G.B. Shaw’s 'Freedom'
G.B. Shaw’s Freedom actually belongs to one of the series of radio talks delivered by him in 1935 on the B.B.C. As it was intended for the larger circles in their capacity as listeners, the lecture seems to be free from theoretical jargons. But Shaw can be very much deceptive in what he says. For, behind his homour lies the satire of the contemporary social condition. Not only that, his simple talk was actually a denunciation of the conventional and capitalist view of freedom. Politically Shaw conformed to democratic socialism, a variant of Marxism, according to which the society should try to reach the socialist political condition gradually by the democratic means. The concept of freedom, which Shaw satirises, was the fundamental principle of Enlightenment, and he does so because in a capitalist society, according to the Marxian view, freedom of the individual can never be realised. Shaw begins the essay with the proposition that a person can be called completely free in such a condition, in which he will be able to “ do what he likes, when he likes, and where he likes, or do nothing at all if he prefers it”. He firmly denies the possibility of the existence of such a person as human beings are all slaves to nature: “…we must all sleep for one third of our lifetime__ wash and dress and undress__ we must spend a couple of hours eating and drinking__ we must spend nearly as much in getting about from one place to place.” From this funny yet inexorable condition of human life, Shaw very cleverly moves on to the fact that some of the “natural jobs” can be placed on others’ shoulders: “What you do to a horse or a bee, you can do to a man or woman or child…sort”. With this Shaw, however, comes to the immediate social and political condition of the time, in which the concept of freedom __ derived from the grand idealistic project of the Enlightenment, and nationalistic bias produced by the First World War __ was being glorified and used by the upper class as a means to achieving their self-interests. According to Shaw the farce of the democratic system in a capitalist state lies in the fact that “most actual governments…enforce your slavery and call it freedom”. But the citizens of the state continue to be duped by the system instead of rising to protest. Shaw terms this unequal relationship “the unnatural slavery of man to man”. Shaw points out an important difference between the “natural slavery of man to Nature and the unnatural slavery of man to man”. According to him, the first, though unavoidable, provides pleasure after its fulfilment; for instance, if nature forces us to drink, she makes drinking pleasant. The same is true of eating, drinking, sleeping and other activities. Shaw introduces this difference and cites examples more importantly to explain the evils of the former in more acute terms. He refers to few thinkers like Karl Marx and Thomas Moore, who denounced this slavery and tried to abolish it. At this point his explanation of the capitalist mechanism, that is, the means by which the system tries to dupe people and establish, legitimize and perpetuate itself approaches the ideological theories of Althusser and Gramsci. “Ideology represents”, Althusser tells us, “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real condition of existence.” He points out that there are found a number of ideologies – namely, religious ideology, ethical ideology, legal ideology, political ideology – all of which operate invisibly in the superstructure. Shaw strikes at the very root when he says, “Naturally the master class, through its parliaments and schools and newspapers, makes the most desperate efforts to prevent us from realizing our slavery.” He explains historically how the British capitalist system has established itself by propagating the so-called glorious events as the Magna Charta, the defeat of the Spanish Armada and Napoleon. Then he explains how “ideological apparatuses”, to quote Althusser, manipulate the common mass to cast votes in favour of the capitalist leaders. What is more alarmingly effective, according to him, is the educational system, which operates in the superstructure and “ends in deluding the master class much more completely”. Thus Shaw explains the difference between two kinds of slavery and conclusively tells the listeners/readers: “Wipe out from yours dreams of freedom the hope of being able to do as you please all the time.” For, according to him, people have to remain occupied doing the natural slavery for at least twelve hours a day, while their unnatural slavery is controlled and regulated by the legal and administrative system of the country.