Friday, April 1, 2011

Korzybski on Infantilism

In this post I will quote a rather large section of text from Alfred Korzybski's book "Science and Sanity."  The selection comes from Chapter XXX.  It deals with infantilism in individual adults and in nations.  Korzybski notes that a lot of the information came from Dr. Joseph Collins' book "The Doctor Looks at Love and Life."  I found it magnificent how spot on this analysis is.  It holds true in my view in the AVERAGE individual at least in the US.  These are the conditions permeating the race psyche.  You can look at it from the struggle of the individual to individualize and the fear that comes along with being isolated.

I have put my commentary in brackets and bolded where I wanted to emphasize a point.  And so now onto the text:

"Children and idiots live in the present only and do not concern themselves with the past and the future beyond their immediate gratification.  Infantile types also want all the 'sense' enjoyment of the moment, never enquiring about the sufferings of others or of the consequences for themselves in the future.  Indeed their attitude is often hostile toward those who take into consideration a larger sphere...On national and commercial grounds, they devastate their natural resource, since they are interested on ly in some immediate and selfish advantage.  They love praise and hate blame, not realizing that a critical attitude gives the foundation for proper evaluation and becomes a semantic characteristic of maturity and that, generally, it is more beneficial in the long run.  They thrive and thrill on commendations and compliments, and shiver and shrink at disapproval.  Such characteristics are found even in whole nations [Remember nationalism represents the individualizing process in a larger field].  They are self-satisfied, and keep aloof from others in international affairs, not realizing that this is impossible, and that the attempt is ultimately harmful to them.  They assume, as an excuse, the superiority of their institutions, and the 'righteousness' of their own conduct.

Children and superior idiots appreciate resemblances more readily than differences.  Simple generalizations are possible, but often they are hasty and faulty.  A child's pride and self-respect are hurt if he is considered different from other children, or is dressed differently.  Originality and individuality are tabooed among children.  Because of semantic undevelopment, differences become a disburbing factor to them; they want everything standardized.  On national grounds, the adult infants standardize all they can and have even a kind of hostility to anything which has an individual flavour.  For instance, those who wear straw hats after an arbitrary date are attacked on the streets.  Not want to 'think', or to bother about differences, they fancy that they can regulate life by legislation and they keep busy manufacturing 'laws', which are very often impracticable and self-contradictory.  When they pass several thousand 'laws' a year, these become a maze and a joke.  The ultimate semantic result of such over-legislation is a complete lack of justice or of any respect for 'law'.  Not being able to 'think' for themselves, they leave that bothersome function to politicians, priests, newspapermen, (etc.).  Under such conditions life is impossible without expensive lawyers.

Not having the critical semantic capacity for proper evaluation, their likes and dislikes are very intense.  They cannot differentiate the essential from unimportant.  The immediate 'sense' perception or 'emotion' unduly influences their actions.  Impulses to copy others dominate them.  They are often prejudiced.  This results in weak judgement, over-suggestiveness, 'emotional' outbreaks, exaggerated sensibility, variability of affective states, (etc.), and, finally, in an attitude toward life devoid of proper evaluation [This is the goal, we are not chastising, but we want understanding above all].  Their moods are changable; their attention readily gained and as readily diverted.  They become easily intimidated and frightened, and easily influenced by others.

The above semantic characteristics are sponsored by commercialism, and build up the kind of methods, advertisements, and business policies which we see about us [Mind you this was in 1933 when he wrote this!].  This also introduces a semantic factor of disintegration into human relationships, as it leads to methods of trickery, to 'putting something over' on the other fellow, and appeals to self-indulgence,.  When such commercial tactics are national, their sinister educational effect is pronounced.  Children, from the age when they begin to read, are impressed by such practices as normal and take them as semantic standards for their own further orientations.  Unfotunately, even psychiatrists have not, as yet, analysed the semantic influence of such advertisements on the building and preseving of infantile characteristics.

