John Gray’s Straw Dogs

In his book John Gray is a demolisher, razing to the ground almost every idea which offers hope, whether it comes from science, religion, humanism or any other -ism. It’s not a long book. You can get through it in a couple of days: easily but not comfortably, unless you’ve already sacrificed all the sacred cows he might possibly want to slaughter on your behalf.

As you work your way through, you try to imagine the purpose of his bulldozing. As demolition contractor, he exposes the dysfunction of the brownfield site on which we have established our dwelling; gathers our garbage of indefensible ideas for disposal, grubs up the old foundations, detoxifies the soil down to the rocky substrate. Once he’s disposed of our cherished values and ideals, what will he want to build on these fresh fields, this tabula rasa? Will he simply leave it empty for a “Nature Reserve”? Not for long. Nature includes human nature, which doesn’t stop short of polluting and destroying on a massive scale. Ultimately, it’s the rest of Nature which will work out what to do with us, to protect itself. We are animals. We cannot change what we are. We cannot set the world to rights. The world sets us to rights.

His purpose, like many a reformer before him, many a philosopher, is to cleanse us from those unquestioned ideas which colour our perception of reality, but to which we cling, to ward off despair. Says Blake, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.

John Gray has done more in his book to cleanse those doors of perception than mescaline* could achieve. He does it through the brute force of rhetoric, a weapon he applies crudely, but never offensively. He’s never ad hominem. He doesn’t accuse us of being evil or stupid. We just can’t help it! The heretic Church of England priest Don Cupitt praises Straw Dogs thus:

Tough-minded and entertaining, this is popular philosophy at its best. The more you disagree with John Gray’s main line of argument, the more you will gain from him. Splendid!

Which is like saying that the more unfit you are, the more you will gain from the obstacle course forced on the military recruit. Let me now summarise the obstacles that he wishes us to surmount.

The idea of human progress is wishful thinking and unsubstantiated. There is progress in technology and science, but it’s a mixed blessing, because directed and exploited by a violent species homo sapiens, whom he sometimes calls “homo rapiens”, and whose nature has not changed, nor can change by its own efforts. Our nature is the product of evolution, not ours to change by act of will. In this, he’s a determinist. In short we are just another species, fruit of Evolution’s cornucopia of invention, no better than dogs, despite being Top Dog in our power to make every species extinct including our own, and to inflict serious damage on the planet short of making it barren for ever. He happily uses the epithet Gaia, referring to the self-correcting and regenerating power of Earth, as described by James Lovelock; a power which will happily destroy humanity before humanity has the chance to destroy all life. Earth is safe, but not Man. Hence the title of his book, as explained below:

Straw dogs were used as ceremonial objects in ancient China. Chapter 5 of the Tao Te Ching begins with the lines “Heaven and Earth are heartless / treating creatures like straw dogs”. Su Ch’e comments “Heaven and Earth are not partial. They do not kill living things out of cruelty or give them birth out of kindness. We do the same when we make straw dogs to use in sacrifices. We dress them up and put them on the altar, but not because we love them. And when the ceremony is over, we throw them into the street, but not because we hate them.” (From Wikipedia, quoting as source Red Pine’s 1996 book Lao-tzu’s Taoteching.)

Any hope we may have of improving human nature, of reaching what Teilhard de Chardin calls the Omega Point, or some other distant imagined Utopia where there is peace—where everyone feels all the time what you or I feel on a good day (which we think of as Heaven)—Gray tries to dash that hope. But “hope springs eternal  in the human breast”. Or perhaps he has “scotch’d the Snake, not kill’d it”, the Snake being false hope. Or he has shown us how to prune it for ourselves, to cut through the thicket of cultural expectations. When he’s finished lashing out at everything that moves, we see what a half-hearted job the atheists have done. Their only aim in razing the brownfield temples of religion is to build their new temple—of humanist progress, based on a design already copyrighted by the Christians. They are mere freebooters. Without the idea of God, which they plundered from Christianity in order to deride it, they would have nothing to say. They don’t do a proper demolition at all. For they still embrace the ideas of Progress, Heaven on Earth, Man’s superiority to the other animals. Darwin said we are just like all life, all plants and animals: patterned by DNA, shaped by force of environment, nothing more. Yet the atheist freebooters are still fervent in their faith, still influenced by Judaeo-Christian myth:

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Their God is no longer the Hebrew God, but the God of the unholy trinity of Capitalism, Science and Technology, whose dominion has in fact proved a curse more toxic than the religion whence they sprang. Indeed, hints Gray, there’s a lineage linking the Old Testament, Plato, Christianity, capitalism, technology, science and atheism.

