Friday, December 25, 2009

Arthur Koestler v. Ken Wilber...

Koestler invented the term "holon," which is not of much use to me, and Ken Wilber wrote lots of stuff about things based on acronyms and jargon related to holons which is also not of much use to me.

But Arthur Koestler was invariably more well traveled evidently...

No other writer of the 20th century had Arthur Koestler’s knack for doing odd things, crossing paths with important people and being present when disaster struck. As a 27-year-old Communist he spent the famine winter of 1932-33 in Khar­kov, amid millions of starving Ukrainians. Rushing southward through France ahead of the invading Nazi armies in 1940, he ran into the philosopher Walter Benjamin, who shared with him half the morphine tablets Benjamin would use, weeks later, to commit suicide. The Harvard drug guru Timothy Leary gave Koestler psilocybin in the mid-1960s, and Margaret Thatcher solicited his advice in her 1979 election campaign. Simone de Beauvoir slept with him but came to hate him, and in a fictional portrait described a blazing intelligence and a personality capable of sweeping people off their feet...


Koestler was in Málaga when it fell to Franco in 1937. He was thrown in jail, where on some nights dozens of his fellow inmates were marched away to execution. Because his interrogators did not know he was an actual Communist, it was possible for the Party to secure his release through its front groups. Scammell is masterly on the role of these organizations, putatively just “antifascist” but run by steering committees taking orders from Moscow. They drummed up the campaign, a novelty at the time, for Koestler’s release, turning him into a European celebrity.

Despite all that, it turns out Koestler was pretty much as much of a crackpot as Wilber.

...In the mid-1950s Koestler fell out of love with international politics. He refused to make a public show of support for either the Hungarian uprising of 1956 or Israel in the 1967 war. It was now science that fascinated him. No previous biographer has been able to pivot with Koestler at this point, but Scammell, a first-class paraphraser, is up to the task. Some of Koestler’s late work is impressive: “The Sleepwalkers” is an account of the pioneers of modern astronomy that Thomas Kuhn credited with having anticipated the ideas in his classic, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” But there is a consistent note of autodidactic crankiness, too. Koestler’s enthusiasms included Lamarckian evolution, telepathy and ESP, a theory of creation that we would call intelligent design, levitation and the belief — laid out in his late book “The Thirteenth Tribe” — that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from the Khazars of the North Caucasus.

But the Koestler he depicts is consistently repugnant — humorless, megalomaniac, violent. Like many people concerned about “humanity,” he was contemptuous of actual humans. He ignored and snubbed his mother (who had pawned her last diamond to pay for his passage to Palestine), and he rebuffed every attempt to arrange a meeting between him and his illegitimate daughter. What made him such a creep? Perhaps alcohol — Koestler threw tables in restaurants and was arrested for drunken driving on many occasions. Perhaps insecurity — he was tormented by his shortness (barely 5 feet 6 inches) and used to stand on tippy-toe at cocktail parties. “We all have inferiority complexes of various sizes,” Koestler’s Communist editor Otto Katz once told him. “But yours isn’t a complex — it’s a cathedral.”

It's really important to practice humility and kindness and mindfulness, because otherwise this might be the result. At least that's what I feel after reading this stuff.