War and COVID: The Flickering of Civilization's Lamp


Heartbreak House | Source: https://www.wsws.org/

“Everything we love is about to die, and that is why everything we love must be summed up, with all the high emotion of farewell, in something so beautiful we shall never forget it.”

- Michel Leiris (final quote of Picasso exhibit about the artist in 1932)


George Bernard Shaw’s extraordinary Heartbreak House is not merely the name of a wit-laced quirky play… it is his “shorthand” for cultured, leisured Europe before the war.


It is a play that if you have seen, was likely presented as a farce, and may likely have left you mystified. It certainly did me, on first viewing. And then as I dove into Shaw’s framing of it, and his showcasing with humor and surrealism, the death pangs of a civilization, I realized its unsettling brilliance. And looking at today, I am shocked and horrified, at the parallels. So, please take your time, and join me on this journey.


The Soul of a Time


Checkov had written 3 plays outlining the contours of the same phenomenon: The Seagull, Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard. Tolstoy in his Fruits of Enlightenment had shown with searing contempt the “house” in which Europe was stifling its soul. In sum, to them, the “overheated” drawing room mores were delivering Europe to the ignorant and soul-less, who nevertheless had cunning and energy. Tolstoy considered the case of the inmates as one of opium poisoning. The culture they had connived was itself peddling the poison.


Checkov’s plays were considered “fascinating” but not germane… but these intensely Norwegian plays mirrored the malaise of Europe. “Nice” people could read, some could write, and they were the sole repositories of culture, and they could potentially influence politicians, administrators, newspaper proprietors. But instead of doing so, they shrank from such contact, infatuated by their own distractions. An eerie parallel between “status” in terms of public impact and standing and “stature” in terms of character or real impact certainly is on display today.


Indeed, these “nice” people were not after deliverance for the “common people” or the world at large, they wished to realize their own private fictions and distractions, living without scruple on incomes from a “rigged” social and economic system. The women, far from today’s formulaic “woke” vacuities, had a different role. They were to personify the type of beauty imagined earlier by painters and inhabit that fantasy with verve. A moral vacuum prevailed. Nature abhorring a vacuum, filled it up with sex and a plethora of “refined” pleasures.


Then there was what Shaw alluded to as Horseback Hall. A prison for horses, and a playpen for those who rode them, hunted them, talked about them, spending nine-tenths of their lives on them. When not displaying their prowess, they inclined towards assiduous, ornamental churchgoing (much preferred to real religion), so called “charity” and electioneering.


Shaw tells us that

“…exiles from the library, the music room and the picture gallery, were also found languishing in the stables.”

On the other hand, the hardy horsemen, at times offered the ostentatious “appearance” of culture,

“though falling asleep as the first chord of Schumann was struck.”

The parallel today would be posers, vaunted aesthetes, for whom the pretense of “artistic” enjoyment is the price you pay for being admired. Or else, you avidly violate all awareness of aesthetics, getting shock value from your boorishness, which is touted as a form of transcendence.


Which form of barbarism was more fatal to society Shaw has us ponder, those immersed in the vanities of purported culture, or those pounding their chests with a strange mix of rebellious and conformist social vigor? It’s hard to know. Instead of learning from each other, or exploring and expanding their respective worlds, often these worlds merely swapped affectations.


Shaw holds up a mirror to the surreal indifference on display. Between reading “revolutionary” ideas on Sunday and the poets who campaigned for social progress, and then acquiescing on Monday to the gibberish spewed by some new Home Secretary with not an idea in his head his great-grandmother would not have recognized, oblivious to fomenting, fermenting unrest.


We also flirt with art and music that push boundaries, have heady exchanges as we rally for a cause. And then one crack of the whip from some conventional custodian of political correctness in action, telling us who we must be invading militarily, and how to all dress recognizably in our “rebellion" (fashion), or when and where to retreat to as ordered… and our almost Pavlovian pliancy reasserts itself. So, power and culture remain in avidly distinct camps in our inner and therefore outer landscape.


