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Straw Dogs Hardcover – Sep 30 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (Sept. 30 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862075123
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862075122
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14.6 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 417 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #500,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

John Gray's Straw Dogs attempts to present a world view in which humans are not central and which argues against the humanist belief in progress. The heart of the book is summed up in the idea that modern humanists have still not come to terms with Darwin, still not come to terms with the idea that humans are like other animals. Christians and modern humanists in the Platonic-Cartesian tradition typically think of humans enjoying a special relationship to God, or a special status in nature in a way that other animals do not. Even the great debunkers--philosophers such as Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Heidegger--end up making human beings the centre of things or the end point of some world-historical process. By contrast, in a Taoist, Shinto, Hindu or animist culture Darwin's discovery would have been easily accommodated since these faiths see humans and other animals as kin.

In short, for Gray, humanism is nothing more than "a secular religion thrown together from decaying scraps of Christian myth". Gray champions James Lovelock's view of the Earth as a self-regulating system whose behaviour resembles, in some ways, that of an organism. The Gaia hypothesis is the backdrop to Gray's apparently relentless pessimism about the fate of humankind. What it teaches us is that this self-regulating system has no need of humanity, does not exist for the sake of humanity, and will regulate itself in ignorance of humanity's fate.

Straw Dogs can be usefully compared with Mary Midgely's excellent Science and Poetry since both take off from the view of man as animal while sharing similar views about the cultural role of philosophy. Both encourage us to overcome the Platonic-Cartesian-Kantian philosophical tradition while stressing the importance of Gaia in emphasising our essential continuity with the physical and natural world. For Gray, humans "think they are free, conscious beings, when in truth they are deluded animals". Straw Dogs could have been made to stretch for 500 large pages. Instead you get 200 small pages of gold; simple, concise, riveting.--Larry Brown

From Publishers Weekly

Humans think they are free, conscious beings, when in truth they are deluded animals, writes London University economics professor Gray (Black Mass) in a series of brief and intriguing mini-essays. His themes include the similarities between hypnotism and financial markets and uncomfortable truths behind drug use and its prohibition. In a chapter called Deception, Gray traces Humanism from Plato through Postmodernism. He critiques both science and religion: Science can advance human knowledge, it cannot make humanity cherish truth. Like the Christians of former times, scientists are caught up in the web of power; they struggle for survival and success; their view of the world is a patchwork of conventional beliefs. At a certain point, it can be difficult to see where Gray's allegiances lie. He tears down institutions, especially consciousness, self, free will and morality, and questions our ability to solve the problems of overpopulation and overconsumption: Only a breed of ex-humans can thrive in the world that unchecked human expansion has created. So what's left? Gray recommends a devaluation of progress, mastery, and immortality, and a return to contemplation and acceptance: Other animals do not need a purpose in life. Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see? This comforting question punctuates an otherwise profoundly disturbing meditation on humankind's real place in the world. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell on Dec 23 2003
Format: Hardcover
London School of Economics Professor John Gray's technique in this original and at times delightfully self-indulgent tome of shock jock philosophy works like this: Throw out a statement--the more it sounds like conventional wisdom the better--and then declare that it's a fantasy or the truth is just the opposite. Occasionally the juxtaposition is so startling that we take delight. At other times it reads like adolescent sophistry.
But no matter. (And besides who am I to know the difference?) Run the sound bites down the page and onto the next and keep them coming and, like monkeys hitting typewriter keys, sooner or later something is bound to be...well, not true but at least arresting. And contradict yourself. A lot. After all isn't existence itself a contradiction, or at least an absurdity? Why, pray tell, is there anything at all? Why isn't there nothing?
Gray doesn't ask this particular question. In fact he doesn't really ask questions so much as make assertions. What Gray has done here is write the quintessential Internet-Age book. His assertions are like those found on the World Wide Web: they run the gauntlet from the patently absurd to the obvious. And only we can decide which is which and which is in-between. There is no central authority or assumed rationality to guide us. Gray lets the chips fall where they may and he doesn't look back.
Let me begin with one of his statements that is true, or I should say, one that I agree with:
"The authority of science comes from the power it gives humans over their environment...To think of science as the search for truth is to renew a mystical faith..." (p. 20)
And now one that I disagree with:
"Death brings to everyone the peace the Buddha promised after lifetimes of striving...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus on Feb. 8 2004
Format: Hardcover
John Gray was once upon a time an optimistic liberal. He fell under the spell of the Gospel of the Free Market in the Thatcherite 1980s, and thus made a transition to conservatism. When he discovered that Thatcherism/Reaganism wasn't really conservative at all, but rather a dogmatic radicalism, he became an old-school conservative. He proceeded to reject the Enlightenment tout court, and embraced post-modernist relativism. Now, he has taken a further step into simple misanthropy. Gray has written a jeremiad against Christianity, the Enlightenment, science, and any hope of bettering people or the planet we live on. This is a performative contradiction, of course, because if there is no cause for hope, why write a book? What's the point? Fame and money are the only reasons left, one must suppose, and that supposition is perfectly consistent with Gray's line of argument -- all lofty ideals and dreams are illusions.
Despite all that, I enjoyed the book and recommend it. It's a quick, easy read, quite entertaining, and I'm sure you can find it in the libraray. There are many useful citations in the back to more substantial books you might want to read to pursue Gray's points, many made in the form of sound-bite one-liners. Depending on what you bring to it, you may or may not find it shocking -- "Straw Dogs" is mainly based on the growing knowledge from the field variously known as sociobiology or evolutionary psychology or biological anthropology. Humans are animals, not demigods. Gray's second main point I think is less appreciated and more important, and that is the evidence that the human species is embarked on a neomalthusian experiment -- overshoot the ecosystem and see what happens.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on Nov. 6 2003
Format: Hardcover
John Gray concludes his book with a tragic entreaty: "Can we not think of the aim of life as simply to see?" His plea for awareness reveals the cloak of obscuratism our mythology has draped over all nature. Reading Straw Dogs is like being abruptly roused from a pleasant dream. "Wake and shake!", he cries. Wake up to the falsity of the dogmas under which you live. Shake them off and recognize that we live within reality's domain, not that of phantasms and fables. These ideas disturb the comfortable, yet offer little comfort to those seeking an easy answer to life's challenges. Gray understands our need for solace, but he knows reality isn't a tourist resort. Nature is a harsh realm and he wishes us to confront enduring questions honestly. Writing this book means he thinks we can do that.
Gray's thesis relies on aknowledging our place in the realm of nature. We are, he reminds us, merely a part of the animal kingdom. We are neither a special creation nor particularly unique. Writing alone, with the continuity it provides, sets us apart while granting significant powers. The "continuity" led to the notion of human "progress" and "perfectability". In an evolutionary sense both ideas are false, and we are evolution's product. Even humanism, supposedly rational and secular, has fallen into the trap of seeking "perfectability". Gray finds this misleading and self-serving. He examines the work of Western philosophers, the guides to our thinking, finding them mistaken or misleading. In today's milieu, Lovelock's Gaia concept of the whole planet acting like a single organism, should be reconsidered. Whether the details of this idea are valid is irrelevant.
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