The Soul of an Establishment Philosopher
The Soul of an Establishment Philosopher
A brief review of John Gray – The Soul of the Marionette
Of the establishment philosophers that currently exist, John Gray is one of my favourites. My favourite of his, Straw Dogs, is a classic of contemporary philosophy, demolishing the infantile and delusional fantasies of the myth of progress like a rational adult picking apart a children’s fairy-tale. As a philosopher-in-training reading Straw Dogs was exhilarating. At once, Gray showed me what a philosopher could be and what he could attack: there were to be no golden sacred cows, nothing to shy and hide away from and no commandments to bow to. This mercurial philosopher told it as he saw it, and he commanded my respect and admiration for it.
However, since I read Straw Dogs in 2002 the political and geopolitical landscape have significantly shifted, and what I respected and admired in John Gray seems no longer to exist as it turns out that there are, in fact, sacred cows he refuses to slaughter. That is, since the publication of Straw Dogs, England, (where Gray resides), has incontrovertibly and fundamentally changed as a result of the 7/7 attacks, huge demographic changes that have wrought ethnic division, Brexit- which was motivated, primarily, through hatred of immigration and job-related policies - and the continuing migrant crisis. Yet 'edgy' John Gray refuses to analyse the underlying current of these political events. In this short review, my main gripe with John Gray focuses on two issues: his lack of philosophical rigour and his inability to grapple with the biggest issues of his day.
Gray's inability to grapple with the biggest issues of the day is odd, especially considering he prides himself as being able to see how current trends, phenomena and idealistic thinking may not correspond to the expected utopian vision of the progressive ideology. He is to be applauded when he sets his sights on artificial intelligence, biogenetics and the like. Yet, how is it that Gray misses the two biggest interrelated issues of the day: globalisation and mass immigration? For a Philosopher that is supposed to see sharply and clearly, these omissions demonstrate how spectacularly Gray has missed - especially when these are the two main issues that motivated the UK’s breakaway from the EU (Brexit) and Trump’s rise to the Presidency of the United States. Evidently, there is only one explanation that accounts for this: there are some sacred cows that you cannot talk about if you’re in the establishment.
As Rocketmensch stated in his article “False equivalency”, written about the Cologne Christmas Market attack, where a Muslim man drove a truck into a Christmas market killing 12 and injuring 49.
Those unsure about the benefits of immigration “oppose this migrant crisis within Europe, yet even the most deranged Liberal could confidently state that none of these refugee attacks would have happened in Europe without letting them through the front door of Europe. So, to the umbrella of the Left and the Liberal’s that fiercely kvetch about protecting the livelihood and lives of others: hasn’t the time come where it is at least an open question whether mass immigration into European countries is a good thing for Europe, the native population and the society. When refugees reap destruction into your society by claiming large welfare, raising racial tension in society, increasing crime in the cities and towns, committing massive rates of sexual assaults, rapes and harassments, shooting civilians in midday and ramming a truck in a peaceful and beautiful Christmas market, surely it is at least an open question whether they benefit Western civilization.” (Emphasis mine)
Despite populism being on the rise across Europe and America, with anti-immigration sentiment an obvious motivating force propelling recent political events, JG does not question whether mass immigration and multiculturalism in Europe is an aspect of progress. What is the need for an establishment philosopher when the masses have already come to the conclusion before you and used that conclusion to make real change in the world?
Secondly, throughout the text JG is surprisingly philosophically relaxed. His lack of philosophical rigour comes in many forms, take this passage early in the book:
“If one of Kleist’s marionettes were somehow to achieve self-awareness, Gnosticism would be its religion. In the most ambitious versions of scientific materialism, human beings are marionettes: puppets on genetic strings, which by an accident of evolution have become self-aware. Unknown to those who most ardently profess it, the boldest secular thinkers are possessed by a version of mystical religion. At present, Gnosticism is the faith of people who believe themselves to be machines (1)”
For those that hold ambitious versions of scientific materialism – and I would hold myself to that account – the capabilities of human beings are determined by genetic coding and genetic combinations. I would agree with JG’s brief conception of scientific materialism. However, there is no necessary connection to those that profess “ambitious scientific materialism” to the gnostic belief that we can transcend our physical and materialistic limitations. We can be charitable to JG and think that surely, he doesn’t believe that all (or most) ambitious scientific materialists really profess a type of Gnosticism. Yet, if this is the case why does he not water down his message to the following: there is a tendency amongst scientific materialist to be beholden to a type of Gnosticism where we believe that we can transcend our material and physical limitations. This is obviously less provoking but more philosophically correct. Since, I’m sure that more thinkers that adopt a type of ambitious scientific materialism do not adopt a type of Gnosticism underneath, since there is no necessary connection between the two. Human beings are marionettes that will not be saved.
Another example of JG’s lack of philosophical rigour:
“To be sure, the picture of an inner cabal of strategic thinkers directing the course of government has no resemblance to reality. Wracked by internal conflicts, guided by unreliable impressions of volatile and nebulous public moods, seizing on one faddish notion after another, modern governments often have no clear picture of what they are doing, let alone of its unintended consequences (2).”
It seems that only JG is unable to comprehend the uninterrupted global picture. Since the middle of the 20th Century the EU has been pushing mass immigration into European countries without the native population voting for it, punishing public dissent and controlling opinion via political correctness and propaganda (apologies for repeating myself). Moreover, the results of referendums on whether countries should join the EU have been routinely dismissed or ignored if the wrong outcome has been voted. Famously, in 2008 the Republic of Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty only to be forced to vote on it a second time until it was accepted in 2009, allied by a mass media and propaganda campaign.
What use is a philosopher like JG when he ignores the major issues that we face today: terrorism, mass immigration, globalisation and the EU? Most first world citizens are doubting whether these issues belie progress as the Gnostic Left proclaims it. JG does not have to give a definitive answer, but he could at least raise it as an open question: whether the promise of the EU and the incoming of mass immigration is just the fabled myth of progress. Would I recommend “The Soul of the Marionette?” Only if you want to ignore the present political and existential landscape: at one point he tells us that the singularity – which has not yet happened – may not be the utopian ideal that we believe it to be. Edgy, JG, edgy.
(1) Gray, John. The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom (Kindle Locations 123-126). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
(2) Gray, John. The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom (Kindle Locations 1195-1197). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
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