Shaw puts it across with such devastatingly beautiful writing, demonstrating why he is acknowledged by many as perhaps the greatest prose stylist of the English language:

“Nature deals with us by demoralizing us with long credits and reckless overdrafts, and then pulls us up cruelly with catastrophic bankruptcies. A whole city generation may ignore sanitation. Two generations of hospital workers can tolerate dirt and carelessness, and head into private practice to suggest fresh air is a fad, sanitation an imposture set to make profits for plumbers. Nature then takes her revenge quite suddenly. The city receives a pestilence, the hospital an epidemic of gangrene, until the innocent young have paid for the guilty old, and the account is balanced. Then Nature slumbers, extending fresh credit for a fresh round of folly.”

Yes, indeed, unless we deign to “learn.”


Political hygiene is the same. As sanitary science was ignored in the time of Charles II, political hygiene has been marginalized in Shaw’s lifetime, diplomacy becoming a boyishly lawless affair of family intrigues, commercial and territorial brigandage, torpors of pseudo good-nature and spasms of terror.


“But in these islands,” says Shaw, “we muddled through, Nature gave us a longer credit than to France or Germany or Russia. We abused it. When it came time to pay our due, we had for four long years, our first-born smitten, and the heaping on of plagues never dreamt of in Egypt. They were all as preventable as the great Plague of London and came about because we opted not to prevent them. They are not erased by winning the war, the earth is still bursting with the dead bodies of the 'victors'.”

It is worth noting how evident that is today. We bask in the sunlight of being freer than before, healthier than ever before (at least biologically), wealthier (overall) than ever before. And we refuse to expand the wealth, deepen the health, make freedom meaningful or to ensure we become more than a well of empty amusements or the tools of our tools. And so, increasingly empty and bereft, with nothing grand to grow towards and nothing daring to challenge our ennui over, or to delve into, we are grist for some dictatorial mill. Either 1984 or Brave New World beckon, or both.


Fake Science


Pseudo-science held sway, as disastrous by Shaw’s reckoning as Calvinism had once been for the spirit of the age. Calvinism opined we are pre-destined to be saved or damned. This at least led people to behave as if they were likely to be among the saved. But in the midst of the 19th century, scientists and naturalists assured the world that salvation and damnation is all nonsense, and the environment is the source of predestination, or chemical and mechanical reactions over which we have no control. Mind, conscience, choice, purpose, will, were relegated to the status of “fictions.” These were simply illusions useful to the continual struggle to prove ourselves “fittest” in our militant need to win over the means of subsistence available. And so, this evangel led to the manic aim of countries to destroy the other to prevent them destroying us!


Shaw again gives us this bracing insight:

“This imbecilic and dangerous creed opened a scientific career to very stupid men, and other careers to shameless rascals, as long as they were industrious enough. Now Heartbreak House was not quite as taken by doltish materialism as the world at large, but being idle, it was hypochondriacal, and ever seeking after cures. The scientific “manias” and “remedies” and “nostrums” ran amok. They operated and vivisected and inoculated and lied on a stupendous scale. The legal powers such “practitioners” achieved over the bodies of their fellow citizens were such that neither king, pope, nor parliament would have dared to claim. The Inquisition itself was a liberal institution compared to the General Medical Council.”

And here we are again, being mesmerized by clearly spurious “tests” by which to give our liberties away, and then we sacrifice what remain on the altar of being “ordered” to “vaccinate” in order to live – having as yet unapproved “emergency authorized” genetic therapy posing as vaccination, inflicted on us “for our own sake.” That our political masters offer us free hamburgers or lottery tickets as inducements or link us up with dating apps suggesting we can sexually frolic with abandon once “jabbed” seems to far too many of us, nothing unusual. Why not get “paid” to be part of human trials? And why not be credulous enough to take on an enlightened pose for being dehumanized in this way?


Heartbreak House did not know how to live, at which point all that was left to it was the boast that at least it knew how to die: a melancholy accomplishment which the outbreak of war gave it practically unlimited opportunities of displaying. Today, ensuring we keep “locking down” until society implodes and economic insolvency comes knocking at too many doors, and avoidable deaths multiply from deferred medical care, allows us to show that we can hang onto our fetishized follies, our paradigmatic teddy bears to the oblivious end.


