Animal Rights:

A History

George Bernard Shaw 
 

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Friedrich Nietzsche

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This page is part of the section: Animal Rights:A History

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity.

George Bernard Shaw

Born in Dublin in 1856 George Bernard Shaw was a playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Shaw hoping to become a writer wrote five novels which were not a success, his first profitable writing came from his literary criticism in which capacity he produced many articulate pieces of journalism and contributed to the Pall Mall Gazette. Shaw got on well with the newspaper's campaigning editor, William Stead, who attempted to use the power of the popular press to obtain social reform.

However his main talent was for drama and during his long life, ninety-four years, he produced over sixty plays most of which dealt with social issues but with a hint of

comedy to make them more appealing . His themes included such social issues as education, marriage, religion, government, health care, and class privilege; he was most angered by the exploitation of working class people. Most of his writing focused on this particular issue. He became an ardent socialist and joined the Social Democratic Federation, the first Marxist political group in Britain and became an active member. He also joined the Fabian Society, a socialist group who adopted the tactic of trying to convince people by "rational factual socialist argument" and wrote many pamphlets for them including: including The Fabian Manifesto (1884), The True Radical Programme (1887), Fabian Election Manifesto (1892), The Impossibilities of Anarchism (1893), Fabianism and the Empire (1900) and Socialism for Millionaires (1901).

Shaw was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1925, and an Oscar in 1938 for his work on the film Pygmalion an adaption of his play of the same name, he was the only person to be awarded both a Nobel Prize for Literature and an Oscar.

Also of great concern to Bernard Shaw was the plight of animals; he was strict vegetarian,  anti-vivisectionist and opponent of cruel sports. Shaw became a vegetarian in 1881 and remained so for sixty-six years until his death in 1950. He was acquainted with Henry Salt.

The following link will take you to extracts from Shaw's diaries, volumes one and two. These extracts are items of interest to vegetarians, including references to dining in vegetarian restaurants, becoming vegetarian and associations and meetings with other vegetarians.

ivu.org/history/shaw/diaries.html

What follows is a selection of quotations and other writings that reflect Shaw's stance on various aspects of animal rights and vegetarianism.

My situation is a solemn one. Life is offered to me on condition of eating beefsteaks. But death is better than cannibalism. My will contains directions for my funeral, which will be followed not by mourning coaches, but by oxen, sheep, flocks of poultry, and a small travelling aquarium of live fish, all wearing white scarves in honour of the man who perished rather than eat his fellow creatures.
George Bernard Shaw
 

Living Graves
By George Bernard Shaw
(1856-1950) A poem - attributed to Shaw

We are the living graves of murdered beasts,
Slaughtered to satisfy our appetites.
We never pause to wonder at our feasts,
If animals, like men, can possibly have rights.
We pray on Sundays that we may have light,
To guide our footsteps on the path we tread.
We’re sick of War, we do not want to fight –
The thought of it now fills our hearts with dread,
And yet – we gorge ourselves upon the dead.
Like carrion crows, we live and feed on meat,
Regardless of the suffering and pain
We cause by doing so, if thus we treat
Defenseless animals for sport or gain,
How can we hope in this world to attain
The PEACE we say we are so anxious for.
We pray for it, o’er hecatombs of slain,
To God, while outraging the moral law.
Thus cruelty begets its offspring – WAR

You do not settle whether an experiment is justified or not by merely showing that it is of some use. The distinction is not between useful and useless experiments, but between barbarous and civilized behaviour. Vivisection is a social evil because if it advances human knowledge, it does so at the expense of human character.

Vivisection is a social evil because if it advances human knowledge, it does so at the expense of human character.

When a man wants to murder a tiger he calls it sport; when the tiger wants to murder him he calls it ferocity.

                   

Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into an oak! Bury a sheep, and nothing happens but decay.

A mind of the calibre of mine cannot derive its nutriment from cows.



A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses.



While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth?
 


Cruelty must be whitewashed by a moral excuse, and pretence of reluctance.



If a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth -- beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals -- would you concede them the rights over you that you assume over other animals?