As I sped through my first reading of Gray’s book, I kept wondering what he would say in his last chapter. Surely you don’t clear so much land, with so much expenditure of precious effort, raising so much controversy as you go, without a plan for its subsequent development? I could not believe he was inspired by sheer nihilism. So let him speak for himself, in these extracts from the short final chapter, “As it is”:

In his novel Nostromo, Joseph Conrad wrote: ‘Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions.’

In thinking so highly of work, we are aberrant. Few other cultures have ever done so. For nearly all of history and all prehistory, work was an indignity.
(Cf my last post and Susan’s comment in particular.)

Searching for a meaning in life may be a useful therapy, but it has nothing to do with the life of the spirit. Spiritual life is not a search for meaning but a release from it.

Other animals do not need a purpose in life. A contradiction to itself, the human animal cannot do without one. Can we not think of the aim of life as simply to see?


* See Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception (1954)

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37 thoughts on “John Gray’s Straw Dogs

  1. I could say a few things about this, but I doubt any of it would be constructive. At the moment, I'm much more curious to hear what your other readers will say. So, I'll take a spectator role on this one.

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  2. Well, you asked for it.

    I don't find anything “cleansing” in Mr. Gray's vile disgust with humanity. Far from being a new idea, this sort of stuff goes back centuries to medieval scholars and their ideas about “original sin” and the “innate depravity of man”, the idea that humans are helpless little ugly botched creations and that progress is a pointless delusion. It pisses in the face of hope out of spiteful hatred towards life and the world and mankind in general. The fact that you think any of this is a fresh idea makes me wonder where you've been all your life.

    But like I said, there's nothing very constructive in my saying that. But then again, there's nothing too constructive in Mr. Gray writing his book in the first place since he “doesn’t accuse us of being evil or stupid. We just can’t help it!” So what does he hope to accomplish? If we're powerless to change our ways then why try to rub our face in Mr. Gray's dis-satisfaction with us as a species? Just so he can share the diseased garbage that festering in his mind? If he thinks that Man is such a cancerous blight on the Earth that the planet will soon rid itself of, and he really wants to do something constructive, then he should stop writing books and instead put a bullet through his brain as soon as possible. That would eliminate at least one of these foul creatures who are ruining the planet. He could stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution.

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  3. Wow, now I see what you meant. And feel guilty, even though I didn't intentionally bait you.

    I'd written the piece not as a dispassionate review, but to try and provoke interest in the book itself. I have obviously failed.

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  4. I'd like to clarify a little the kind of arguments that Gray makes. He's not expressing disgust with humanity, nor even moral repugnance. But he gives many examples of what he sees as the problems preventing progress towards any Utopia. Here's a concise quote to illustrate my point:

    'The scale of man-made death is the central moral and material fact of our time,' writes Gil Elliot. What makes the twentieth century special is not the fact that it is littered with massacres. It is the scale of the killings and the fact that they were premeditated for the sake of vast projects of world improvement.

    These are things which have happened in living memory. To eliminate them in the future, we'll need to improve human behaviour. How will that be possible?

    He refutes the idea that mankind can take conscious control of its evolution, so as to shape its own future. In this context he respecfully mentions E O Wilson, 'the greatest contemporary Darwinian', as a proponent of such an idea, in order to argue against it. Looking up Wilson, I see that he is listed as the main pioneer of sociobiology, which studies the ways in which human behaviour is influenced by evolution. Gray takes issue with Wilson on the latter's belief that “genetic evolution is about to become conscious and volitional, and usher in a new epoch in the history of life.”

    Do you see how this becomes the crucial point? If we cannot change human behaviour as inherited by our animal forebears, then more science and technology will facilitate deadlier wars, bigger crimes and more extinctions.

    The fact that most of us are not violent, immoral, crooked, super-greedy or crazy is not enough to suppress those who have caused and still threaten such destruction.

    This is his very arguable argument. Is he right or wrong? It is not arguable from what I have written above. I'm just an incompetent messenger drawing your attention to the main man.

    If he were a racist, holocaust denier or some other type of pariah, I could understand you not wanting to waste your time. But he's making a reasoned case and deserves serious attention.

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  5. If I have mistaken Mr. Grey's thesis or your representation of it, then I apologize. Some of the ways you put things gave me that impression, but still I apologize. I find your follow-up comment much more agreeable. Our spiritual progress and our maturity as a species lags woefully behind our technological progress, and that is most definitely a problem. And the fact that many of the atrocities of the 20th century were commited under the excuse of “social engineering experiments” is as telling as it is tragic. With that I whole-heartedly concur.

    Again, I apologize for my former comment. As you can no doubt guess, I don't care too much for wholesale attacks on humanity. So, consider my remarks as a commentary on that sentiment in general…a sentiment which much certainly won't solve the problem.

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  6. So I went and checked out the excerpt on Amazon, in the interest of fairness. Based on the little bit offered there, I afraid I'll have to stick by my initial assessment. The problems that you mentioned in your comment above are genuine, but this guy doesn't have the answers.

    Most of his stale ideas seem to be nothing more than unsubstantiated assertions, “free will in an illusion”, “progress is a myth”, “Humans are no more advanced than any other animal.” He doesn't bother to back any of these claims up with either evidence, illustration, or argument. The fact of the pronouncements themselves appears to be all the proof he thinks he needs.

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  7. For example:

    “Darwin showed that humans are like other animals, humanists claim they are not.”

    Darwin showed that we have a common ancestry with the animals, and that we evolved from them. But in the larger context of Mr. Gray's argument, he's clearly saying more than this here. He's constantly referring to Darwin as “proof” that we have no grounds for claiming to be more advanced, more civilized, or more free than the animals. I'd appreciate if someone could tell me exactly where Darwin says this in The Origin of Species. Mr. Grey's argument is tantamount to saying a.) Babies can't control their bladder. b.) We all used to be babies. c.) Therefore bladder control is a myth.

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  8. In fact, he evokes Darwin's name so often as supposed corroboration of his cracker-brained ideas that if I didn't know better, I'd think he wrote the book to a dare, trying to see if he could stir Darwin from his grave just on the sheer force of outrage at having his good name so abused.

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  9. Respectfully, Mr White, I put it to you that your case will be laughed out of court, so thin is your evidence.

    You read an excerpt from page 5 of a 200-page book, then complain of its unsubstantiated assertions. How does that work?

    You assess the frequency of references to Darwin by the same method. Same question.

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  10. It is a thinker's fortune, especially today, to be largely argued over by people who haven't read the original material. That's one part of how memes spread naturally. A relatively small number of key readers – in this case you, but often e.g. a journalist or presenter or teacher – act as mediators to bring the ideas into the public domain, and then the rest of us argue from relative ignorance, the same way that students mostly talk wisely and fiercely about Marx, Freud, Derrida, Adorno, Bataille or whoever happens to be this decade's thing. I'm not saying this is an ideal situation, but alas! there are just too many books. In the circumstances lack of intimate knowledge of primary material doesn't preclude having opinions and a conversation.

    Anyway, reponding (mediatedly) to Gray's argument about the impossibility of controlling the evolution of behaviour. I do think recognizing the animality of humans can be really illuminating. There's also something direly attractive about a belief that not everything is within our own control. As Bryan say, it's nothing new. I suppose that's what lies unexpressed behind the so-familiar thoughts that e.g. we are bound to blow ourselves up, or over-populate the earth until we're standing shoulder to shoulder, or drown ourselves by melting the ice-caps. But fear lacks detail. The latter seems to be really a test of politics. Is the nation-state capable of evolving into a vehicle of concerted internationalist action?

