,
that they fell in love and were married in the context of our group. 



Our AGS National Conference in 2010 was fortunately able to run
just before the United Nations NGO Conference on World Health in Melbourne. 

We were able to represent the Institute,
and we are grateful for the Institute’s support for us in staging this event.


Gabriel Donleavy

One unexpected outcome from this
was that we attended a Science Fiction conference at the same venue in Melbourne,
where one of our brochures attracted the attention of one Gabriel Donleavy,
Professor of Accounting at the University of Western Sydney. 

Gabriel has since assumed the mantle of  President of AGS. 
Although always valuing the wisdom and experience of “old blood”,
we certainly value “new blood” as well,
and look forward to Gabriel’s experience, insight and leadership.


Some concerns - Doctrinal and institutional divisions

Bob Hawke

Our former Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s language and symbol use have always been popular.  In his “Memoirs”, he recalls ..

I inadvertently achieved notoriety as a result of one the quaint and ancient customs of my college at Oxford.
A system operated at dinner in the Great Hall under which if an offence was committed -
in my case coming to dinner without a gown (some bastard had borrowed mine) - one was 'sconced'.
This meant having to drink two and a half pints of ale out of an antique pewter pot in less than twenty-five seconds.
Failure to do so involved paying for the first drink, plus another two and a half pints.
My chance of avoiding payment lay in downing the ale within the limit
and hoping that the Sconcemaster - the President of the Junior Common Room - could not beat my time.
I was too broke for the fine and necessity became the mother of ingestion.
I downed the contents of the pot in eleven seconds,
left the Sconcemaster floundering,
and entered the Guinness Book of Records with the fastest time ever recorded.
This feat was to endear me to some of my fellow Australians more than anything else I ever achieved.


Hawke Bugger

In September 1989, Hawke, now a Rhodes Scholar, was accosted at a “Meet the People” event,
by an elderly pensioner about the level of taxation.
Bob replied in a robust fashion “I don’t know what you’re talking about, you silly old bugger!” 

Unperturbed at having been caught out on television identifying one of his constituents with an affectionate obscenity,
Bob was quite unperturbed, and preferred to concentrate for the sake of that day’s evening news,
on being photographed with the Captain of the Australian Cricket Team, which was doing well at the time.   

The affronted pensioner took the reproach in good spirit, and the crowd loved it, as did the wider electorate. 
Hawke’s ratings soared, the previously obscene “B” word came into more common usage,
and was particularly featured in Toyota television advertisements.



Our next Prime Minister, Paul Keating, was being interviewed in 1993
about our rather scratchy relationship with Malaysia,
and in particular Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad
who had expressed doubts about whether he would bother attending the APEC Conference.

Keating replied: “Please don't ask me any more questions about Dr Mahathir.
I couldn't care less, frankly, whether he comes or not.”
Question: "Will you see him next year, Prime Minister?"
Keating: "Yes. I'll see him in his own right … But APEC is bigger than all of us;
Australia, the US and Malaysia and Dr Mahathir and any other recalcitrants … “

Innocent enough, you would think, but people rushed to their dictionaries to check the word "recalcitrant",
Dr Mahathir had trouble getting various translations of the word into Malay,
and diplomatic dynamics of South-East Asia reeled in outrage and the uproar for years.

So what's in a word?  Obviously more than one might think! 



I met our current Prime Minister Julia Gillard last week when she came for morning tea
where I work at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra. 

She was telling us about the importance of the election this month of Australia to the UN Security Council,
and her plans to utilise the position in pursuit of various worthy objectives. 
I was struck by the contrast between her language in explaining something specific and inspirational,
as opposed to the recent storm of “robust debate” and  rhetoric
that we’ve had in relation to allegations of sexism by both sides in our political process. 


Julia Gillard

In particular, our PM’s use of the word “misogynist”, as applied to her opponent,
who has been accused of derogatory and sexist language in relation to the PM and women in general. 

Apparently the Macquarie Dictionary has changed their entry for the “M” word, to reflect changing usage. 
So the debate has been all around “what the word means” as opposed to what a person meant –
Doesn't this reinforced the importance of our theme this weekend – “Language and Symbol Use in Politics  .. ”.

So the popular language and symbol use in politics  remain colourful, if not particularly edifying,
and connotations of a word can be radically transformed by a single utterance,
depending on the utterer, the socio-political context, and levels of abstraction that we apply to it ... ?



I try to avoid media exposure to your Presidential elections
but I’m sure the standard of  policy debates remains gentle and civilised at all times.   
It appears, however, that there are certain differences of approach,
including a gender divide between the principal contenders. 
I’ve been led to believe that the debate sometimes even becomes quite robust.