Wars and More


Shaw opined only those who have lived through a first-rate war at home and kept their heads can possibly understand the bitterness of Shakespeare and of Swift. War overtakes everything, news, expenditure, freedom of travel, supply of food, and all interest in fine art and culture suddenly becomes affectation.


We have learned the hard way, not only war, but any event hyped to a frenzy, made to appear existential, from wars on rival superpowers that justify the military industrial complex, to “wars on terror” that set the precedent for invading personal rights and censoring dissenting voices, to pandemics that become chronic and establish the pharmaceutical industrial complex, all of these will work to overtake what we once cherished and were enlarged by.


Back in the early 20th century, judges and courts caught the fever, either insulating those involved in the war from accountability, or considering anyone else’s rights to be conditional, secondary or provisional, subject to the “greater good.” Today, politicians and pharmaceutical companies are indemnified, and everyone else can be “ordered” to have their dying relative die alone, be compelled into bankruptcy, and be obliged to watch “childhood” being seeped out of their children.


Shaw writes,

“War brings pestilence, like influenza. But there is moral pestilence too. It was not at its most dramatic in places like Belgium and Flanders where over large districts, literally not one stone was left upon another as the opposed armies drove each other back and forth over it with horrendous accompanying bombardments. But England, inviolate for so many centuries, certainly couldn’t be expected to keep her temper, as she finally learned what it was to lie quaking as bombs, shrapnel and more pierced her sanctity and undermined her sense of self. But while having your country blown up and crumbling around you, with mutilated women and children to add to the shock and sorrow will produce incendiary wrath, yet it was in the US, where no one slept the worse for the war, that war fever went beyond all sense and reason. American courts and their draconian sentencing and American War Loans raised through ethically deranged practices, were so startling that gaping in awe at them overcame in Europe, for a time, cringing in fear at bombardments.”

Today, we have found the ghastly erosion of national character, as Ireland with its vaunted spunk and fighting character, simpered away into perpetual shutdown and paralysis. Canada, home of the beaming and morally beatific, degenerated into a police state, locking up pastors, in such mortal terror of an infuenza strain, that if the War of 1812 were to be recreated, the Canadians would oblige far more readily and run scampering indoors. At the US/Canadian border, wistfully spying a semblance of freedom, flags are being shown upside down, the universal distress signal, a symbolic outcry from people who desperately need to find avenues by which to outgrow their government.


Back in Europe during the “Great War”, constitutional guarantees of liberty were set aside, with people not properly rallied for efficient production, but callously over-worked until the loss of their efficiency became too glaring to be overlooked. Remonstrances or warnings were swatted aside either by protestations of pro-Germanism or with the inevitable refrain, “Remember, we are at war now.”


Says Shaw,

“Ever since Thucydides wrote his history, it has been on record that when the angel of death sounds his trumpet the pretenses of civilization are blown from men’s heads like hats in a gust of wind. The masks of education, art, science and religion are torn off our native ignorance and barbarism.”

In the modern era, the angel of “forecasted potential death” suffices for any pretenses of even sanity to be blown hither and thither. As for education, art, science and religion, these were considered extravagances long ago in our “pop” culture, so they put up little struggle today, as Netflix and friends, lured us into sedation.


Ready to Label


As war flared, denunciations of things German abounded. German chemistry, biology, poetry, music, literature, philosophy, engineering were paraded as malignant abominations. Shaw points out,

“As if to suggest no one should dare learn the language of Luther and Goethe. It was clear the utterers of such ravings had never really understood or cared for the arts and sciences they professed and were profaning. What a desecration of the spirit of the 17th and 18th century visionaries who, recognizing no national frontiers in the great realm of the human mind, kept the European comity of that realm loftily and even ostentatiously above the rancors of the battlefield.”

Our version has been the meltdown of civil society and unrepentant violence against strangers, Asians for having the temerity to show up the downward spiral narrative, anyone looking “mainstream”, a dive into nihilism from various groups that now have been given a free pass to evade accountability. They now have the curse of ducking growth and development and being licensed to assert outrage and a sense of futility misdirected outward rather than confronting inner demons. Alas, there is no deliverance except by developing personal character, capability and accountability. And only when that is stirred and at least somewhat sustained, is there collectively, a compelling and viable platform to deliver meaningful change.


Which Moral Code?


