The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths

Richard King in the Sydney Review of Books:

1370120542And if we are reasoning animals, why can we not apply our reason to the question of how to improve our lot and the lot of our species more generally? ‘Scientific inquiry may be an embodiment of reason,’ writes Gray in a revealing passage, ‘but what such inquiry demonstrates is that humans are not rational animals.’ Well, they’re rational enough to have science! And so the question becomes not whether we are rational, but to what extent we are rational and whether we can use our rationality to create institutions and political systems that favour and nurture that rationality and keep our irrational drives in check.

To say that The Silence of Animals doesn’t begin to answer that question would be to put it delicately. For Gray gives us an image of humankind as fundamentally and dangerously irrational. He gives us Man the Myth-maker. Turning to Freud, who in Gray’s estimation has been fundamentally misunderstood as providing ‘a therapy for modern ills’, Gray suggests that ‘the upshot of his work is that we are obliged to admit that our knowledge of ourselves cannot be other than highly limited.’ And so we tell stories about the world, and about our special place within it, and about how we are going to make it better; and in this way we avoid the truth that we are animals and that our lives are without meaning.

More here.