British Foremost Satirist Attempts a Prophecy Concerning the Next Growth of Civilization.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAWMarch11929
G.B.S. Wants Everyone Like Himself
British Foremost Satirist Attempts a Prophecy Concerning the Next Growth of Civilization.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
WHETHER one thinks of George Bernard Shaw as one of the most profound and original thinkers of our time or merely, as does Mr. G. K. Chesterton, a man with a large heart in quite the wrong place, it must be admitted that when the mighty Shavian once delivers himself of a pronouncement, he does so in language well worth reading. It is interesting, then, to hear what Mr. Shaw thinks the next growth of civilization will be, as reported by the New York Times. First of all, the eminent satirist is not at all sure that it will be an English growth. “It might possibly be a negro growth, it might be a Chinese growth.” The argument continues: “Civilization in future is going to consist to a great extent of a struggle between the men who will not believe anything except on laboratory evidence, and who are not even conscious of the fact that they themselves manufacture the evidence; and, on the other hand, the men who have normal capacities of observation and judgment, and who know almost by intuition and by unconscious observation, by watching experiments, by studying history, have an enormous mass of knowledge which is entirely independent of any such manufactured evidence. On the one hand you will find—I do not like to call them the materialists, but the naturalists in the narrowest sense; and on the other hand you have the poet and the philosopher; and what is going to happen in the future, as I say, will be largely a struggle between them.
“The gentlemen in the laboratory will find out something, because you cannot do anything without finding out something, if it is only what a fool you are, though that may not be very interesting to the world. But the difficulty you will always have about laboratory experiment is this: All the men who work in what are called physiological laboratories make a very extraordinary claim. It is a claim which arises in other quarters, but by them it has been definitely formulated. They say that in their particular pursuit, which they call the pursuit of scienceimplying that all the rest of the vast field of knowledge is not science at all—they say that their department is the genuine, pure and only unadulterated science, and that it is so important that in its pursuit they claim to be released from every moral obligation by which the rest of the world commonly are bound.
But they do not see, because really their faculties are extraordinarily limited. Any ordinary person would tell them at once: Look at the difficulty that you place yourselves in. You say, “We demand absolute freedom from every kind of moral obligation. We demand the right to be atrociously cruel.” Well,
I say, never mind the cruelty; that makes people sentimental; let us come to another point. You demand freedom from morality; that means, not only from the obligation to be humane but from the obligation to tell the truth, and therefore, however much we may admire your devotion to science, it is impossible for us to believe a single word you say, because we know when you think the interests of science are at stake you will tell lies without the slightest hesitation. And they do it to a most amazing extent.
“I, of course, look forward to the time when all these horrible physiological laboratories will become things of the past; when experiments will be carried out by men who are not merely materialists and physiologists, but men who are biologists. The thing that we have to study, the thing that concerns us, as we contemplate civilization is life, not death, and it is the life of people in full possession of their organs and faculties. It is not the life of a dog with its brain cut out, it is the life of a dog in the uninterrupted possession of its faculties belonging to a man who is in the possession of his faculties. That is what you have to observe; and it is very encouraging to see that, after a long period of this gross materialism, of this treating of living bodies exactly as if they were dead ones, of surgical problems being treated precisely as if they were purely mechanical problems, and as if a man stretched on the operating table was a chair or a bench which could be cut about without any ulterior consequences —more and more you are beginning to see, largely through the remonstrances of persons like myself, who have got a larger outlook on things, that science is swinging over from physiology to psychology and biology, and these are the sciences from which we have most to hope.
“The matter with all the professions to-day is what in industry is called workers’ control. The moment you put the workers in control of the organization of their work, then look out—I won’t say for bad work, but for work that is hopelessly and completely out of date. You are going to have a continuation in future civilization of a struggle which has been developing continually between the producer and the consumer, for control of the whole processes of production. That is going, of course, to figure very largely, always must figure, in the life of a nation. The reason why the medical profession is in the disgraceful state that it is at the present time is because it is entirely in the hands of and under the control of doctors. Until you get it out of their control and into the control of the community—that is to say, until the medical profession is under the control of the patient and the consumer of the doctors’ medicines and services—you never will get a decent medical profession.
