Tuesday, April 2, 2013

George Bernard Shaw Is A Philosopher, Dammit!

Pardon my French, but this is important. And by important I mean fun.

Many people have thought of Shaw as a playwright. There are some signs that he may have thought of himself that way. For one thing, he often referred to himself as a playwright. For another thing, he wrote sixty plays. Sixty is a lot, I admit. And don't get me wrong, some of the plays are pretty good. The thing is, Shaw also wrote prefaces to all of those plays, and some of them are about as long as the plays they preface, and most of them are just effin brilliant. I'm not the only one thinks so. Volumes have been published containing only these prefaces, and not the plays. I say, after you read one of the longer, effin brilliant prefaces, go ahead and read or watch the play itself, because one, as I said, they're pretty good plays, but two, and more importantly, they tend to illustrate points made in the prefaces. Ya feel me, Dawg? The prefaces, the longer ones, are not about the plays; the plays are about the ideas in the prefaces. The prefaces overflow with uncommon good sense about how we can best evolve, they point out some of humanity's worst habits and most foolish assumptions and offer ways out of the traps we have habitually set for ourselves.

Doesn't sound like philosophy to you, you say? Maybe not, if you've read Plato or Hegel, as many high school and collage students have been forced to, and been told that these two turnips are the quintessence of philosophy, as many people unfortunately believe. I would characterize Hegel rather as the second-greatest impediment ever to have blocked the progress of the greatest of Western philosophy, while the greatest has been -- Plato. Ha, you thought I was gonna say Christianity, didn't you? But dig it, it's what's happening: Christianity is merely a subset of Platonic philosophy, adapted for mass conception by taking some of Plato's abstract concepts and dressing them in the stories of a miracle-working, suffering and dying but then resurrected Savior Of Th Whole Dang World. Platonism in its original form is more subtle than Christianity, but it's not more real or helpful. And Hegel -- ugh. Nuff said. Ignore those two, and Augustine and Aquinas. Git yr Aristotelianism from Aristotle, who is not constantly trying to harmonize himself with some silly religion the way Aquinas constantly tried to harmonize Aristotelianism and Christianity. (Guess who always lost in the case of a tie.) Check out Heraclitus and Epicurus and Lucretius and Nietzsche and Sartre. Look into Nietzsche's favorite authors, he's very generous with both praise and blame. Observe how little all those folks resemble Plato or Hegel. (Observe how Sartre wrote plays and the French didn't stop calling him a philosopher because they're not neurotically hung up on categories of writers like the Germans and English and Americans and also don't automatically associate "philosopher" with "professor.") Notice the complete lack of that dreariness characterizing those two fools, those two impediments.

And by all means include Shaw in that group of the good stuff. Notice, as I hinted above, how good philosophy is fun. Exhilarating even. Read the justly famous preface to Major Barbara,where Shaw mentions people not content with handsome house because they want whole handsome cities, people for whom it's not enough to eat and dress well when they're surrounded by poor people who do neither, people who have the temerity to want to improve the very air we all breathe -- and then goes about telling us step-by-step how to approach the fulfillment of such rather unusually-ambitious goals.

Shaw wants to change the world, that's all, and has some good ideas about how to do it. That's a philosopher, a really good one. Not someone who blathers on about how reality is something we can't see, and not someone in constant danger of breaking his own arm going on and on about how brilliant he is for having "uncovered the mechanisms of history and the true nature of greatness," who wouldn't recognize greatness if it gave up teaching after one try of scheduling lectures in the same university and at the same time as his and nobody came and spent half of the rest of its career pointing out what a jackass and fraud he was.

And besides the prefaces with plays explaining them Shaw also wrote a number of books going into still more detail -- practical realistic detail -- of how we can do all of this better. He's a genius who's interested in everyone's welfare because that's so much more fun and absorbing than merely enjoying wealth and luxury. Yeah, he was rich, and he enjoyed it, definitely, but that was just the beginning. And he didn't haven't to resort to squeezing people who were already poor to get rich, like a present-day Republican.

No comments:

Post a Comment