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Glenn Beck, George Bernard Shaw And Evil: Guest Post

01/22/2010
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Guest Post: Steve Oravecz: Former Political Editor and Columnist.

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.

Shaw writes:

–“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.”

15 Comments leave one →
  1. 01/22/2010 12:31 pm

    You’re welcome.

    I will repost my last comment on the original post here as well:

    Shaw was a proponent of Eugenics, who believed that “the only fundamental and possible Socialism” was “the socialisation of the selective breeding of Man”. At a meeting of the Eugenics Education Society of 3 March 1910 he warned of the need to use a “lethal chamber” to solve the problem. Shaw said: “We should find ourselves committed to killing a great many people whom we now leave living, and to leave living a great many people whom we at present kill. We should have to get rid of all ideas about capital punishment …” Not all contemporary commentators noticed that this was an example of Shaw satirically employing the reductio ad absurdum argument against the eugenicists’ wilder dreams

  2. ronny permalink
    01/24/2010 2:07 pm

    You should have prefaced this article with the title “don’t believe your lying ears”.

    I love it when intellectuals try to rationalize away the obvious because it’s inconvenient.

    Here’s a crazy idea, if you don’t really believe in exterminating human beings, how about not making statements to that end on a regular basis.

  3. 03/06/2010 11:12 pm

    Ronny, Laci, it’s called “satire”. Perhaps you should actually READ the original quotes, in context, because honestly, you two are making fools of yourselves. I guarantee you a moment of embarrassment.

    George Bernard Shaw was a heated critic of the Nazis for their eugenic programs: he was an anti-racist, and his beleif in eugenics was limited to the idea that humans would naturally improve themselves through time – not through political interventions, but through what he saw as a natural instinct of the average woman to select a decent mate.

    He called it “elective breeding”, to distinguish it from “selective breeding”.

    This idea (that all women have some natural instinct to pick the best mate) may seem kookyto us now (although there are “evolutionary psychologists” around who genuinely beleive it), but it is not the slightest bit as insane as forced eugenics.

    Honestly, Ronny, to your comment “Here’s a crazy idea, if you don’t really believe in exterminating human beings, how about not making statements to that end on a regular basis” – do you think that Ali G is seriously a “ganster from the ‘hood'” ; who somehow got his own TV show? Do you think that The Colbert Report is a serious news show?

    No, it’s satire. For God’s sake, did you know that wrestling was staged?

    You really, really would save yourself from a lot of embarrassment by reading a bit deeper than an out-of-context, cherry-picked quote mined by some right-wing nutjob with an axe to grind.

  4. sovereignmary permalink
    03/30/2010 9:01 am

    Why would anyone believe that Shaw believed in the extermination of human beings? Here’s why: http://www.conservapedia.com/George_Bernard_Shaw

    In 1936, Shaw publicly defended Stalin’s Great Terror, saying, “Even in the opinion of the bitterest enemies of the Soviet Union and of her government, the [purge] trials have clearly demonstrated the existence of active conspiracies against the regime… I am convinced that this is the truth, and I am convinced that it will carry the ring of truth even in Western Europe, even for hostile readers.”[15] Shaw likewise defended Stalin’s mass executions, scolding, “we cannot afford to give ourselves moral airs when our most enterprising neighbor… humanely and judiciously liquidates a handful of exploiters and speculators…”[16] In 1949, he even wrote a defense of Stalin’s pseudo-scientific Lysenkoism.

    In addition to socialism, Shaw was an advocate of eugenics. “Extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely and apologetically as well as thoroughly,” he wrote. “[I]f we desire a certain type of civilization and culture we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it.[17] In one public address, Shaw gave expression to the Nazi doctrine of “life unworthy of life” (Lebensunwertes Leben):[18]

    “ You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence?
    If you can’t justify your existence, if you’re not pulling your weight, and since you won’t, if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself.[19]
    One of Shaw’s long-term obsessions was mass murder by means of poison gas. In a 1910 lecture before the Eugenics Education Society, he said:

    “ We should find ourselves committed to killing a great many people whom we now leave living… A part of eugenic politics would finally land us in an extensive use of the lethal chamber. A great many people would have to be put out of existence simply because it wastes other people’s time to look after them.[20] ”

    In the BBC’s weekly magazine, Shaw made a 1933 “appeal to the chemists to discover a humane gas that will kill instantly and painlessly. Deadly by all means, but humane not cruel…”[21] His appeal would shortly come to fruition in Nazi Germany. As Robert Jay Lifton notes in The Nazi Doctors, “The use of poison gas—first carbon monoxide and then Zyklon B—was the technological achievement permitting ‘humane killing.'”[22]

    Shaw admired not just Stalin, but Mussolini and even Hitler.[23] He despised freedom, writing, “Mussolini… Hitler and the rest can all depend on me to judge them by their ability to deliver the goods and not by… comfortable notions of freedom.”[24] Asked what Britons should do if the Nazis crossed the channel into Britain, Shaw replied, “Welcome them as tourists.”[25]

  5. semus permalink
    04/16/2010 7:06 am

    I think “dissemble” has reveled who and what he is. I believe Beck gave an honest report. But I will find out the truth.

