George Bernard Shaw.

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E-text prepared by Suzanne Shell and Project Gutenberg Distributed

Editorial note: The reader is likely to notice the absence of
apostrophes from contractions in the essay section of
this work. The author disliked apostrophes and
often omitted them. Some of his publishers inserted
them, others honored his wishes. The policy of Project
Gutenberg is to treat apostrophes as they were in the
source text. In this case, apostrophes were omitted in
the essay section but used in the play.


A Metabiological Pentateuch





The Infidel Half Century
The Dawn of Darwinism
The Advent of the Neo-Darwinians
Political Inadequacy of the Human Animal
Cowardice of the Irreligious
Is there any Hope in Education?
Homeopathic Education
The Diabolical Efficiency of Technical Education
Flimsiness of Civilization
Creative Evolution
Voluntary Longevity
The Early Evolutionists
The Advent of the Neo-Lamarckians
How Acquirements are Inherited
The Miracle of Condensed Recapitulation
Heredity an Old Story
Discovery Anticipated by Divination
Corrected Dates for the Discovery of Evolution
Defying the Lightning: a Frustrated Experiment
In Quest of the First Cause
Paley's Watch
The Irresistible Cry of Order, Order!
The Moment and the Man
The Brink of the Bottomless Pit
Why Darwin Converted the Crowd
How we Rushed Down a Steep Place
Darwinism not Finally Refutable
Three Blind Mice
The Greatest of These is Self-Control
A Sample of Lamarcko-Shavian Invective
The Humanitarians and the Problem of Evil
How One Touch of Darwin makes the Whole World Kin
Why Darwin Pleased the Socialists
Darwin and Karl Marx
Why Darwin pleased the Profiteers also
The Poetry and Purity of Materialism
The Viceroys of the King of Kings
Political Opportunism in Excelsis
The Betrayal of Western Civilization
Circumstantial Selection in Finance
The Homeopathic Reaction against Darwinism
Religion and Romance
The Danger of Reaction
A Touchstone for Dogma
What to do with the Legends
A Lesson from Science to the Churches
The Religious Art of the Twentieth Century
The Artist-Prophets
Evolution in the Theatre
My Own Part in the Matter
In the Beginning: B.C. 4004 (In the Garden of Eden)
The Gospel of the Brothers Barnabas: Present Day
The Thing Happens: A.D. 2170
Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman: A.D. 3000
As Far as Thought Can Reach: A.D. 31,920


The Infidel Half Century


One day early in the eighteen hundred and sixties, I, being then a
small boy, was with my nurse, buying something in the shop of a petty
newsagent, bookseller, and stationer in Camden Street, Dublin, when
there entered an elderly man, weighty and solemn, who advanced to the
counter, and said pompously, 'Have you the works of the celebrated

My own works were at that time unwritten, or it is possible that the
shop assistant might have misunderstood me so far as to produce a copy
of Man and Superman. As it was, she knew quite well what he wanted; for
this was before the Education Act of 1870 had produced shop assistants
who know how to read and know nothing else. The celebrated Buffoon was
not a humorist, but the famous naturalist Buffon. Every literate child
at that time knew Buffon's Natural History as well as Esop's Fables. And
no living child had heard the name that has since obliterated Buffon's
in the popular consciousness: the name of Darwin.

Ten years elapsed. The celebrated Buffoon was forgotten; I had doubled
my years and my length; and I had discarded the religion of my
forefathers. One day the richest and consequently most dogmatic of my
uncles came into a restaurant where I was dining, and found himself,
much against his will, in conversation with the most questionable of his
nephews. By way of making myself agreeable, I spoke of modern thought
and Darwin. He said, 'Oh, thats the fellow who wants to make out that we
all have tails like monkeys.' I tried to explain that what Darwin had
insisted on in this connection was that some monkeys have no tails.
But my uncle was as impervious to what Darwin really said as any
Neo-Darwinian nowadays. He died impenitent, and did not mention me in
his will.