Children lack moderation and a semantic sense of proper evaluation.  Tolerance is not one of their characteristics.  To them persons and 'ideas' are evaluated in extremes, either good, 'wonderful', or bad, 'terrible'.  Their s.r. appear dogmatic and stubborn, as in all the unexperienced.  They talk to much or are silent; they praise to much or blame too much; they work too hard or play too hard, and know no middle ground.  The whole life of a nation may be coloured by such semantic attitudes.  Nations become boastful of their own possessions and achievements [USA! USA! USA!], and happily borrow and forget the achievements of others.  They pride themselves on having the largest airships, the largest cities, the highest buildings, the longest bridges, (etc.) [Additive vs. Non-Additive culture].  They know no moderation in food or drink; they eat or drink too much or become total 'prohibitionists' [Did I mention this was written in 1933?].  They exhibit quick friendships and quick dislikes.  They are solemn in their games, like children who are playing father and mother, and make out of games a national event.  The childish pleasure of defeating an adversary accounts for national crazes, like racing boxing, football, baseball, and similar sports, which often overshadow in public attention all really important issues.

Children and many idiots are incapable of any choice which involves meanings and evaluation.  When confronted with a situation in which they have to choose between two alternatives, they have difficulties, and often want both.  Similarly with 'ideas'; they often keep sets of entirely self-contradictory 'ideas'.  Even scientist of an infantile type do so, and then publish 'manifestos' in which they try to justify such behavior and semantic attitudes.  Merchants train salesmen especially to induce customers with such infantile s.r [semantic reactions] to buy what they do not need.  This attitude is often extended in marriage.  Any man and woman may marry simply because they come across each other; then, when they meet somebody else, they soon change the object of their sentiments.

All classes of feeble-minded and children show marked credulity; they like fairy tales and fantastic stories [see: Hollywood films of today].  Free inventions, by a process of objectification, are taken as experience.  Children and schizophrenics pun and play on words.  They build up language of their own.  Perseveration and sterotypy in speech are also found among them.  National commercialism utilizes this principle in advertisements and tries to run a country by verbal slogans and play on words.

Many children and feeble-minded show distinct acquisitiveness.  Like some animals, they show a tendency for collection of objects, and value their collections highly.  It is a well-known childish game to claim the best morsel of some food because one has put one's hand on it first.  Acquisitiveness is made a national slogan and proclaimed a highest aim, which, of course, becomes a semantic source of endless wars and miseries.  Infantile legalistic 'putting hands first', on piece of paper as title to land, or some such similar form of a 'claim', becomes a source of ridiculous fortunes for the few and of unbearable life-conditions for the many.

Children are gregarious and afraid to be alone.  Similar tendencies are carried on by Rotary and other clubs and lodges.  Infantile grown-ups are too empty in their heads to desire to be alone.  Children seldom stick to anything for long.  They hunt for new excitements, and the old toys are often soon forgotten.  Similarly, grown-up infants hunt for new excitements, for new toys, whether they be a house or an automobile, a wife or a lover.

In children and the feeble-minded, we seldom find such feelings as shame, aesthetic sentiments, or appreciation of beauty.  They like things bizarre, grotesque, glittering, and enormous things which attract and hold their attention.  Similar characteristics are found in incomplete adults.  Children and the feeble-minded are usually untidy and noisy.  Visiting a public park, or witnessing a 'celebration', will show an observer clearly how infantile grown-ups behave.

Children like to domineer over their younger brothers and sisters and to play the leading part in a game.  Similar semantic characteristics are carried into adult life, sometimes taking the form of sadism.  We often see infantile docility or resentment, as expressed in sentimental approval or bitter disillusionment, both generally unjustified.

Self-respect is little developed in the idiot, but plays an important semantic role in the life of imbeciles and children.  The infantile adult also shows an exaggerated self-respect.  Bus conductor and university professors label themselves with a title-even if it is only 'Mr.' John Smith, as if being called simply 'John Smith' would be offensive to him.  An adult evaluates a man by what he has in his head or character, but the infantile type largely judges him by the symbols (money) which he has, or the kind of hat or clothes he wears.  Since commercialism cannot sell brains, but can sell trousers or a dress, it establishes semantic standards whereby a man is evaluated by his clothes and hats.