  6. semus permalink
    04/16/2010 7:07 am

    “revealed”

    I was in a hurry.

  7. Blur permalink
    05/12/2010 2:13 pm

    Was Shaw a socialist? Yes. Did he make comments supportive of Stalinist Russia? Yes. Did he favor genocide? No. Did Glenn Beck take Shaw’s comments out of context? Yes. Another example of this type of satire is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”.

    It’s OK to be against socialism (I am). Its not OK to spread falsehood and conspiracy theory to advance one’s position. Those who seriously believe that today’s “eggheads” want to kill us all are full of it. This hyerbole, exaggeration adn even lies are not helpful.

    Shaw was a good friend of Winston Churchill and reading a well-sourced biography of either would show any reader that Shaw was not some maniac.

  8. Blur permalink
    05/12/2010 2:14 pm

    Oh, and one more thing…I have often heard Glenn Beck himself use irony and speak in first person as though he were the person he is criticizing (i.e., “let’s destroy the Constitution”). Would it be fair to take Beck’s words out of context 100 years from now and say that is what he favors?

  9. James Hariot permalink
    05/18/2010 6:50 am

    Politically Shaw was an idealist but a socialist through and through who believed that mankind had yet to come of age. To that aim he worked all his life. The people whom he advocated should justify their existence were the exploiters of the working class. That is who he was getting at, those who contribute nothing but take all. These he detested but not as much as Marx who was very far from being a political gradualist. As for Hitler and Mussolini… he was blinded by the myth of the Great Man. How wrong could he get! He certainly had no inkling of what those two would get up too when he openly supported their world conquering plans. He opposed fascism and tyranny all his life and was at heart a good and kind man who helped more people both personally and through his work than Beck and all his buddies put together would or could in a dozen lifetimes.

  10. James Hariot permalink
    05/18/2010 8:54 pm

    If I may summarize what Shaw was actually saying it is this. “If you are a person who is dedicated to heaping misery, anguish, pain, starvation and alienation on your fellow man in order to fill you own pockets and are similarly dedicated to protecting your right to do so by arms, brainwashing and terror; and you are asked politely to stop and mend your ways but refuse to do so because you think you have a God-given right to crucify your own species then you are basically a criminal and an enemy of mankind who deserves to be shot.”
    By this reasoning the real criminals are not behind bars at all but go swaggering towards the stock exchanges of a morning with a smile on their faces and a laptop in their briefcases and many of them are to be found in the pews of a Sunday to keep up appearances. The only people who are going to object to this simple proposition of Shaw’s are precisely those criminals Shaw refers to.

  11. NorskeDiv permalink
    05/20/2010 1:19 am

    Well, that’s what you say now, of course it’s satire. What a lame excuse! Rush Limbaugh always just says it was satire whenever he says something offensive – but you know he really believes this stuff. That’s why it was valid for Obama to employ Rush’s supposedly satirical quoting of Mexico’s immigration law – he might claim he was just satirically advocating we adopt extremely harsh measures against immigrants, but EVERYONE knows he really does want to (even if he claims it was “just satire”).

    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/warner-todd-huston/2008/09/18/old-media-helps-obama-push-false-rush-limbaugh-immigration-quote

    Oh, wait, we’re discussing someone on the left here, so satire can be validly employed.

    Well, at least it wasn’t an ELECTED OFFICIAL on the right pushing such blatant misrepresentation, as Obama did in that shameful advertisement.

  12. Lefties are killers permalink
    01/06/2011 9:24 am

    Nooo sooorry, this statement from GBS (that Glenn Beck reported on) is NOT out of context. Please tell me how this can be made better under any context.

    “You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence? If you can’t justify your existence, if you’re not pulling your weight in the social boat, if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us, and it can’t be of very much use to yourself.”

  13. 01/06/2011 6:48 pm

    Even tho I find the title of this author appalling, I welcome the comment and overlook the sophmoric attempt at some sort of humor or political statement. Since this poster is obviously claiming to be a “rightie” then I guess we can expect the standard of communications on discussions to be lowered.

  14. John Grant permalink
    07/02/2011 6:03 pm

    How about a little historical context? 1939: the Canadian government refuses Jewish refugees safe harbour from extermination in Europe. What were the norms in those days? What are the norms now? Shaw back then was a rabble rousing pussycat. Glenn Beck is a fanatic, a bigot, a conman, a misogynist all rolled into one. He is laughing all the way to the bank: yes, even complete idiots can do that these days.

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