“I may go further and say that'until you get the legal profession under the control of the clients, or rather of the public generally—because, of course, the consumers of law are not so much the people who are actually engaged in litigation as the entire community who have to abide by that law—until you have that, you will find these ‘wadges’ of things that are not professional and so on, sticking in the way of every advance that you want to make. I think, of course, that you will find as time goes on that the distinction between the professional man and the layman will vanish more and more. The community will emerge—probably at the same time you will see, for instance, that people who have got titles, like our friend, Oswald Mosley, probably will begin to drop them more and more. In the first place, they are very expensive. Y^ou are always charged more if you have a title, and so on. Y^ou will see, furthermore, that as we get on further and further, if the present trend is going to persist, you will find that more and more people will begin to perceive that the important thing is ability. As the possessors of these labels and titles find more and more that they do not give them real power, you will find that they begin to drop them. I do not say, of course, that socially they may not keep them up, but they may come to matter just as little, for instance, as they do in France.
“But now we come to a rather more serious thing, because it is a more permanent thing. We are all agreed that war is a horrible thing, we do not want to have any more of it; but the excuse for war has always been that it gets things done, that under the strain of war, men will do things, some of which are very desirable, which it is impossible to get them to do in time of peace.
“There were before the war lingering in Europe three monstrosities, one of which was the Russian Empire, the other was the Austrian Empire—the inheritor of the Holy Roman Empire—and the third was the German Empire. Before the war there was not the slightest reasonable prospect of getting rid of any of them. There they were; nothing would shift them. Well, the war has shifted them, they are gone; and they are replaced by bourgeois republics. But matters have gone a little further than that. The war not only shifted the empires and established bourgeoisie republics, but in Spain and Italy it has shifted the bourgeoisie republics and produced a provisional form of dictatorship which we are all looking on with great interest to find out exactly what is going to come of it. But it was the war that did that.
“I would like to put to you, particularly those of you who like myself are strong pacifists, and who are now going about joining the League of Nations Union, and getting into a tremendous state that there must be no war, and saying that war is a frightful thing, forgetting that that was not the way you went on in August, 1914, most of you — but just ask yourself from time to time, Well, will anything short of a war ever induce us to make even the most obvious reasonable reform? Will it ever induce us to reform our spelling? Will it ever induce us to reform the calendar?
“That is what I really want you to think about. If you are going to get rid of war you will really have to consider what is going to be substituted for the strain of war, when really large things, things on a large scale, involving a change of habit, have got to be done. You see, war is very largely caused not altogether by the great capitalists and the ferocity of mankind and its pugnacity, though these things have their share in it; they really do very largely come about by our waiting until the necessity for some event in civilization, until that event is so long delayed by us that it absolutely breaks its way destructively into existence, instead of being intelligently anticipated and brought about.
“I have often thought of what has been my own lot in life: that I have walked through the streets of London as a young man and I have seen all the tremendous display of wealth of every kind, of sport and luxury, and I could not buy a single farthing’s worth of it. If there had been a Woolworth’s in existence at that time I could not have gone in, because I had not got literally a penny; I could not go to a theatre because I could not afford the price of a gallery seat. Later on in life, by a chapter of accidents, there came about a time when I walked about the streets of London and I had money enough to buy any of those things, from a box in the opera to a Rolls-Royce motor car, without imposing any sensible privation on myself; and, curiously, the result was exactly the same. I went home: there was nothing that I wanted.
“There is the other struggle that you get—the struggle between the people who are self-sufficient, who really are alive and can enjoy life, finding in its ordinary action plenty to occupy, interest and amuse themselves with; and on the other hand, those unfortunate wretches who, without an enormous machinery of ritual, of religion or sport or what not, are utterly miserable. There will be more or less a conflict, but they both must be ministered to. On the whole, I think, if you are going to have an advancing civilization, the trend will,
I hope, be rather to increase selfsufficiency. When you come to breed the race scientifically, I think you will have to breed for self-sufficiency. And then everybody will be like me.”
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