    Mandeville argued that beneficent (proto-capitalist) structures could make honey out of man's selfish tendencies; people would still behave badly, but in a well-run institution the impact of this evil behaviour was actually to increase society's wealth and security. Mandeville's modern descendants would talk about a “system of checks and balances”. Presumably this is one of the sacred cows that Gray slaughters. Certainly Mandeville was a bit optimistic. Things do go wrong. Civilisations require constant maintenance. But the existence of longstanding social contracts and mandated controls over behaviour is not something that can just be flicked away as of no importance. Law-making, when seen to be necessary, appears to be encoded into human behaviour just as it is in other social animals.

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  11. Your first point is well made, Michael. I sneer at Richard Dawkins without reading his books cover to cover, and feel no shame. If I had felt the burden of bringing Gray's ideas into the public domain, thereby obviating my reader from any impulse to read the book directly, I would have written my piece differently. But I would never have accepted such a burden, as I've always found it essential to read an author in the original (failing that, an acceptable translation). What I've read in Darwin's, Freud's, & Jung's own words has delighted me as the expressions of original souls fired with their discoveries. Whether I agreed with a distillation of their views was beside the point. Similarly, with Karl Marx, Richard Dawkins, Hegel, the Koran & others, a little from the original author was enough to decide they were not for me. I could happily live the rest of my life feeling little more than vague disparagement of their projects.

    I accept that Bryan has felt the same way about Gray, for I believe him to be an atheist humanist who believes in progress, and may consequently feel an irrational hate for Gray. But as the basis of our relationship is mutual (and so far futile) provocation, this merely spurs me to provoke him further.

    As for your arguments derived from Mandeville, I should add that though Gray covers capitalism in his own unique way (“Contemporary capitalism is prodigiously productive, but the imperative that drives it is not productivity. It is to keep boredom at bay”) he has less to say about politics. He's more interested in economics, e.g. “What is new is not that prosperity depends on stimulating new demand. It is that it cannot continue without inventing new vices.” But then, he has a main chapter on ethics, entitled “The vices of morality”, in which he trashes our typical views of any eternal definitions of right and wrong; arguing instead that such values are ocnstantly reinvented.

    It's not so much a question of Gray saying nothing new. It's more a matter of him asking his reader to question the values that most of us in the 21st century take for granted. To refute the idea of human progress is nothing new, but perhaps it is new to accuse atheism/humanism of being more Christian in its outlook than it will ever admit: as if it were the latest reform movement in a long line including Martin Luther.

    I detect something of Nietzsche in John Gray, as if he dreams of carrying on where Nietzsche left off, and attempting the Revaluation of All Values which Nietzsche's devastating health breakdown left undone.

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  12. Are you saying that the author completely changes his style after the page I read up to? Does his argument consist of something other than rewording the same outrageous claims over and over? I figured you'd take refuge in that one caveat. Believe me, I'd read the whole book if I thought it would help. But the excerpt was the best I could do on short notice. Even that can be considered on its own merits; can it not?

    Consider, for example, this business with E. O. Wilson. Gray's counter-argument? “The idea of humanity taking charge of its destiny makes sense only if we ascribe consciousness and purpose to the species; but Darwin's discovery was that species are only currents in the drift of genes. The idea that humanity can shape its future assumes that it is exempt from this truth.” In other words, to paraphrase: Wilson says we're on the verge of taking control of our evolution, but Darwin ascribes that process to the blind selection, so suck on that Wilson! He doesn't even address the fact that Wilson is clearly talking about genetic research and engineering, and the fact that we are very much about to crack into the very mechanisms which drive evolution. He simply says, “nope, can't happen.” and appears to leave it at that.

    One could argue that we're trying to manipulate a system within which we're already being within; the genetic scientist is already being manipulated by his genes at the other end of the tool. That does seem to be implicit in Gray's theme, but it requires that he discount the artificial altogether, considering it just another manifestation of the natural. This he does. He finds no difference between a spider's web and the world wide web. He discounts thousands of years of ingenuity, creativity, invention, and progress for the sake of a pun. He disregards the artificial and then takes us to task for it, calling us “homo rapiens.” He disregards free will and then writes a book prescribing what we ought to do.

