The Silence of Animals. On Progress and Other Modern Myths. John Gray. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.
Another John Gray book which reads like a thriller!
He is -as always- provocative and he generalizes easily and jumps to strong conclusions from his observations shared by other writers. He happens to be the author of books that receive most markings by my pencil!
The book contains 3 chapters each composed of about 10 article-length sections. Sections usually start with a (sometimes lengthy) quote and Gray builds his arguments from there. This structural design helps him focus more easily and it can also make the unwary an easy prey for his line of thought. Yet, I am not complaining.
Although John Gray is accused of changing paths (on Liberalism, mostly) this book essentially follows his earlier anti-humanist approach. His stance in Straw Dogs (Saman Köpekler), and in Black Mass (Kara Ayin) has not changed. Here, the attack is focused on the belief in “progress”. This is just another “myth” according to Gray and it is a most influential one in a negative sense. Strictly speaking, “better times are ahead” is a false claim on personal as well as universal scales. A person believing in this myth misses the life altogether as life is never in the future… Societies living according to this myth are manipulated and likewise, are doomed.
At this stage of my life, I am in the midst of a radical change in my understanding of myself and of the world. That is probably why I understand Gray and I totally agree with him. I no longer believe in progress.
Just a few quotes as appetizers for future readers :
– ‘Humanity’ is a fiction composed from billions of individuals for each of whom life is singular and final. (p7)
– The myth of progress casts a glimmer of light of meaning into the lives of those who accept it. (p11)
– To think of humans as freedom-loving, you must be ready to view nearly all of history as a mistake. (p58)
– If belief in human rationality was a scientific theory it would long since have been abandoned. (p72)
– Cognitive dissonance is the normal human condition. (p73)
– Rational or not, life without myth is like life without art or sex – insipid and inhuman. The actuality, with all its horrors, is preferable. (p79)
– Like cheap music, the myth of progress lifts the spirits as it numbs the brain. (p80)
– Unbelief today should begin by questioning not religion but secular faith. A type of atheism that refused to revere humanity would be a genuine advance. (p81)
I think I should stop before converting a large part of the book to quotes!
I like Gray. I can follow and digest his arguments as he prefers to serve them. I doubt if this can make any of us more palatable!