4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Devasting, bleak, persuasive, haphazard... as always,
This review is from: The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (Hardcover)
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'Straw Dogs', John Gray's first bestselling work, had a huge impact on me and many others. 'The Silence of Animals' continues in this anti-religious, anti-humanist tradition, as set-out in the following quotes:
"Civilization is natural for humans, but so is barbarism. The evidence of science and history is that humans are only ever partly and intermittently rational but for modern humanists the solution is simple: human beings must in future be more reasonable. These enthusiasts for reason have not noticed that the idea that humans may one day be more rational requires a greater leap of faith than anything in religion... When contemporary humanists invoke the idea of progress they are mixing together two different myths: a Socratic myth of reason and a Christian myth of salvation. If the resulting body of ideas is incoherent, that is the source of its appeal. Humanists believe that humanity improves along with the growth of knowledge, but the belief that the increase of knowledge goes with advances in civilization is an act of faith. They see the realization of human potential as the goal of history, when rational inquiry shows history to have no goal. They exalt nature, while insisting that humankind - an accident of nature - can overcome the natural limits that shape the lives of other animals. Plainly absurd, this nonsense gives meaning to the lives of people who believe they have left all myths behind."
Gray argues for a life free from myth and, in doing so, presents an almost Zen-aetheist approach to life. As in 'Straw Dogs', his bleak, hard-line anti-humanist thesis is uncomfortably persuasive. In 'The Silence Of Animals' he attempts to go further by imagining what a life without myth could mean. In doing so, he references a wide range of writers including Conrad, Norman Lewis, Freud, Ballard, Simenon, Llewelyn Powys and the (almost forgotten) nature writer J.A.Baker. In this territory I find Gray fascinating but less convincing than in his more philosophical writings; like any book with such a broad and eclectic range of references you might find that if Gray includes a writer or area you have specialist knowledge of he gets the details a little wrong, but not quite wrong enough to undermind his grander thesis.
Like him or loathe him, Gray is a stimulating, elegant and ambitious writer who has carved out a very special place in 21st century debates. Like all his books this is, to my mind, essential reading.