    If there's more to his case, please feel free to enlighten me. I'd read the whole book if I could get my hands on a Kindle edition, but I'd be willing to bet the house that it doesn't get any better.

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  13. Gray does actually accept “the fact that we are very much about to crack into the very mechanisms which drive evolution”. So yes, we can be the agents of future evolution. But he denies that this will result in beneficial progress, either for our species or our planet. He suggests that the powerful could manipulate genes to produce fighters devoid of conscience. And says much more, going way beyond what I agree with. (Whether I agree with him on all or any points is not relevant to what we are debating here.)

    He also has it in for memes. For example, on pages 26-27 he attacks the notion of memes as a way to evolve and refine the human species in the direction of progress.

    “Only someone miraculously innocent of history could believe that competition among ideas could result in the triumph of truth…. If the Final Solution had been carried to a conclusion, would that have demonstrated the inferiority of Hebrew memes?”

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  14. Well, one can always point out the ways that genetic research could be misused, just as one can obviously point out how the things we've learned about the atom clearly have been misused. I could get into the difference between pure and applied science, but I think the issue here is a larger one.

    As I said above, I agree that our spirituality lags behind our technology. By the same token, though, I do believe in progress, and not just technological. I believe we have made progress as a civilization. Glance back only a few centuries and you'll find that slavery, exploitation, and even murder were the order of the day. Are there still atrocities? Are there still injustices? Is there still an appalling amount of violence and brutality in the world? Of course. But the fact that we haven't achieved perfection (or aren't even in shouting distance of it) doesn't prove that we aren't making progress at all. Human civilization is only a few thousand years old. In the cosmic scheme of things that like a blink of an eye. Give us a chance.

    Nevertheless, granting the problem exists, what is Mr. Gray's solution? That we resign ourselves that we'll never rise above the brute level of animals? To give up and give in to and accept our helplessness and hopelessness? To surrender to the passive resignation where we exist “simply to see”? That may be a fine plan for a erudite blogger enjoying his retirement years, but as a large scale plan for the human race…I don't think we'd survive very long in such a state.

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  15. And there again the same contradiction, which seems to underlie the entire book, rears its head. He bemoans our technological iniquities while simultaneously insisting that these things are mere products of nature beyond our control, sophisticated forms of nest-building, flower pollination, and yes…web spinning. He appears to play both sides of this contradiction like a beleaguered tennis player.

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  16. I haven't been hired as John Gray's mouthpiece, dear Bryan. I wouldn't do it even if he offered to pay me by the hour plus expenses. You might think that an erudite blogger enjoying his retirement years has nothing else to do. There is that suggested aim of life to achieve: “simply to see”. It takes most of my waking hours. (I jest of course. I'm not Gray's disciple.)

    What I will say though is this. The most admirable thing about his book is that he doesn't offer a solution. That makes me want to hug him. That is the reason for my elaborate metaphor of the demolition contractor, whose task is merely to clear the site. I know it's very insulting to someone who believes in progress, to have that idea so cavalierly treated. But I did amend an offensive phrase in the post.

    I took out “heaps up our rat-infested garbage for disposal”, and replaced it by “gathers our garbage of indefensible ideas for disposal”.

    The adjective “indefensible” was meant to reflect Gray's opinion, not mine. I don't suppose you will read the book now, but please don't depend on me to tell you what he says!

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  17. Oh, I certainly don't hold you responsible for Mr. Gray's ideas, and I don't consider you his apologist. I might have even been a little more discreet if I did ;)

    I apologize again for getting carried away here. I knew when I first read the post that the whole thing had hit a bad nerve with me. I tried to hold my tongue and take to the sidelines rather than let myself become overwhelmed by own indignation.

