Glenn Beck, George Bernard Shaw And Evil: Guest Post
A comment on your recent post about Glenn Beck and George Bernard Shaw read:
“Where does Glenn Beck get the idea that George Bernard Shaw was an evil man? He gets the idea directly from George Bernard Shaw:
“The notion that persons should be safe from extermination as long as they do not commit willful murder, or levy war against the Crown, or kidnap, or throw vitriol, is not only to limit social responsibility unnecessarily, and to privilege the large range of intolerable misconduct that lies outside them, but to divert attention from the essential justification for extermination, which is always incorrigible social incompatibility and nothing else.”
So, in this case, Glenn Beck is absolutely correct. George Bernard Shaw was as evil as evil gets.”
That sounds pretty awful, especially the part that says, “to divert attention from the essential justification for extermination, which is always incorrigible social incompatibility and nothing else.” This sounds as if Shaw wholeheartedly agrees with genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Maybe Shaw is evil because of his unorthodox religious views. If being socialist makes one evil, Shaw is guilty as charged. However, he should be condemned after reading what he actually wrote, not by the dishonest cherry picking of quotations taken out of context.
The words in question come from the preface to Shaw’s play “On the Rocks” (1933).
The preface begins with a section called “Extermination.” It begins:
“In this play a reference is made by a Chief of Police to the political necessity for killing people: a necessity so distressing to the statesmen as so terrifying to the common citizen that nobody except myself (as far as I know) has ventured to examine it directly on its own merits, although every Government is obliged to practice it on a scale varying from the execution of a single murderer to the slaughter of millions of quite innocent persons. Whiles assenting to these proceedings, and even acclaiming and celebrating them, we date not tell ourselves what we are doing or why we are doing it; and so we call it justice or capital punishment or our duty to king and country or any other convenient verbal whitewash for what we instinctively recoil from as from a dirty job. These childish evasions are revolting. We must strip off the whitewash and find out what is really beneath it. Extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely and apologetically as well as thoroughly.”
Reading on, it becomes clear that Shaw, while writing for a serious purpose, is engaging in satire, as in Swift’s modest proposal to solve poverty in Ireland by having rich Englishmen eat Irish babies.
–“In India the impulse of Moslems and Hindus is to exterminate one another is complicated by the impulse of the British Empire to exterminate both when they happen to be militant Nationalists.”
–“When the horrors of anarchy force us to set up laws that forbid us to fight and torture one another for sport, we still snatch as every excuse for declaring individuals outside the protection of law and torturing them to our heats content.”
You get the tone that Shaw is using.
He goes on, “The extermination of what the exterminators call inferior races is as old as history. … All this is an old story: what we are confronted with now is a growing perception that if we desire a certain type of civilization and culture we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it.”
He says, “In a really civilized state, flogging would cease because it would be impossible to induce and decent citizen to flog another.” In place of flogging, we might substitute the extreme isolation of prisoners in maximum security prisons.
In his preface, far from advocating genocide, Shaw is arguing against cruelty and for toleration. Some historical individual cases of extermination Shaw uses include Joan of Arc, Galileo and Jesus Christ.
Near the end of the preface, Shaw writes: “The case is that a civilization cannot progress without criticism, and must therefore, to save itself from stagnation and putrefaction, declare impunity for criticism. This means impunity not only for propositions which, however, novel, seem interesting, statesmanlike, and respectable, but for propositions that shock the uncritical as obscene, seditious, blasphemous, heretical, and revolutionary. … The difficulty is to distinguish between the critic and the criminal or lunatic, between liberty of precept and liberty of example. I may be vitally necessary to allow a person to advocate Nudism; but it may not be expedient to allow that person to walk along Piccadilly stark naked. Karl Marx writing the death warrant of private property in the reading room of the British Museum was sacred; but if Karl Marx had sent the rent of his villa in Maitland Park to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and shot the landlord’s agents when they came to distrain on his furniture or execute a writ of ejectment, he could hardly have escaped hanging by pleading his right to criticize. Not until the criticism changes the law can the magistrate allow the critic to give effect to it.”
It is laughable for anyone to try to paint Shaw as a genocidal lunatic based on an out of context quote. And while conservatives will forever demand their right to free speech, Shaw’s argument for tolerance of all points of view in a free market for ideas will surely fall flat with Beck and his followers who would silence those who disagree with them. Who is more evil?
As Shaw said, the difficulty is to distinguish between the legitimate social critic and the lunatic. In this case, I would argue that is isn’t that hard to spot the fraud.
And by the way, if Beck seriously wants to censor Shaw, he should demand television stations stop showing the Academy Award winning film “My Fair Lady” which is a close musical adaptation of Shaw’s play “Pygmalion.”