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Deeply cynical and misanthropic, yet provocative.
on 12 July 2016
I have enjoyed John Gray's erudite talks on BBC radio 4, so I bought this entertaining book.
It is really just an essay about human self-deception and arrogance bulked out with snippets of oriental twaddle (Tao Te Ching) and worn out 'new age' pseudo science (Santayana, and Lovelock's 'Gaia hypothesis'). Gray is a Malthusian who believes that humans will reject population control and proceed to rape the planet until we wipe ourselves out. The Earth might be better without us, he argues.
There are many brilliant one-liners and as many absurd generalisations.
Gray is a philosopher, not a scientist, so he does not really 'get' science. He thinks science is as likely to be as shoddy as religion because the early scientists were muddled and torn between their religious upbringings and their findings. This is fair comment on Copernicus and Newton (the latter experimented with alchemy as well as refraction) but few modern scientists find their energies dispersed in this way. Science is a method of enquiry and has served us well.
Gray repeats a literary device which tires in the end; there are long quotes from writers we believe he is trying to support, only to discover that he nails them with a pithy arrow to the heart. This artificial postponement of the 'coup de grace' becomes contrived and shows that the author is more interested in style over substance.