Monday, October 18, 2010

Shaw and Humanity in World War 1

Shaw’s life experiences through the first world war are quite evident in his works. Is the first world war an authentic indication of survival of the fittest? Is it a legitimate representation of the advancement of human society and civilization? While it does show demonstrate Darwinistic survival of the fittest, it does so in a purely animalistic fashion. World War One was both the debasement of humanity; men fought like savages (as the discourse of most wars does prove) and yet, it was a bombardment of this same humanity. Europe, as the moral center of the universe during this time had to come into a new light after 1919 as the whole world became privy to the destruction that mankind was capable of. Britons, French and Germans alike all had to come to an acceptance that their ‘high society’ was no longer valid under the terms of this wretched war. Thus the First World War proved that human beings have not evolved so much as we thought into a highly civilized society; war has proven that we are still very close to those animalistic tendencies of survival of the fittest, kill or be killed, survive at any and all costs.

However, this war also came to overload the human mind and body. Thousands of men returned home with shell shock. This is a physical demonstration of the mind’s inability to cope and rise above the pressures of the war. Some men would never be the same again. A short video on the physical detriments of shellshock

Shaw questions “whether the human animal, as he exists at present, is capable of solving the social problems rasied by his own aggregation, or, as he calls it, his civilization” (9). It is evident that Shaw doubts that humankind has reached ‘civilization’ or not. Shouldnt we, as higher, thoughtful, rational human beings have overcome the need (or arguably, the desire) for war? Obviously not. Instead of enhancing ourselves to be above the need for war, we have simply enhanced the methods and medium of war itself.

This leads me to the question of self improvement. Shaw recognizes that within Darwinism, such progress is not possible “because improvement ca come only through some senseless accident which must, on the statistical average of accidents, be presently wiped out by some other equally senseless accident” (14). Has humankind improved? If the answer is yes, then plainly, Darwin is wrong because there is no hope according to his theory. If the answer is No, then we as a human society is in despair and there is no hope for us. Personally, I hope the answer is yes.

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