Straw dogs Chapter 6. As it is

This final and shorter chapter tries to establish some sort of positive feedback on how to live our lives accepting our animal nature and realizing that progress is an illusion.

Before, however we find another general attack to our modern way of living, this time against our obsession with action, with being busy. Reasonably, Gray points out that this is a very peculiar way of considering life that only recently appeared in human history.

This obsession with busyness goes together with another bigger one: the obssession of having a purpose in life. Gray points out that animals do not have any purpose in life, and they can live very well without it.

According to Gray, our purpose of life should be just watching what goes on, being present, and accepting what happens as it is, without obessing to transcend it or modify it.

Interestingly enough, despite his criticism in other chapters, Gray ends up defending a very Buddhist view of life, living mindfully and accepting what goes on instead of denying and trying to change what cannot be modified.

Next there is a list of further reading, one for each chapter, which also works as Gray’s source of inspiration, I guess. I enjoyed the interesting mix of famous philosophy treatises with more obscure essays as well as scientific books or technical papers, and some of the references sound quite interesting to read.
 

This paragraph captures Gray’s proposal on how to live our lives very well:

Today the good life means making full use of science and technology -without succumbing to the illusion that they can make us free, reasonable, or even sane. It means seeking peace -without hoping with a world without war. It means cherising freedom -in the knowledge that it is a interval between anarchy and tiranny.

 

I do like the general idea, and then I suspect that Gray is not as anti-modern as he likes to think. Seeking peace, cherising freedom are after all, purposes, things that animals do not seem to have. Maybe, as Robert Byrne said, the purpose of life is a life with purpose.

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Straw Dogs: 5. Non-Progress

Following the schedule of our Reading Calendar

The chapter begins with a conciliatory tone that I would appreciate to be more widely used through the book:

Anaesthetic dentistry is an unmixed blessing. So are clean water and flush toilets. Progress is a fact. Even so, faith in progress is a superstition.

Science enables humans to satisfy their needs. It does not nothing to change them. They are no different today from what they have always been. There is progress in knowledge, but not in ethics. (p. 155)

wow! It is reasonable, it is understandable, Now we can begin to talk.

He tries to give us examples supporting this claim. First, he presents us with the origins of agriculture and the neolithic revolution. In some paragraphs that made me wonder if we had gone back to Diamond (one of his sources, by the way) he presents the thesis that agriculture was a forced step for humanity but it represented an unmitigated disaster in every measure of human well-being. The underlying point here is that social changes come by necessity and imposition of competing societies and almost never because they improve the situation of humans. This was, by the way, one of my comments to Diamond’s theory of the creation of states because of its ability to reduce violence.

After arguing that Neolithic was no progress, he then talks about the industrial and the information (current) revolution. And here he begins to loose his temper again.

Religious apocalysites apart, there are two kind of ideological currents that predict the near end of the world. The Malthusians, who see the depletion of resources as a cause of ecological collapse, and the ones who see the destruction of our world coming from the increased complexity that technology is creating. Two much power in the hands of apes and a synchronising of the risk worldwide. I am from the second brand and feel very uncomfortable whenever Mr Malthus comes back from the tomb. Mr Gray seems to have in his mind a confused mix of everything and every possible argument that he can use against progress is used.

So he comes to talk about economics and begins to talk about vices and virtues, I am not sure he really understand the point. Economic progress means that few people today are needed to do the things that were done before. And the ones that become free have to invent something to do. And this may be prostitution or writing a new translation of the Iliad. Drug design or video games or leading a neo-Christian sect. Does he really think that we are more depraved than previous generations? That would be progress! But unfortunately, there is no progress.

He clearly sees some things right:

The function of this new economy, legal and illegal, is to entertain and distract a population which – hough it is busier that ever before – secretly suspects that it is useless. (p. 160)

Which is a brilliant sentence. Then you have:

In Europe and Japan, bourgeois life lingers on. In Britain and America it has become the stuff of theme parks. The middle class is a luxury capitalism can no longer afford. (p. 161)

Which, again, is probably right. He then presents us with that utopian thinkers that have to tried to create a society without work from medieval centuries to the big party Paris ’68. And I don’t understand again what does that have to do with progress. I hope that there is more in these poor people than that what Gray explains about them because from his words they look like a bunch of idiots.

The final sections are about artificial intelligence and the impact that it can have on humanity. And again I don’t follow him. Is hi criticizing some people who see in the AI the final salvation of human race? I don’t see the point. Some light will be welcome.

Straw Dogs: 4. The Unsaved

Following the schedule of our Reading Calendar

Well, here we go again. Another chapter that opens up lots of issues and closes them with Zarathustrian determination. Whoever has ears, let them hear. And the funny thing, I have to admit, is that I am liking the book and it is influencing me. It has I kind of hypnotic power of seduction.

It goes on talking about the stupid ideas that Christianity brought to the world. The hope of salvation of the human race through God that has been transformed into the yearning for human happiness that XIXth and XXth century political utopias failed to deliver. He says somewhere that politics has lost its interest even as entertainment, which is brilliant. And after that, science and technology have replaced politics as the salvation machines that we need. Some reviewing of Federov ideas and how they were put in practice. Which makes me think that Nazism, Stalinism and Uncle Tse Tung may be out of vogue (by now) as a political options, but they’ll never lose their entertainment value.

Another idea that Christianity put into our brains (following Saint Gray words) is the worship of the Truth. There is only one Truth and is a moral obligation of every human being to know it, to propagate it, to annoy everybody with it, to fight for it and, best of all, ladies and gentlemen, to die defending it. And this idea has been inherited by the secular religions that have replaced God. It even portraits Atheism as:

(…) a late bloom of a Christian passion for truth. (p. 127)

and that is a perfect formulation that a feeling that I always have when listening to atheists, the seem always to be like fanatic preachers of some no-God or I don’t know exactly what. Mr Dawkins, I am thinking of you.

I got lost, however, when he talks about Nihilism,

Nihilism is the idea that human life must be redeemed from meaninglessness. (p. 128)

I really thought that nihilism was a good label for the kind of thought that seems to emanate from this book. But now it appears not to be the case. Little confused.