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Book Review: Janus, Arthur Koestler

September 25, 2018

Janus: A Summing UpJanus: A Summing Up by Arthur Koestler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was published around the same time as Dawkins’ selfish gene and it is sad to think that this much more balanced and critical account has been largely forgotten while the Dawkins dogma has held sway for so long. This book diagnoses much of what is wrong with the reductionist Dawkins’ style mentality, without, as far as I know, being aware of the work of Dawkins emerging, though he was well aware of the previous attempts of the neo-darwinist orthodoxy. His concept of Holons, as janus-faced entities, always with a self assertive tendency as a whole ruling over parts, and integrative, self transcendent tendencies as a part in some larger whole, is a good way to understand biological phenomena without becoming caught up either in the old materialist dogmas of the past or becoming overly confident in uttering things about purpose, intelligent design and such like.

The postage stamp consensus of mainstream reality needed a simple Dawkins dogma to believe in, because it is in line with the tendency of the west of a small elite to try and turn the rest of us into no more than robotic machines, slaves, or zombies. But this consensus ignores the more complex reality, and this book gives you some insights into that more complex reality. He illustrates particularly well the dangers of fixed conceptions of reality combined with over self assertive tendencies. And the danger of attachment too strongly in others to self transcendent ideologies while denying their self assertive tendencies. When a big group of people with a fixed self transcendent ideology get lulled into a hypnotic sleep by a self-assertive elite group, the results can be devastating for society. The health of all those people will continually decline because they are not in proper homeostasis between their self urges and their transcendent urges. They have become schizoid. Similarly in that situation the elite group has lost all touch with self transcendent urges, and so they are liable to become “evil” for they lose all conception and respect for any values that transcend their own interests.

Much of our mental health problems in this era come down to the fact we have had real challenges in life taken away from us, that for all the good will in the world, that may have driven this tendency, means that people turn largely into robotic and automatic ways of being. We have lost in the west the balance between our self assertive and our self transcending tendencies. It shows in our poor health, in our depression levels and in our low birth rates. We have to break out of this reductionist idée fixe, we need to bridge the gaps in our schizoid brains and live once more as healthy whole individuals. Koestlers holons, is one concept that can be used to help take us in this direction.

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