Long Island

While always respecting the integrity and hard work of players (or should I say, workers) in the GS community,
we recognise that there have been real divisions in this community,
and strong expressions of competing views. 
We have generally kept out of doctrinal debate in the GS world,
but are concerned when it sometimes results in creative and energetic people becoming alienated,
with an outcome that’s not good time-binding -
not good for the welfare of the participants or the growth of the GS discipline.  

Of course, this is not unique to the world of GS:
I note that many of the great movement of the 20th Century
have flourished with initial charismatic leadership,
but struggled to embrace the transitions in leadership,
membership and sense of common purpose, just as many of us have as individuals.

Challenges - membership, purpose and content


One of our biggest challenges, of course, is how to promote awareness of GS in general,
and engagement with our seminars etc in particular. 

A little survey of the origin of contacts with us includes
   * Personal contact (by far the most significant),
   * Courses that our people have in mainstream educational institutions,
   * Encountering Science and Sanity (etc) in a library,
   * The works of related authors such as Robert Anton Wilson or van Vogt
   * Our own website and the related “Meetup” groups,
   * Our brochure left around such as at a conference.



Many people join our Internet Sydney and Melbourne “Meetup” groups and express an interest,
but very few follow that up by coming to meetings.

We have generally found media such as letter-box drops or newspaper notices to be ineffective.

Content / Doctrine

One of our struggles is the choice between a rigorous adherence to the words, methods and doctrine of the Master
- or –
A more popular approach, with published themes like “How to be happy and successful … “


We have a significant diversity of views and levels of ambition when it comes to outreach 
Just like in a church community,
we have a very few people who are eager to bring the benefits of GS to the masses,
and the bulk of the congregation who support the Cause,
but rather like the comfort and familiarity of regular meetings with friends,
wallowing in intellectual abstractions
and trying to remember what we undertook last month to do
in applying GS formulations to improve our own lives.


Much has changed since our charismatic Founder inspired large number of people to study GS, mostly in an academic environment that doesn’t necessarily work well today.



However, even “downunder” we do have some powerful resources -

Our new President Gabriel Donleavy is Professor of Accounting
at the University of Western Sydney -
He's published numerous books and papers on accounting, governance and ethics,
and has brought a new capacity for rigorous intellectual enquiry and outreach to our little group.
We look forward to his leadership, guidance and inspiration.

Gabriel’s wife Lilian brings special insights as a clinical psychologist with lots of international experience.

Dion is the Master of commercial audio-visual communication (other than this one!) ,

Tom Valcanis in Melbourne completed with distinction his Master of Communications and Media Studies,
with a thesis on “Australian Rock Journalism – cultural creation, industry influence and electronic evolution"
He has published an article in ETC about Media Ecology, and is vigorously engaged in that area.

Earl in Melbourne teaches Professional Writing
and indulges his passion as a creative poet.

Daniel in Newcastle, working through Psychology studies, 
is engrossed in the works of Korzybski and Robert Anton Wilson.

David Hewson, who studied as a GS Teacher in the US,
is strongly engaged in the application of GS to corporate decision making and problem solving.

Pauline and Gavan host our monthly seminars and the AGS Library in Sydney,
providing a congenial and supportive environment for our activities.

Robert works with a number of organisations on Social Justice endeavours, and has a strong belief
that GS formulations can be effectively applied to ethical and governance challenges.

Robert's wife Jeanne exploits GS principles in teaching English as Second Language 
and remedial programmes in schools, and manages a plethora of family and community issues.   

Ted Holmes has a wealth of academic and commercial experience,
enriched with wisdom and insight.  He’s published over 500 poems in four volumes.

When Ted and Laurie get together for an altercation over the Structural Differential or the value
of comparative demalogics, we stand back and observe the “Battle of the Nonagenarians”!


Laurie Cox is our evangelist, strongly focussed on building the GS community in Australia, 
utilising the suite of formulations in our personal, community and professional lives.    



We have other members and associates,
who bring a world of experience, capacities and aspirations.
We cannot be all things to all people,
but we certainly aspire to enrich the lives of those we contact,
and to develop and promote GS on our own turf, and through the global connections. 



I look forward to Sanford Berman’s address on “How to Teach GS”  this afternoon,
and to the words of wisdom of the other speakers. 

So, Thank you, Marty for inviting us to this auspicious event,
Thank you to the Institute for supporting our growth and development in the antipodes,
And Thank you everyone, for giving me such as warm welcome to the Big Apple.




(Updated by RJ 23/11/2012)

For details of our discussion meetings and seminars, locations and membership, Contact AGS
Web site by RLJamez