Monday, October 27, 2008

Straw Dogs

I've been looking again at John Gray's book.

Essentially the message is:

Humans are not central. Progress is a myth; freedom is a fantasy; the individual self a delusion; morality a kind of sickness; justice a matter of custom; illusion our natural condition; technology beyond our control; humans helpless; political tyrannies inevitable.

Or as someone has said, 'Not the best motivation for getting out of bed in the morning.'

It seems fair also to say, with another critic, that Gray mixes vital truths with half-truths, plain falsehoods, lurid hyperbole, dyspeptic middle-aged grousing, and recklessly one-sided rhetoric.

There are also glaring inconsistencies in the case that Gray makes.

He claims that morality is a fiction yet goes about morally denouncing everything from Socrates to science. And I've yet to meet a giraffe that gets anywhere near so worked up about genocide as Gray does.

But though he does manage to blur important differences between humans and other animals in this way, I'm not altogether dismissive of the case he makes in saying that humans are neither central to nor special in the scheme of things. The notion that human beings are superior to other life forms seems often to me to be circular in that humans are superior precisely at being human, and doing the things that humans do and value doing. We're good at what we're good at, and when compared with bacteria, we humans are better at writing poetry but not as good at surviving for millions of years in conditions of extreme heat or cold.

More later.

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