                     

Archibald Henderson, author of a three-volume biography of Shaw, recorded a conversation with GBS in 1924, when Shaw was already sixty-eight; it appears in Table-Talks, a collection of the playwright:

Henderson: So be a good fellow and tell me how you succeeded in remaining so youthful.
Shaw: I don't. I look my age; and I am my age. It is the other people who look older than they are. What can you expect from people who eat corpses and drink spirits?


Atrocities are not less atrocities when they occur in laboratories and are called medical research.


Animals are my friends... and I don’t eat my friends.


On being asked why he was a vegetarian:
Oh, come! That boot is on the other leg. Why should you call me to account for eating decently? If I battened on the scorched corpses of animals, you might well ask me why I did that.
The Vegetarian, 15 January 1898

Human beings are the only animals of which I am thoroughly and cravenly afraid.

 

.. It seems to me, looking at myself, that I am a remarkably superior person, when you compare me with other writers, journalists, and dramatists; and I am perfectly content to put this down to my abstinence from meat. That is the simple and modest ground on which we should base our non-meat diet. . . .

A dinner!
How horrible!
I am to be made the pretext for killing all those wretched animals and birds, and fish! Thank you for nothing. Now if it were to be a fast instead of a feast; say a solemn three days' abstention from corpses in my honour, I could at least pretend to believe that it was disinterested. Blood sacrifices are not in my line
.
Letter 30 December 1929


I was told that my diet was so poor that I could not repair the bones that were broken and operated on. So I have just had an Xradiograph taken; and lo! perfectly mended solid bone so beautifully white that I have left instructions that, if I die, a glove stretcher is to be made of me and sent to you as a souvenir.
Letter to Mrs.Patrick Campbell


                   

The Anti-Vivisector does not deny that physiologists must make experiments and even take chances with new methods. He says that they must not seek knowledge by criminal methods, just as they must not make money by criminal methods. He does not object to Galileo dropping cannon balls from the top of the leaning tower of Pisa; but he would object to shoving off two dogs or American tourists. He knows that there are fifty ways of ascertaining any fact; that only the two or three worst of them are wicked ways; that those who deliberately choose them are not only morally but intellectually imbecile; that it is ridiculous to expect that an experimenter who commits acts of diabolical cruelty for the sake of what he calls Science can be trusted to tel1 the truth about the results; that no vivisector ever accepts another vivisector's conclusions nor refrains from undertaking a fresh set of vivisections to upset them; that as any fool can vivisect and gain kudos by writing a paper describing what happened the laboratories are infested with kudos hunters who have nothing to tell that they could not have ascertained by asking a policeman, except when it is something that they should not know (like the sensations of a murderer); and that as these vivisectors crowd humane research workers out of the schools and discredit them, they use up all the available endow ments and bequests, leaving nothing for serious research.

G B Shaw, ‘These Scoundrels’, reply to H G Wells in the Sunday Express, 27 August 1927.

The Doctor's Dilemma : preface on Doctors

By Bernard Shaw

This is the lengthy preface to Shaw's play, The Doctors Dilemma,first staged in 1906.In the play a number of ethical dilemmas crop up for the protagonist, for example the temptation of young doctors to perform costly and unnecessary operations and other treatments solely for personal gain.

The excerpts from various sections below contain antivivisection viewpoints.

Doctors and Vivisection

The natural abhorrence of sane mankind for the vivisector's cruelty, and the contempt of able thinkers for his imbecile casuistry, have been expressed by the most popular spokesmen of humanity. If the medical profession were to outdo the anti-vivisection societies in a general professional protest against the practice and principles of the vivisectors, every doctor in the kingdom would gain substantially by the immense relief and reconciliation which would follow such a reassurance of the humanity of the doctor.

