Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Utopian Apocalypse

That's the title of a book review in today's LA Times, though you don't get this rather emotionally-charged title with the online version. The review, by Michael Joseph Gross, concerns two books by Professor John Gray from the London School of Economics. The first one is entitled Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia and the second one is Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals. You wouldn't think of a Professor at an Economics school as a mythological writer, but excerpts from the book review reveal that Gray sees the world mythologically and bleakly:

"Straw Dogs considers what politics might be like if we took science seriously -- if we accepted the full ramifications of Darwin's finding that Homo sapiens is merely another kind of animal. If, as Gray writes, "species are only assemblies of genes, interacting at random with each other and their shifting environments," then humanity's ambition to master fate is absurd. Those who speak of "'the progress of mankind,'" Gray contends, "have put their faith in an abstraction that no one would think of taking seriously if it were not formed from cast-off Christian hopes."

Black Mass....."presents utopian politics from the French Revolution through America's project of spreading democracy in the Middle East as 'mutant version(s)" of an ancient, apocalyptic Christian belief that God will transform the world and evil will pass away."

"When the project of universal democracy ended in the blood-soaked streets of Iraq," Gray writes, "... Utopianism suffered a heavy blow, but politics and war have not ceased to be vehicles for myth. Instead, primitive versions of religion are replacing the secular faith that has been lost."

Finally, the reviewer writes that Gray's books "have the delighting, frightening, distracting and focusing qualities of a mist-to-dusk drive on the Pacific Coast Highway." I'll add his books to those of other European thinkers in this vein: Mary Midgely, Alex Mauron, and Peter Sloterdijk, all of whom are asking questions about the nature of science, it's involvement in modern politics, and what it really means to be human.

No comments: