John Gray’s aphoristic compendium of thoughts on humans and other animals derives its title Straw Dogs from an oft-quoted passage in Lao Tzu’s Dao De Jing:
The passage in Chinese, with a translation courtesy of Richard Garner, reads as follows:
As Garner points out in his helpful commentary, the meaning of the passage depends very much on the philosophical baggage one brings to the sacrificial altar. With the turn of a new millennium (Straw Dogs dates from 2002) Gray – who had once carried rather heavy baggage – appears anxious to travel light. In his chapter The Vices of Morality, passage fourteen, he writes:
From Gray’s anti-humanist perspective, purpose suggests delusions of progress, delusions that are always destructive and often lethal. Happy to go with the flow no matter how vicious the maelstrom, Gray takes any notion of homo rapiens “salvation” as a desperate form of solipsism.
The full context for the citation from the epic poem by Robinson Jeffers crafts a vision of the opposite coast rather more subtle and complicated than that of the soggy Taoist swimmer Mr. Gray, and the entire stanza is worth a careful reading: