This is my response to a review of John Gray's The Silence of Animals that appeared in Spiked in October 2014.
The review was written by Anthony McCarthy with the title "The Shallow Nihilism of John Gray".
A long list of disagreements that reflect the reviewer's distaste and horror at Gray's ideas without really outlining why. It reads more like "I don't like what he's saying so he must be wrong", rather than pointing out genuine contradictions or incorrect assertions.
The reviewer seems particularly upset at Gray's rejection of "ideas". It's worth noting that the rejection of ideas has a very long tradition within Zen Buddhism, of which it seems the reviewer is utterly unaware.
Obviously, the existence of a tradition that rejects ideas does not mean that it is valid to do so. It does suggest however that the notion should not perhaps be rejected without further reflection. (Gray himself rejects Buddhism in one of his other books, Straw Dogs, because he believes that its claim to go beyond ideas is disingenuous. Buddhists go beyond ideas to reach an ultimate truth - surely the most dangerous idea of all).
The reviewer seems to suggest that Gray's accounts of suffering may not be particularly representative. Without offering alternatives (which of course he doesn't), this is a waste of words.
What's wrong with praising Freud? Once again, unless the reviewer can say why this is a problem, this is another waste of words.
I also don't see why the reviewer finds it so difficult to understand Gray's point that in the competition between truth and meaning, it is meaning that wins. In a world of permanently incomplete facts, meaning must surely take precedence, or at the very least "fill the gaps". I assume that the basic components of human experience are fairly universal, yet the seemingly infinite range of interpretations of this experience, from the belief in the necessity of child sacrifice in some ancient civilizations, to the growth of Islamic State ideology and the liberal idea of progress in modern times is testament to the power of the imagination and the need for meaning. And in the absence of complete facts, an infinity of analogues doesn't sound too unreasonable to me! Recognising the limitations (and strengths) of analogues is perhaps vital.