    I do want to address one last point of Mr. Gray's, though. Another motif of his is this idea that humanists or atheists have hi-jacked the idea of human value and progress and hope from religion. As you know, I have argued elsewhere that barring a creator, indeed leaves us with no inherent purpose or value. However, I went to say that it falls to us then to find our own value and purpose in our existence, and I reveled in the freedom that this offered. If Mr. Gray fails to find any value in his existence or in the existence of humanity at large, then he has my sympathy, but most certainly not my agreement.

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  18. Since you might conceivably tell me that Mr. Grey doesn't insist that there's no value in existence, please indulge me a brief elaboration of my point.

    Take his position on progress. He maintains that the notion is transplanted from Christianity and isn't supported by Darwinian evolution at all. Well, one might be tempted to retort that evolution itself demonstrates a tendency towards progress, from one celled organisms to complex intelligent creatures. Furthermore, one might even say that human civilization demonstrates a level of progress in its own right that's hard to dismiss with a few off-hand remarks about it being a religious superstition. However, progress, like value, is in the eye of the beholder. Bigger is only better, if it's better for you. If Mr. Gray refuses to look at history by any standard that would consider it a process of improvement, that's his prerogative. I'm reminded of Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen saying something to the effect that, chemically speaking, there was very little difference between a living body and a dead one. Well sure, if you insist on speaking strictly in chemicals.

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  19. Bryan, you are my honoured guest and friend. I shall indulge you unceasingly. No need to hold back. Here there is freedom of speech.

    Your points tempt me to reply, but I shall hold fast to my vow.

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  20. An obvious way to continue this debate would be to leave Gray to one side at this point. I'm happy to speak on my own behalf, and it will take a further post to set out my position. But meanwhile, there's space to throw out a few thoughts in advance.

    Bryan you, several times refer to a need for a solution, and the absence of one in Gray's book. I agree he doesn't cover that topic. But I'm not sure that he covers “the problem”.

    Setting Gray aside, as promised, I propose continuing to challenge common assumptions, not to grasp at solutions, but to make us think afresh.

    What is “the problem” requiring a solution? I don't recognise it. Can you define it?

    Of course there are problems, in the plural. A problem is whatever anyone chooses to identify at any time, as something requiring a corresponding solution.

    I tend to think that if no possible solution exists, something identified as a problem ceases to be classified as one–if one is a purist about words.

    Example: “the problem of death”. Death is inevitable. If there were no death, many new problems would arise. Death (itself) is not a problem, but a given.

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  21. Barely half an hour after my last comment, I started to debate with what I'd written, finding an outraged voice within me. Let it speak now:

    “How can you say there is no great problem requiring solution? What makes you so culpably complacent? Do you want us all to ignore the global crisis that's so obviously staring us in the face, and do nothing?”

    I shall call this voice Joe.

    Vincent: “I hear you Joe. Can you really define the problem, though? I have the idea that when a problem is correctly defined, the solution stares you in the face. I've often found it to be true.”

    Joe: “Don't try to be clever with me. It is one problem with multiple causes. So we will use all our science, technology, political will, ethical concern, creation of just laws, effective policing of same, viral dissemination of the manifest advantages of freedom, democracy–and we'll solve this problem, just as we've solved every problem in the past, dang it! As my grandmother used to say, there's no such word as can't.”

    Vincent: “Fine. You've had your say.”

    Joe: “Aren't you going to respond?”

    Vincent: “Maybe. Oh, just one thing now. You say we've solved every problem in the past. Who is 'we'? Yes, it is true that we've invented the water-closet, mobile phone and penicillin. But can I give you a favourite quote? The chief cause of problems is solutions. (Eric Sevareid)

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  22. I think I like this Joe guy.

    As for “the problem”, I guess I would say that in this case it's the fact that we've come so far with our technology, and yet we're still barely out of the jungle when it comes to our behavior. It's scary to think that we have weapons which can effectively wipe out all life on Earth, and yet at the same time, we still have wars based in suspicion, superstition, and bigotry. This may not be The Problem, and in the mother of all problems (I have no idea what that would be), but it is A problem, and a pretty big one too.

