Jeremy Griffith. Freedom: The End of the Human Condition. Sydney, Australia: WTM Publishing, 2016. See here to buy the book.
Jeremy Griffith is an Australian biologist. This book and his
treatise have been recommended by a number of academics. Harry Prosen, a
professor of Psychiatry and former President of the Canadian
Psychiatric Association, wrote the introduction to this book. And yet,
as Griffith points out throughout this book, Griffith’s ideas have been
controversial and rejected by a number of academics. But Griffith
contends that many people have found spiritual healing as a result of
This book is about why humans are the way that they are, and how they
can find healing from their alienated condition. Understanding how
everything Griffith says fits together was rather difficult for me.
Griffith would have done well to have provided a lucid, concise summary
at the end of the book of what exactly he is proposing. I have to
confess, though, that I did not watch the online videos that Griffith
says are helpful for people wanting to understand the book. Plus,
Griffith says that a rereading of the book could make a profound
What are some of Griffith’s points? I will try to explain them, as I understand them.
Griffith is arguing against the idea that humans are naturally
selfish and violent. For Griffith, the opposite is the case: we are
naturally loving and peaceful. That is our instinct. Griffith appeals
to at least three considerations to support this argument. First of
all, Griffith points to the behavior of bonobos, apes who are very
closely related to human beings. Griffith has studied bonobos, and he
contends that they are peaceful and loving. Second, Griffith maintains
that mythology contains a remembrance of how the ancestors of humans
used to be. Hesiod, Plato, and Genesis 2-3 present a sort of Golden Age
in the past when humans were peaceful towards one another. Third,
Griffith appeals to archeology and the fossil record, which he believes
indicate that certain ancestors of humans were peaceful.
At the same time, Griffith appears to believe that nurture played a
role in how humans became instinctively peaceful. Griffith seemed to
acknowledge that there is a genetic tendency in many animals towards
selfishness: a competitive desire to survive and pass on their genes.
But he argues that, at some point, ancestors of humans developed
benevolence. They did this by nurturing their children with
unconditional love. This taught their children the value of
unconditional love and gave them the inner security they needed to love
others. According to Griffith, the conditions were right in certain
areas for this to develop: there was material plenty, for example, and
that lessened the need to compete for resources.
But Griffith maintains that there was a Fall, and that this Fall
related to knowledge, as Genesis 3 says. Consciousness and intelligence
emerged. Humans could feel free to go against their instincts in favor
of pursuing their own desires. And yet, consciousness and intelligence
brought something else, according to Griffith, and that is
defensiveness and self-justification: humans want to contend that they
are right, against the belief that they are violent and flawed.
Griffith believes that his insights about nurturing are controversial
because people do not want to admit that they are bad parents. At the
same time, Griffith’s solution is not for people to feel guilty and beat
up on themselves. His solution seems to be for people to realize that
their nature is to be peaceful and loving: to become reconciled with who
they truly are.
I am giving this book four stars because I did enjoy it. As a
Christian who believes in evolution, I wonder how Genesis 1-3 and
evolutionary scenarios of history can hold together, and this book is
helpful in that regard. (This is not to imply that Griffith is a
Christian, in a traditional sense, for he seems to have non-traditional
ideas about God.) I do not have the background in biology to evaluate
Griffith’s arguments, but his arguments and his interaction with
scholarship struck me as scholarly. Griffith’s quotations of literature
and pop culture also made this book interesting and relevant. I
particularly liked Griffith’s discussion of the Simpsons and
how Homer Simpson had a legitimate problem with Ned Flander’s
religiosity, even if Homer couldn’t articulate what that problem was.
In terms of criticisms, like I said, Griffith could have been
clearer, and he could have pulled together what he was saying a lot
better. Griffith was also making controversial statements about
homosexuality and autism, and he was drawing from decades-old research
in doing so. Moreover, Griffith could have toned down his
save-the-world rhetoric, his narrative about how he has been persecuted,
and his criticisms of E.O. Wilson.
To be honest, while I found this book to be fascinating, I am not
entirely clear about what issues are at stake, in terms of Griffith’s
arguments and the arguments of those with whom he disagrees. Both sides
seem to believe that humans have good and bad tendencies: they just
differ on how to account for them. What difference does that make,
practically speaking? It makes a huge difference, for Griffith, for he
talks as if many people who reject his message are in denial. Really?
It looks like an academic difference of opinion to me.
I apologize, though, for any incompleteness of understanding on my part.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
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