Antihumanism has made another convert. John Gray of the London School of Economics, formerly a classical liberal and what not else, is coming out with a new book, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals. The new book is said to be “a demolition of two and a half thousand years of Western thought” that has been based on “arrogant and erroneous beliefs about human beings and their place in the world.” His views appear to draw heavily from deep ecology, the Gaia hypothesis, and the Unabomer. The title, which echos a line from the Tao Te Ching, suggests that they also draw on Eastern religion.
That seems natural. Liberalism and modernism generally make the universe a construction of the human mind in order to make it fully comprehensible and so amenable to human control. Unfortunately, that erases the distinction between the mind and the universe, which means in the end that the mind loses all distinctiveness and so disappears and the universe accordingly becomes inscrutable. You end with the sort of impersonal mysticism you find in Taoism, or maybe with the blank incomprehension you find in Samuel Beckett.
One can see something of the line of development in Emerson. In his “History” he says “Let it suffice that in the light of these two facts, namely, that the mind is One, and that nature is its correlative, history is to be read and written.” Two paragraphs later we find “I hold our actual knowledge very cheap. Hear the rats in the wall, see the lizard on the fence, the fungus under foot, the lichen on the log. What do I know sympathetically, morally, of either of these worlds of life?” Start by making the mind everything and in a few sentences the mind of the lichen is as worthy as one’s own—since mind is existence, and the lichen participates no less in existence, it participates no less in mind. All possible human knowledge accordingly becomes the merest of prejudices, and why bother with it? In fact, why bother with the human race?