Twenty years elapsed. If my uncle had been alive, he would have known
all about Darwin, and known it all wrong. In spite of the efforts of
Grant Allen to set him right, he would have accepted Darwin as the
discoverer of Evolution, of Heredity, and of modification of species by
Selection. For the pre-Darwinian age had come to be regarded as a Dark
Age in which men still believed that the book of Genesis was a standard
scientific treatise, and that the only additions to it were Galileo's
demonstration of Leonardo da Vinci's simple remark that the earth is
a moon of the sun, Newton's theory of gravitation, Sir Humphry Davy's
invention of the safety-lamp, the discovery of electricity, the
application of steam to industrial purposes, and the penny post. It was
just the same in other subjects. Thus Nietzsche, by the two or three who
had come across his writings, was supposed to have been the first man
to whom it occurred that mere morality and legality and urbanity lead
nowhere, as if Bunyan had never written Badman. Schopenhauer was
credited with inventing the distinction between the Covenant of Grace
and the Covenant of Works which troubled Cromwell on his deathbed.
People talked as if there had been no dramatic or descriptive music
before Wagner; no impressionist painting before Whistler; whilst as to
myself, I was finding that the surest way to produce an effect of daring
innovation and originality was to revive the ancient attraction of long
rhetorical speeches; to stick closely to the methods of Molière; and to
lift characters bodily out of the pages of Charles Dickens.


This particular sort of ignorance does not always or often matter. But
in Darwin's case it did matter. If Darwin had really led the world at
one bound from the book of Genesis to Heredity, to Modification of
Species by Selection, and to Evolution, he would have been a philosopher
and a prophet as well as an eminent professional naturalist, with
geology as a hobby. The delusion that he had actually achieved this
feat did no harm at first, because if people's views are sound, about
evolution or anything else, it does not make two straws difference
whether they call the revealer of their views Tom or Dick. But later on
such apparently negligible errors have awkward consequences. Darwin was
given an imposing reputation as not only an Evolutionist, but as _the_
Evolutionist, with the immense majority who never read his books.
The few who never read any others were led by them to concentrate
exclusively on Circumstantial Selection as the explanation of all the
transformations and adaptations which were the evidence for Evolution.
And they presently found themselves so cut off by this specialization
from the majority who knew Darwin only by his spurious reputation, that
they were obliged to distinguish themselves, not as Darwinians, but as

Before ten more years had elapsed, the Neo-Darwinians were practically
running current Science. It was 1906; I was fifty; I published my own
view of evolution in a play called Man and Superman; and I found that
most people were unable to understand how I could be an Evolutionist
and not a Neo-Darwinian, or why I habitually derided Neo-Darwinism as
a ghastly idiocy, and would fall on its professors slaughterously in
public discussions. It was in the hope of making me clear the matter up
that the Fabian Society, which was then organizing a series of lectures
on Prophets of the Nineteenth Century, asked me to deliver a lecture
on the prophet Darwin. I did so; and scraps of that lecture, which was
never published, variegate these pages.


Ten more years elapsed. Neo-Darwinism in politics had produced a
European catastrophe of a magnitude so appalling, and a scope so
unpredictable, that as I write these lines in 1920, it is still far from
certain whether our civilization will survive it. The circumstances
of this catastrophe, the boyish cinema-fed romanticism which made it
possible to impose it on the people as a crusade, and especially the
ignorance and errors of the victors of Western Europe when its violent
phase had passed and the time for reconstruction arrived, confirmed a
doubt which had grown steadily in my mind during my forty years public
work as a Socialist: namely, whether the human animal, as he exists at
present, is capable of solving the social problems raised by his own
aggregation, or, as he calls it, his civilization.