From Shakespear and Dr. Johnson to Ruskin and Mark Twain, the natural abhorrence of sane mankind for the vivisector's cruelty, and the contempt of able thinkers for his imbecile casuistry, have been expressed by the most popular spokesmen of humanity. If the medical profession were to outdo the Anti-Vivisection Societies in a general professional protest against the practice and principles of the vivisectors, every doctor in the kingdom would gain substantially by the immense relief and reconciliation which would follow such a reassurance of the humanity of the doctor. Not one doctor in a thousand is a vivisector, or has any interest in vivisection, either pecuniary or intellectual, or would treat his dog cruelly or allow anyone else to do it. It is true that the doctor complies with the professional fashion of defending vivisection, and assuring you that people like Shakespear and Dr. Johnson and Ruskin and Mark Twain are ignorant sentimentalists, just as he complies with any other silly fashion: the mystery is, how it became the fashion in spite of its being so injurious to those who follow it. Making all possible allowance for the effect of the brazen lying of the few men who bring a rush of despairing patients to their doors by professing in letters to the newspapers to have learnt from vivisection how to cure certain diseases, and the assurances of the sayers of smooth things that the practice is quite painless under the law, it is still difficult to find any civilized motive for an attitude by which the medical profession has everything to lose and nothing to gain.

Limitations of the Right of Knowledge

But neither does any government exempt the pursuit of knowledge, any more than the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness (as the American Constitution puts it), from all social conditions. No man is allowed to put his mother into the stove because he desires to know how long an adult woman will survive at a temperature of 500 degrees Fahrenheit, no matter how important or interesting that particular addition to the store of human knowledge may be. A man who did so would have short work made not only of his right to knowledge, but of his right to live and all his other rights at the same time. The right to knowledge is not the only right; and its exercise must be limited by respect for other rights, and for its own exercise by others.

When a man says to Society, "May I torture my mother in pursuit of knowledge?" Society replies, "No." If he pleads, "What! Not even if I have a chance of finding out how to cure cancer by doing it?" Society still says, "Not even then." If the scientist, making the best of his disappointment, goes on to ask may he torture a dog, the stupid and callous people who do not realize that a dog is a fellow-creature and sometimes a good friend, may say Yes, though Shakespear, Dr. Johnson and their like may say No. But even those who say "You may torture A dog" never say "You may torture MY dog." And nobody says, "Yes, because in the pursuit of knowledge you may do as you please." Just as even the stupidest people say, in effect, "If you cannot attain to knowledge without burning your mother you must do without knowledge," so the wisest people say, "If you cannot attain to knowledge without torturing a dog, you must do without knowledge."

Our Own Cruelties

We are, as a matter of fact, a cruel nation; and our habit of disguising our vices by giving polite names to the offences we are detestined to commit, does not, unfortunately for my own comfort, impose on me. Vivisectors can hardly pretend to be better than the classes from which they are drawn, or those above them; and if these classes are capable of sacrificing animals in various cruel ways under cover of sport, fashion education, discipline, and even, when the cruel sacrifices are human sacrifices, of political economy, it is idle for the vivisector to pretend that he is incapable of practising cruelty for pleasure or profit or both under the cloak of science. We are all tarred with the same brush...

A False Alternative

It will now, I hope, be clear why the attack on vivisection is not an attack on the right to knowledge: why, indeed, those who have the deepest conviction of the sacredness of that right are the leaders of the attack. No knowledge is finally impossible of human attainment; for even though it may be beyond our present capacity, the needed capacity is not unattainable. Consequently no method of investigation is the only method; and no law forbidding any particular method can cut us off from the knowledge we hope to gain by it. The only knowledge we lose by forbidding cruelty is knowledge at first hand of cruelty itself, which is precisely the knowledge humane people wish to be spared.

Routine

Vivisection is now a routine, like butchering or hanging or flogging; and many of the men who practise it do so only because it has been established as part of the profession they have adopted. Far from enjoying it, they have simply overcome their natural repugnance and become indifferent to it, as men inevitably become indifferent to anything they do often enough. It is this dangerous power of custom that makes it so difficult to convince the commonsense of mankind that any established commercial or professional practice has its root in passion. Let a routine once spring from passion, and you will presently find thousands of routineers following it passionlessly for a livelihood. In the same way many people do cruel and vile things without being in the least cruel or vile, because the routine to which they have been brought up is superstitiously cruel and vile.