    Mr. Gray (although we've left him aside) seems to suggest that such is our nature, and that it will never change, never grow. Our technology will continue to advance, but we will stagnate until “the problem” reaches a critical mass and we either destroy ourselves or Gaia, Mother Earth, Whoever will get tied of us and shake us off like an infection of fleas.

    Now, he may not offer a solution, but if I were to buy into his line of thought, I'd say that implication is a clear call to abandon technology.

    But me, I hoping there's another way. I'm hoping that we can grow, and that we get a chance to do so. In the meantime, I'm open to suggestions.

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  23. a snake (yer could look up the species) needs no other purpose than to “survive”.

    have been listening on the radio (don't have TV) ..about people living in “remote” areas.

    For a start – a snake will NOT bite .. unless, or until you step on it. Snakes do NOT see human beings as “prey”.

    If walking through long grass where snakes might live … stomp on the ground – they are very sensitive to vibrations (think about their physiology).. they are more afraid of humans that we are of them.

    Next – if bitten …

    Think about it .. when are you bitten on the throat; or anything above the ankle or finger?

    The chemicals injected are, basically, through evolution, allow the reptile to immobilise a frog, or small animal.

    The chemicals injected travel (some might dispute this – through the human LYMPH system – NOT the bloodstream.)

    If, in the unlikely event that a person IS, actually, confronted by a snake of any sort.

    STAND STILL, wait for it to go away.

    IF bitten, KEEP THE LIMB IMMOBILISED. There are cheap “first aid”

    bandages ….. ahhh shhhheit … this comment is beginning to look like some sort of “computer' virus protection … nah just me … know a bit about survival in the Australian “outbacks'.

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  24. Yes, Davoh, I rather think that it's not the film of the book, though.

    So the snakes actually behave better than humans? I mean, they tend to mind their own business, which we obviously don't.

    The other day I was rethinking whether to take my blood pressure medication, and looked it up in Wikipedia, which told me it was originally synthesized from pit viper venom. For some reason I viewed it more favourably after that, imagining that its beneficial properties had been first discovered by Amazonian tribesmen after being pierced by curare-tipped darts from blowpipe-wielding enemies. Their blood pressure went down. The side-effect was that some of them died but the others were full of praise.

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  25. I'm glad you like Joe, Bryan, he's my alter ego, the one that doen't blog.

    I'll happily accept that our behaviour may be the problem. It's reported that Jesus thought that too. But his successors set up franchises and … well, we are where we are. The legacy of well-meaning reform lives on, however.

    The difficulty with humans seems to be this. Each of us has a clear idea of how to behave correctly – i.e. to look after our individual well-being, & survive like a snake, who as Davoh says, “needs no other purpose than to survive”.

    But we humans need all sorts of other things too. We are not content with merely surviving. All sorts of other things are important to us.

    One thing we are lousy at is acting together for the good of all. Ants do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it, let's fall in love.

    No, that was a song. What I meant to say was, dictators (such as in North Korea) would like us to be like ants, all pull in the same direction. But it goes against the human pattern. We are individual. And the bad ones often have more power than the good ones.

    So I don't know how human behaviour will get better. It is true that evolution can change anything. But I think the human species has gone beyond dependence on natural selection. We have interfered with it.

    How can human behaviour be improved?

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  26. What I meant to say about ants, before interrupting myself with foolishness, is that ants do behave very well, i.e. for the good of the colony and not just individual example. For example in a termite colony some members specialise in nursing and others in foraging. But if you take the nurse ants away from the nest, they'll happily adapt to foraging, whilst other ants in the nest will take over nursing duties.

    I won't tell you where I read it. Have promised not to mention.

    The point is, we don't organize ourselves like that. It is not in our nature. We don't even want to organise ourselves like ants, even though Proverbs 6:6 adjures us to do so. We pity those who are forced to behave like ants.

    And we don't really follow commandments to love our neighbour.

    How can we improve behaviour?

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  27. “How can we improve human behavior?”

    That's a good question. I wish I had a good answer. I'll give it a shot, though.

