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Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

John Gray, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $15 (245p) ISBN 978-0-374-27093-3

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.)

Reviewed on: 08/20/2007
Release date: 10/01/2007
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