Another observation I had made was that goodnatured unambitious men are
cowards when they have no religion. They are dominated and exploited not
only by greedy and often half-witted and half-alive weaklings who will
do anything for cigars, champagne, motor cars, and the more childish and
selfish uses of money, but by able and sound administrators who can do
nothing else with them than dominate and exploit them. Government and
exploitation become synonymous under such circumstances; and the world
is finally ruled by the childish, the brigands, and the blackguards.
Those who refuse to stand in with them are persecuted and occasionally
executed when they give any trouble to the exploiters. They fall into
poverty when they lack lucrative specific talents. At the present moment
one half of Europe, having knocked the other half down, is trying to
kick it to death, and may succeed: a procedure which is, logically,
sound Neo-Darwinism. And the goodnatured majority are looking on
in helpless horror, or allowing themselves to be persuaded by the
newspapers of their exploiters that the kicking is not only a sound
commercial investment, but an act of divine justice of which they are
the ardent instruments.

But if Man is really incapable of organizing a big civilization, and
cannot organize even a village or a tribe any too well, what is the use
of giving him a religion? A religion may make him hunger and thirst for
righteousness; but will it endow him with the practical capacity to
satisfy that appetite? Good intentions do not carry with them a grain of
political science, which is a very complicated one. The most devoted and
indefatigable, the most able and disinterested students of this science
in England, as far as I know, are my friends Sidney and Beatrice Webb.
It has taken them forty years of preliminary work, in the course of
which they have published several treatises comparable to Adam Smith's
Wealth of Nations, to formulate a political constitution adequate to
existing needs. If this is the measure of what can be done in a
lifetime by extraordinary ability, keen natural aptitude, exceptional
opportunities, and freedom from the preoccupations of bread-winning,
what are we to expect from the parliament man to whom political science
is as remote and distasteful as the differential calculus, and to whom
such an elementary but vital point as the law of economic rent is a
_pons asinorum_ never to be approached, much less crossed? Or from the
common voter who is mostly so hard at work all day earning a living that
he cannot keep awake for five minutes over a book?


The usual answer is that we must educate our masters: that is,
ourselves. We must teach citizenship and political science at school.
But must we? There is no must about it, the hard fact being that we must
_not_ teach political science or citizenship at school. The schoolmaster
who attempted it would soon find himself penniless in the streets
without pupils, if not in the dock pleading to a pompously worded
indictment for sedition against the exploiters. Our schools teach the
morality of feudalism corrupted by commercialism, and hold up the
military conqueror, the robber baron, and the profiteer, as models of
the illustrious and the successful. In vain do the prophets who see
through this imposture preach and teach a better gospel: the individuals
whom they convert are doomed to pass away in a few years; and the new
generations are dragged back in the schools to the morality of the
fifteenth century, and think themselves Liberal when they are defending
the ideas of Henry VII, and gentlemanly when they are opposing to them
the ideas of Richard III. Thus the educated man is a greater nuisance
than the uneducated one: indeed it is the inefficiency and sham of the
educational side of our schools (to which, except under compulsion,
children would not be sent by their parents at all if they did not act
as prisons in which the immature are kept from worrying the mature) that
save us from being dashed on the rocks of false doctrine instead of
drifting down the midstream of mere ignorance. There is no way out
through the schoolmaster.


In truth, mankind cannot be saved from without, by schoolmasters or any
other sort of masters: it can only be lamed and enslaved by them. It is
said that if you wash a cat it will never again wash itself. This may or
may not be true: what is certain is that if you teach a man anything he
will never learn it; and if you cure him of a disease he will be unable
to cure himself the next time it attacks him. Therefore, if you want
to see a cat clean, you throw a bucket of mud over it, when it will
immediately take extraordinary pains to lick the mud off, and finally be
cleaner than it was before. In the same way doctors who are up-to-date
(BURGE-LUBIN per cent of all the registered practitioners, and 20 per
cent of the unregistered ones), when they want to rid you of a disease
or a symptom, inoculate you with that disease or give you a drug that
produces that symptom, in order to provoke you to resist it as the mud
provokes the cat to wash itself.

