I have deeply mixed feelings about the writing and legacy of Arthur Koestler. I own one of his books in my personal library, and my feelings about that book capture, in a nutshell, my feelings about the legacy and writing of the man. The Thirteenth Tribe is a book about the Khazar Empire, a long-lasting but almost entirely forgotten empire powerful from the 7th century to the late 10th century in what is now the Ukraine and southern Russia. Half of The Thirteenth Tribe is an immensely interesting book about this forgotten empire and its adoption of Judaism by its rulers in order to avoid falling into either the Byzantine Empire’s sphere of influence or the Arabic sphere of influence. Unfortunately, the other half of the book is a biased and terrible example of ethnology gone wrong by making unsupportable hypotheses about how the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe were descended from the Khazars.
And that fits Arthur Koestler’s legacy in a nutshell. He had obviously great intuitive powers, and he could come up with occasionally startling insights. But his left-wing antinominan self-hatred (typical among that sector of the Jewish population, sadly) did him no favors as a thinker and as a historian. For every Darkness At Midnight, where Koestler examined why it was that committed Communists would lie and incriminate themselves in Stalin’s show trials (a more insightful investigator would have understood that by virtue of their acceptance of Communism as a viable social system such people had already abdicated their sanity and good sense). However, being as committed to left-wing ideology as he was, Arthur Koestler could not examine the fact that Stalinism, for all its extremes, was only slightly less sensible than his own views.
Nonetheless, we owe a debt of gratitude to the man not only for his history of the Khazar Empire (if we must throw away his bogus ethnology), and not only for his frightening picture of Stalinist paranoia, but also for his work “The Dinosaur’s Prayer.” In it he lays down a problem that we all face largely because so many of us in society have been harmed by the worldview of Koestler and his fellow travelers like Gramsci. Many people love dinosaurs (I still do, and I especially did as a child), and we all know they are extinct. The dinosaur’s prayer is “a little more time” in the hope to fix wrongs before extinction comes.
Koestler was not alone in making that plea. In the children’s novel My Teacher Flunked The Planet, Bruce Coville makes the same plea. Through the mouthpiece of his idealistic young hero Peter Thompson, he has humanity pleading for more time and more instructors to mature and grow as a species and to avoid judgment. For Bruce Coville, as well as Arthur Koestler, understood at a deep level that humanity was worthy of judgment. And so did the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when they continually had Captain Jean-Luc Picard, plalyed ably by Patrick Stewart, dealing with the endless trials from the merciless and semi-divine Q.
What all of these disparate thinkers and writers understood is that our actions as a species merit judgment. They differ widely in worldview, and on what grounds merit judgment but they all understood that shared collective blame and faced collective judgment unless we had more time. Time is the friend of those in need. More time means at least more potential resources, which is why bogus evolutionary theories always include a lot of time for mutations to add up into massive changes, aware that without time there can be no possible evolutionary pathways. If even evolutionists can understand this (those whose mental powers are not terribly great, but whose faith is tenacious, even if misguided), then clearly the rest of us ought to see it easily enough.
But it is not time alone that is sufficient. Right now much of civilized world (and many of its citizens, myself included) are burdened with unsustainable amounts of debt. These debts were freely taken on, in the (misguided) hope that they would help increase resources so that later on the debt could be repaid. They were a calculated risk that, all other things being equal, things would be better later by borrowing now. And largely that hasn’t happened. Our society pays of present political problems with massive and unfunded social obligations, without the means to pay for them and without the moral will to do something to avoid reckoning except for making the burden worse. But we cannot blame our society for doing this since we as individuals do no differently.
The hope, of course, is that time will allow some sort of resources to develop or some sort of solution to develop that will allow judgment to be avoided. At some point there is some behavioral change required too if one wishes to avoid the chasm. If all one is doing is hoping that time alone will cause the problem to go away while doing the same sort of activity that got you into trouble, all you will end up is more trouble. More rope, apart from a change of behavior, will only get you hanged more completely or even further from the top of the cliff. It is finding those resources and changing behavior that is the big problem.
And so we pray the dinosaur’s prayer, recognizing that judgment day is coming for ourselves and for our societies but not able to really focus on the problem until it is very advanced. It is a shame that our societies or we ourselves cannot receive “intervention” for problems that merit judgment so that we can hit a ‘high bottom’ and avoid the suffering and misery of having to go all the way to rock bottom. Oh that we were wiser and had more sense, but most of us only learn through the school of hard knocks.