In speaking of exaggerated self-regard based on improper self-evaluation, we touch the problem of infantile self-love and self-importance.  Infantile grown-ups carry these even further, and are unable to make dependable attachment to others.  The love of parents toward their child is largely because it is their child; and infantile A 'loves' B, only because B 'adores' A and gives up his individuality.  The moment something changes in B, all the 'love' A had disappears [ie. it was not love because conditions were set up.  It was based on what A could get, it was not selfless].  The unbelievable bitterness which appears in divorce-court scenes show clearly the value of infantile 'love'.  Such 'love' is often based on purely egoistic grounds.  They 'love' what they represent to themselves, what they once represented, what they would like to represent.  Infantile parents see all kinds of perfections in their babies, although a sober outsider does not share these opinions.  An infantile mother treats her child like a doll, plays and is thrilled with it, but soon gets tired as the responsibilities become irksome.  An infantile father sees in the child, first, a toy, and, later, a nuisance.

Infantile adults have little regard for, or endurance of, life responsibilities.  They tire quickly, are easily discouraged and frightened.  They are thus irresponsible, unreliable, and a source of suffering for those connected with, or dependent on, them.  This permanent suspense for others produces, perhaps, one of the most serious sources of worries and unhappiness.  Since it is persistent, it gives continual, painful nervous shocks, the cumulative effect which is bound to be harmful.

The infantile individual himself cannot fail to notice that something is wrong, for life makes him quickly aware of it.  But, in his self-love, exaggerated self-esteem., he overlooks his own shortcomings, and blames everybody and everything but himself.  In the face of 'injustice', he becomes discouraged, timed, or bitter and pessimistic.  He is unable to discharge his duties, and becomes a disappointment as a father, husband, friend, and, ultimately, as a human being and citizen.  Bitterness, disappointment, and painful semantic shocks pile up on all sides under such conditions [Vitvan would say that due to the repression of the libido or power to be conscious, the natural desires on their respective levels, an individual turns negative and love becomes hate, the world turns dark and this is projected out into the 'objective' world].

One of the most important characteristics of infantilism of all degrees takes the form of exhibitionism, an impulse for showing off, even by crude display of himself, his body, etc.  This tendency is very common, and leads to many results of a very undesirable social character.  Infantile men and women are primarily in love with themselves  and care only how pretty they are.  They spend large portions of their income and life on dresses and groom, which, of course, have no social value.  Such types live in an infantile world and are socially useless, often parasitic on the social body.  Often those who support them ruin their lives to satisfy these infantile semantic characteristics."

Okay so this section on infantilism goes on for a few more pages.  I think I hit the real heavy parts, if I have time to type more I will, or if I find a section that I feel that I can't leave out I will add it.  If you are so inclined to read it yourself, here is the link:  It is some heavy hitting text.  I must say that most of the people that I know personally would be considered infantile, and I can honestly say that I grew up with a lot of the infantile characteristics and am still trying to get rid of some.  I think the key is to understand the structure, and to not shrink away from the criticism.  When you become timid and block out reality you fall back in the infantile cocoon.  

Another point that I took from reading this section, was how society was just as imbalanced in Korzybski's time as it is today.  I think that only today because of the internet and 'social media connections' that it is more on display for one to observe.  It becomes magnified, and there are many more people.  So it seems as though the percentage of infantile people is not far off from the early 1900's.  We are still in the jungle - selfish and out to get what we can get.  I find this text to be a great boon - to be able to have someone to concisely put all of this together in an easy to understand manner.  And if it stings while reading some of it, well look deeper and find out why it stings.  Accept and appreciate the pain, don't shy away, that is how I feel about it.  As far as I am concerned, this is a great time to be incarnated - the incredible friction that comes with having all of these people who fear being separated from the group that will fight against you as you leave their herd, what a boon.  After waking up to reality, there is no way to live that way and be happy, so might as well fight against it and struggle for the pearl of great price.  That friction, that duality will push you right on up.

That's all I have for now.  God Bless.