    First, I suppose we need to define “good behavior.” I'm not a big fan of selfless sacrifice or conscripting people by force or obligation into mandatory service to their fellow man. By the same token, though, I realize that in the long run it's in all our best interests to try to get along and work together to some degree. Not to mention that compassion, kindness, and generosity are virtues that I would hardly argue with.

    So then the question becomes: How do we cultivate this good behavior? By freedom or by force? A mandate for generosity (or even a law as communism or socialism would have it) is the quickest way to kill the genuine article. True kindness and generosity have to come from the heart, un-coerced. Crank up the heat, and that flower will never bloom again. Besides, I'm always a little confused about how “The People” are served by sacrificing the actual people who make up “The People.” That sort of logic always seems to lead to the state stepping in and saying THEY know what's best for everyone.

    And then, of course, this all leads to the inevitable counter-argument that left to their own devices people won't be kind or generous. Certainly Mr. Grey seems to be of this opinion. But I think it's precisely this lack of faith in humanity to leads all these “social engineering experiment” to fail. They're all based on the presumption that people have to be controlled for their own good, whether that means forcing them to be generous or forbidding them to use their minds to invent new things. The results are, at best, stagnation, and at worst, devastation.

    So then the question comes back to you, Vincent…and me..and everyone else on Earth individually: How much faith and trust are you willing to put in your fellow man?

    (Quick plug. I'll be elaborating on this theme in an upcoming Christmas themed post on
    nuclearheadache.
    Everyone's invited! Hee hee hee ;D )

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  28. I look forward to your upcoming post. I shall continue to ignore and not bother to rebut the stream of erroneous assumptions about the content of John Gray's book; but merely request that you are respectful enough to spell his name right, Mr Wight!

    How much trust and faith am I willing to put in my fellow man? Well, I shall continue not moralising about them, continue to be grateful that I am not exposed (touch wood) to all the possibility of harm from them, continue to take all appropriate precautions; and continue to trust those I have reason to trust.

    Like

  29. I've always preferred the g-r-e-y spelling of the color. It's hard to reverse years of habit for the sake of a name. I'm sure Mr. Gray just spells it like that to be difficult and as part of his pact with the Devil and to let people know that he is a Nazi Vegan Cannibal.

    Like

  30. It seems to me that human ideas about re-ordering the world are, in the final analysis, just another set of human ideas, and that the hubbub and confusion of everyday life is the only reality we can be sure of. Utopian hopes for a society of reason and enlightenment consistently run headlong into the realities of human nature.

    The reality right now is that whatever progress has been made these past few hundred years was largely made possible because of the easy availability of fossil fuels. The same thing has also caused many of the problems we face. Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not those days are fast coming to an end and what will happen next is anyone's guess.

    Whether you'll find these comments relevant to the matter at hand I still thought I should mention them.

    Like

  31. Thanks Susan, absolutely relevant.

    Yes, the overuse of fossil fuels. I imagine them like a kind of powerful medicinal drug, whose side-effects substitute one nightmare for another.

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  32. Regarding the last quote: “Other animals do not need a purpose in life. A contradiction to itself, the human animal cannot do without one. Can we not think of the aim of life as simply to see?”

    i disagree with the line “the human animal cannot do without one”. Ancient Greeks, European pagans, Indians, Chinese, Japanese never thought that humans have a purpose in life, did not need a purpose in life, never even asked such questions, the whole notion of 'purpose of life' was alien to them. It is only those who come from the semitic religious background/culture feel that this is important

    Like

  33. Arvind, I appreciate your perceptive comment. I suspect that the point you make probably informs Gray's second sentence in the quote. Throughout the book he has little asides suggesting that he would approve the cultures you mention.

    For instance, just above the quote you mention is another:

    “Spiritual life is not a search for meaning but a release from it.”

    But the question arises as to why those cultures with purpose in life have become dominant over those who prefer simply to see; to sit under a tree (climate permitting) to laugh and tell stories when the daily toil allows respite.

    And the answer, I suggest, is that those cultures with purpose in life have fashioned weapons, organized armies, developed technologies to rule and enslave those “purposeless” races who actually knew better how to live in graceful harmony.

    What do you think?

    Like

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