Now an acute person will ask me why, if this be so, our false education
does not provoke our scholars to find out the truth. My answer is that
it sometimes does. Voltaire was a pupil of the Jesuits; Samuel Butler
was the pupil of a hopelessly conventional and erroneous country parson.
But then Voltaire was Voltaire, and Butler was Butler: that is, their
minds were so abnormally strong that they could throw off the doses of
poison that paralyse ordinary minds. When the doctors inoculate you and
the homeopathists dose you, they give you an infinitesimally attenuated
dose. If they gave you the virus at full strength it would overcome your
resistance and produce its direct effect. The doses of false doctrine
given at public schools and universities are so big that they overwhelm
the resistance that a tiny dose would provoke. The normal student is
corrupted beyond redemption, and will drive the genius who resists out
of the country if he can. Byron and Shelley had to fly to Italy, whilst
Castlereagh and Eldon ruled the roost at home. Rousseau was hunted from
frontier to frontier; Karl Marx starved in exile in a Soho lodging;
Ruskin's articles were refused by the magazines (he was too rich to be
otherwise persecuted); whilst mindless forgotten nonentities governed
the land; sent men to the prison or the gallows for blasphemy and
sedition (meaning the truth about Church and State); and sedulously
stored up the social disease and corruption which explode from time to
time in gigantic boils that have to be lanced by a million bayonets.
This is the result of allopathic education. Homeopathic education has
not yet been officially tried, and would obviously be a delicate
matter if it were. A body of schoolmasters inciting their pupils to
infinitesimal peccadilloes with the object of provoking them to exclaim,
'Get thee behind me, Satan,' or telling them white lies about history
for the sake of being contradicted, insulted, and refuted, would
certainly do less harm than our present educational allopaths do; but
then nobody will advocate homeopathic education. Allopathy has produced
the poisonous illusion that it enlightens instead of darkening. The
suggestion may, however, explain why, whilst most people's minds succumb
to inculcation and environment, a few react vigorously: honest and
decent people coming from thievish slums, and sceptics and realists from
country parsonages.


But meanwhile - and here comes the horror of it - our technical
instruction is honest and efficient. The public schoolboy who is
carefully blinded, duped, and corrupted as to the nature of a society
based on profiteering, and is taught to honor parasitic idleness and
luxury, learns to shoot and ride and keep fit with all the assistance
and guidance that can be procured for him by the most anxiously sincere
desire that he may do these things well, and if possible superlatively
well. In the army he learns to fly; to drop bombs; to use machine-guns
to the utmost of his capacity. The discovery of high explosives is
rewarded and dignified: instruction in the manufacture of the weapons,
battleships, submarines, and land batteries by which they are applied
destructively, is quite genuine: the instructors know their business,
and really mean the learners to succeed. The result is that powers
of destruction that could hardly without uneasiness be entrusted to
infinite wisdom and infinite benevolence are placed in the hands of
romantic schoolboy patriots who, however generous by nature, are by
education ignoramuses, dupes, snobs, and sportsmen to whom fighting is a
religion and killing an accomplishment; whilst political power, useless
under such circumstances except to militarist imperialists in chronic
terror of invasion and subjugation, pompous tufthunting fools,
commercial adventurers to whom the organization by the nation of its own
industrial services would mean checkmate, financial parasites on the
money market, and stupid people who cling to the status quo merely
because they are used to it, is obtained by heredity, by simple
purchase, by keeping newspapers and pretending that they are organs of
public opinion, by the wiles of seductive women, and by prostituting
ambitious talent to the service of the profiteers, who call the tune
because, having secured all the spare plunder, they alone can afford
to pay the piper. Neither the rulers nor the ruled understand high
politics. They do not even know that there is such a branch of knowledge
as political science; but between them they can coerce and enslave
with the deadliest efficiency, even to the wiping out of civilization,
because their education as slayers has been honestly and thoroughly
carried out. Essentially the rulers are all defectives; and there is
nothing worse than government by defectives who wield irresistible
powers of physical coercion. The commonplace sound people submit, and
compel the rest to submit, because they have been taught to do so as
an article of religion and a point of honor. Those in whom natural
enlightenment has reacted against artificial education submit because
they are compelled; but they would resist, and finally resist
effectively, if they were not cowards. And they are cowards because they
have neither an officially accredited and established religion nor a
generally recognized point of honor, and are all at sixes and sevens
with their various private speculations, sending their children perforce
to the schools where they will be corrupted for want of any other
schools. The rulers are equally intimidated by the immense extension
and cheapening of the means of slaughter and destruction. The British
Government is more afraid of Ireland now that submarines, bombs, and
poison gas are cheap and easily made than it was of the German Empire
before the war; consequently the old British custom which maintained a
balance of power through command of the sea is intensified into a terror
that sees security in nothing short of absolute military mastery of the
entire globe: that is, in an impossibility that will yet seem possible
in detail to soldiers and to parochial and insular patriotic civilians.