...vivisection is now a routine, like butchering or hanging or flogging; and many of the men who practise it do so only because it has been established as part of the profession they have adopted. Far from enjoying it, they have simply overcome their natural repugnance and become indifferent to it, as men inevitably become indifferent to anything they do often enough. It is this dangerous power of custom that makes it so difficult to convince the common sense of mankind that any established commercial or professional practice has its root in passion. Let a routine once spring from passion, and you will presently find thousands of routineers following it passionlessly for a livelihood. Thus it always seems strained to speak of the religious convictions of a clergyman, because nine out of ten clergymen have no religions convictions: they are ordinary officials carrying on a routine of baptizing, marrying, and churching; praying, reciting, and preaching; and, like solicitors or doctors, getting away from their duties with relief to hunt, to garden, to keep bees, to go into society, and the like. In the same way many people do cruel and vile things without being in the least cruel or vile, because the routine to which they have been brought up is superstitiously cruel and vile. To say that every man who beats his children and every schoolmaster who flogs a pupil is a conscious debauchee is absurd: thousands of dull, conscientious people beat their children conscientiously, because they were beaten themselves and think children ought to be beaten. The ill-tempered vulgarity that instinctively strikes at and hurts a thing that annoys it (and all children are annoying), and the simple stupidity that requires from a child perfection beyond the reach of the wisest and best adults (perfect truthfulness coupled with perfect obedience is quite a common condition of leaving a child unwhipped), produce a good deal of flagellation among people who not only do not lust after it, but who hit the harder because they are angry at having to perform an uncomfortable duty.

In the same way we find men and women practising vivisection as senselessly as a humane butcher, who adores his fox terrier, will cut a calf's throat and hang it up by its heels to bleed slowly to death because it is the custom to eat veal and insist on its being white; or as a German purveyor nails a goose to a board and stuffs it with food because fashionable people eat pate de foie gras; or as the crew of a whaler breaks in on a colony of seals and clubs them to death in wholesale massacre because ladies want sealskin jackets; or as fanciers blind singing birds with hot needles, and mutilate the ears and tails of dogs and horses. Let cruelty or kindness or anything else once become customary and it will be practised by people to whom it is not at all natural, but whose rule of life is simply to do only what everybody else does, and who would lose their employment and starve if they indulged in any peculiarity. A respectable man will lie daily, in speech and in print, about the qualities of the article he lives by selling, because it is customary to do so. He will flog his boy for telling a lie, because it is customary to do so. He will also flog him for not telling a lie if the boy tells inconvenient or disrespectful truths, because it is customary to do so. He will give the same boy a present on his birthday, and buy him a spade and bucket at the seaside, because it is customary to do so, being all the time neither particularly mendacious, nor particularly cruel, nor particularly generous, but simply incapable of ethical judgment or independent action.

Just so do we find a crowd of petty vivisectionists daily committing atrocities and stupidities, because it is the custom to do so. Vivisection is customary as part of the routine of preparing lectures in medical schools

Vivisecting the Human Subject

Once grant the ethics of the vivisectionists and you not only sanction the experiment on the human subject, but make it the first duty of the vivisector. If a guinea pig may be sacrificed for the sake of the very little that can be learnt from it, shall not a man be sacrificed for the sake of the great deal that can be learnt from him?

The Lie is a European Power

Public support of vivisection is founded almost wholly on the assurances of the vivisectors that great public benefits may be expected from the practice. Not for a moment do I suggest that such a defence would be valid even if proved. But when the witnesses begin by alleging that in the cause of science all the customary ethical obligations (which include the obligation to tell the truth) are suspended, what weight can any reasonable person give to their testimony? I would rather swear fifty lies than take an animal which had licked my hand in good fellowship and torture it. If I did torture the dog, I should certainly not have the face to turn round and ask how any person dare suspect an honourable man like myself of telling lies. Most sensible and humane people would, I hope, flatly reply that honourable men do not behave dishonourably even to dogs.

For the complete Preface :
gutenberg.org/files/5069/5069-h/5069-h.htm

You can find more information about Bernard Shaw by clicking the following link

ivu.org/history/shaw/

Credits: Photograph George Bernard Shaw

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Bernard_Shaw.jpg

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