Straw Dogs: Bark as well as bite.
Every now and again you read a book that stops you short. A recent example is John Gray's Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals
. The book has met with praise
, and annoyance and astonishment
. It's one of those books that you read a paragraph, and then you have to look up from the page, blinking, and wonder why the world you just looked at a few moments ago seems so different.
For Gray, all that liberal democracies hold dear are illusions. We are, to quote Lear, no more than "poor, bare fork'd animal[s]
" and that our faiths in human ameliorism or religious salvation, or the saving graces of inherent dignity and scientific progress, are illusions to cover up the fact that we are contingent, fearful beings reliant like all animals on food, shelter, and sex for survival. There are no satisfactory answers to our questions or ultimate responsibilities. All that we have left for ourselves is to observe (like a Buddhist or Taoists) the fact that we are here and there, and then we are nowhere; that life is what it is, and that is its mystery.
So why read it? Because occasionally you need to rid the sinuses of the mucus of belief and morality to breathe the bracing drafts of your mortality. It may not make the future better, but there's a certain pleasure in the momentary clarity it affords, before we fug up the atmosphere with the hot, insulating air of our hope. Check it out.