Monday, March 16, 2009
In Two Minds is a book I could never write. It would be a fictionalised biography with touches of autobiography. The fictionalised subjects would have been Roger Scruton and John Gray, two very great and two very English thinkers. They started at more or less the same place - on the dissident, academic right - and then diverged. They are both vivid and extraordinary characters and both now regard each other with wary respect. I could never write the book because they're both friends.
Yesterday I watched Nature's Great Events and I read this. The first was wonderful and moving in the grand tradition of BBC wildlife TV. It induced respect and awe and, because of the quality of the filming, it showed nature as she is in our absence. The only role we had in this spectacle was to watch and be moved. The Scruton book - I haven't read it and I haven't spoken to him for some time so I'm trusting the reviewer - puts man in a privileged place at the centre of nature. This is an aesthetic point rather than a scientific or political one. It is, at heart, Christian in that it could sustain the idea of man's stewardship of nature. It requires environmental sensitivity, but its emphasis is on humans not nature. Gray regards Christian stewardship and any idea that man is the point of nature as wrong and dangerous. It is these concepts, especially when embraced by secular, humanist ideologies such as Marxism or Neo-liberalism, that have landed us in our current predicament with a warming planet that will, in time, refuse to sustain a human population of anything like the 9 billion to which we are heading. We are neither stewards nor privileged actors, we are in and of nature. We are here, like one of the BBC's cameras, simply to see.
I am blurring boundaries. What Scruton is saying is not precisely opposed to what Gray is saying. The categories are different. Nevertheless, his emphasis would be impossible for Gray and vice versa. Roger is concerned with our differences from animals; John with our similarities.
I am well-placed to write that book I could never write because I have sympathy with both - or perhaps I just can't make up my mind, my default posture. I am in two minds, see? But, on the whole, though I can lose myself in Roger's aesthetics, I am closer to John. I don't think the earth will continue to sustain us and I think that fact raises questions about Christian stewardship and entirely invalidates humanist fantasies of control.
PS And here is Scruton in The Times.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:24 am