Straw Dogs, by John Grey
One of the things I hated seeing in my years in the church, and that I don’t like seeing in my children, is when people who label themselves as staunch, faith-filled Christians find out what’s actually in the Bible. Not letting women have authority over men; not getting tattoos; mandatory headscarves – you know the sort of thing. It always leads to an uncomfortable few moments where they have to make a decision about whether to confront the unpleasant truths about their worldview or to ignore it and go about their lives. Usually, they chose the easy option.
So, anyway, one of my pointless affectations is to call myself a nihilist. I find it the easiest answer when the students ask me about my beliefs – especially given that they never know what I mean, which is good for two reasons: 1) They’ll accept me at my word even though it’s not entirely the best definition of what I am, and 2) igmorence means that none of the faith-filled children will take offense, so I won’t be in the position of a friend who was summoned to the Principal’s office and reprimanded for the emotional abuse of a student that was admitting she wasn’t a Catholic. In short: as definitions go, it’ll do.
Straw Dogs made me confront the idea of nihilism.
Gray genuinely believes that there is no point to life and absolutely no hope of any sort, and in a series of pithy, wide-ranging micro-chapters, goes through pretty much every aspect of religion, humanism, philosophy or basic human nature, and systematically insults its mother.
And it really is like that: rather than offer reasoned, well-thought-out critiques of these ideas, he basically, runs up to them, shouts “Your Mum!” at them, and runs away. He is a veritable Rick Giles of philosophy.
Reading this book was sort of analogous to being tied to a chair while Gray punched you repeatedly in the crotch for being stupid. I could almost hear the conversation as I read:
“Do you believe in any form of higher power?”
“I guess I’m open to the idea of…”
“BAM! Right in the nuts! Did you like that? Because it’s what you get for believing in anything. Do you believe in the scientific progress of mankind?”
“Well, there have been great advances made in the fields of…”
“BAM! Another one to the crotch! You’d think you’d learn by now! Do you believe in Gaia theory?”
“No! No I don’t!”
“BAM! Ha! Straight to your nuts! That’s what you get for not believing in the Gaia Theory!”
“But wait… You said… Make up your mind!”
I did like this book: it was very easy to read – which is no small feat for something that is directly referencing most of the highest level thought in human history; Gray has a nice turn of phrase; the ideas are thought-provoking. But for all that, as the book went on, I got the sense that rather than cleverly and methodically refuting all of the ideas he is against, Gray was just sticking his fingers in his ears and shouting that he couldn’t hear them…