Against Progress and Other Illusions

John Gray

How did an ex-Thatcherite, ex-Blairite get to sound so eminently wise? I guess the “ex” bits account for a lot. Plus, Gray’s a good writer; punchy, learned, acerbic and shrewd. The dark side of modern life—“what’s wrong with today”—is of course a strange creature. Slice it open one way, and it looks like a nightmare of cynical, quasi-fascist conservatism. Slice it the other, and we see a deluded faith in perpetual advance, a hope-filled lack of connection to stark reality that has economies growing ad infinitum and the cycles of nature never truly touching our unending climb. Gray is the master of slicing it the latter way. Even as wonderful possibilities beckon, our culture faces increasing risks of barbarism. Strangely, Gray’s Hobbesian cynicism seems to be fuelled by enough compassion to be a very valuable weapon against the excesses of over-zealous faiths in science, technology and the attempts to re-engineer human being.