This situation has occurred so often before, always with the same result
of a collapse of civilization (Professor Flinders Petrie has let out the
secret of previous collapses), that the rich are instinctively crying
'Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die,' and the poor, 'How long, O
Lord, how long?' But the pitiless reply still is that God helps those
who help themselves. This does not mean that if Man cannot find the
remedy no remedy will be found. The power that produced Man when the
monkey was not up to the mark, can produce a higher creature than Man if
Man does not come up to the mark. What it means is that if Man is to be
saved, Man must save himself. There seems no compelling reason why he
should be saved. He is by no means an ideal creature. At his present
best many of his ways are so unpleasant that they are unmentionable in
polite society, and so painful that he is compelled to pretend that pain
is often a good. Nature holds no brief for the human experiment: it must
stand or fall by its results. If Man will not serve, Nature will try
another experiment.

What hope is there then of human improvement? According to the
Neo-Darwinists, to the Mechanists, no hope whatever, because improvement
can come only through some senseless accident which must, on the
statistical average of accidents, be presently wiped out by some other
equally senseless accident.


But this dismal creed does not discourage those who believe that the
impulse that produces evolution is creative. They have observed the
simple fact that the will to do anything can and does, at a certain
pitch of intensity set up by conviction of its necessity, create and
organize new tissue to do it with. To them therefore mankind is by no
means played out yet. If the weight lifter, under the trivial stimulus
of an athletic competition, can 'put up a muscle,' it seems reasonable
to believe that an equally earnest and convinced philosopher could 'put
up a brain.' Both are directions of vitality to a certain end. Evolution
shews us this direction of vitality doing all sorts of things: providing
the centipede with a hundred legs, and ridding the fish of any legs at
all; building lungs and arms for the land and gills and fins for the
sea; enabling the mammal to gestate its young inside its body, and the
fowl to incubate hers outside it; offering us, we may say, our choice of
any sort of bodily contrivance to maintain our activity and increase our


Among other matters apparently changeable at will is the duration of
individual life. Weismann, a very clever and suggestive biologist who
was unhappily reduced to idiocy by Neo-Darwinism, pointed out that death
is not an eternal condition of life, but an expedient introduced to
provide for continual renewal without overcrowding. Now Circumstantial
Selection does not account for natural death: it accounts only for the
survival of species in which the individuals have sense enough to decay
and die on purpose. But the individuals do not seem to have calculated
very reasonably: nobody can explain why a parrot should live ten times
as long as a dog, and a turtle be almost immortal. In the case of man,
the operation has overshot its mark: men do not live long enough: they
are, for all the purposes of high civilization, mere children when they
die; and our Prime Ministers, though rated as mature, divide their
time between the golf course and the Treasury Bench in parliament.
Presumably, however, the same power that made this mistake can remedy
it. If on opportunist grounds Man now fixes the term of his life at
three score and ten years, he can equally fix it at three hundred, or
three thousand, or even at the genuine Circumstantial Selection limit,
which would be until a sooner-or-later-inevitable fatal accident makes
an end of the individual. All that is necessary to make him extend his
present span is that tremendous catastrophes such as the late war shall
convince him of the necessity of at least outliving his taste for
golf and cigars if the race is to be saved. This is not fantastic
speculation: it is deductive biology, if there is such a science as
biology. Here, then, is a stone that we have left unturned, and that may

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