The transition from the wisdom of Jesus and St. Francis says Shaw as our prevailing, at least, public ethos

“to the ostentatious adoption of the morals of Richard III and the insanity of Quixote”

absent the moral aspiration of advancing decency, was jolting to anyone whether fighting personally, seeing loved ones slaughtered, or simply watching a civilization in acute distress.


How many Shakespeares and Platos might have been killed outright? And this should not just be a British consideration. Shaw wields the moral baton here deftly,

“To the truly civilized man, to the good European, the slaughter of German youth was as disastrous as the slaughter of the English. Fools exulted in “German losses.” They were our losses as well. Imagine exulting in the death of Beethoven because Bill Sykes dealt him his death blow!”

Today, how many talents are smothered in mindless consumerism and perpetual tech distractions that dissipate focus and concentration? How much passion is being literally killed in lockdown isolation, “distance learning” a euphemism for flashing generic conclusions rather than inviting open ended, informed exploration and wonder? Beyond the suicide stats is this concerted homicide of autonomy, of initiative, of creativity, of developing the attitude of engaging the world with enterprise and the aptitude of making some sense of that experience and converting it into creative expression.


Shaw points out that death is just not visceral enough to those remote from the battlefield in times of war. “The slaughter of Gallipoli could be exulted over breakfast as people confirmed the “front” was being “advanced splendidly.” But let the Lusitania sink, with several well-known first-class passengers, and an amazing frenzy swept throughout the land. To gape and fuss over a terrible accident, while having forgotten mini holocausts and slaughters that daily were occurring, had people outraged at Shaw seeking to jolt them awake by calling the Lusitania mania a “heartless impertinence.”


Today’s equivalent seems to be the “shocking” suggestion, as prosaic and irrefutable as DNA and the opposable thumb, that we have an immune system, develop long lasting natural immunity, and when that becomes pervasive enough, viruses and other pathogens are stifled in their ability to spread. Cower away from everything, and the immune system cannot cope, “excess hygiene” becomes a curse, as we have co-evolved with bacteria and viruses for thousands of years.


And if an elderly neighbor succumbs to COVID, a choir of angels is needed to mark their passing. But if we destroy a child’s education prospects, or have untold misery heaped upon people through economic meltdown, or the sacred trifecta of ingenuity, art and enterprise becomes no longer tenable in cities that once cradled civilizations and livelihoods, that’s somehow all fine. All such impact can be aggregated into a “statistic” we can detach from, while coddling our own infatuation with our own carcass, no matter how mild the risk, or how abundant the potential treatments (from off label repurposed drugs) if we would use “uncommon sense.”


Truth Telling


When the armistice allowed Shaw and others to tell truths about the war at the next general election, a soldier said to a candidate Shaw was supporting,

“If I had known all that in 1914, they never would have gotten me into khaki.”

That is why the deliberately propagated confusion of nursery bogey stories and melodramatic nonsense was needed. It over-reached itself and made it impossible to stop the war before not only the Germans were defeated but the center of Europe was ruined.


Of course, Shaw points out, the war was actually prosecuted with admirable English efficiency, providing solid ground for those who still believed in her. But while this efficiency was silent and often invisible, getting “on” with the job given,

“all the imbecility was deafening the heavens with its clamor and blotting out the sun with its dust.”

Shaw points out Ministers could have quelled the would-be lynchers and agitators. He tells us with vivid brilliance,

“But they had not that sort of courage. Neither Heartbreak House nor Horseback Hall had bred it. When looting of shops by criminals under patriotic pretexts finally became evident, it was the police, not the government that put its foot down. Effective England was carrying on with a formidable capacity. Ostensible England was making the empire sick with its incontinences, its ignorance, its ferocities, its panics, and its endless and intolerable blarings of Allied national anthems; esoteric England was proceeding irresistibly to the conquest of Europe.”

Today our elected representatives, instead of safeguarding our liberties, demanding that doctors provide unhyped data and actively and credibly explore a variety of treatments that are clearly providing breakthroughs; instead of assuring us we are not helpless pawns awaiting our date with destiny, they themselves are on the front lines of unhinged bloviating, eager to wrest autonomy, dignity and discretion from us. They are lighting the funeral pyre of our liberties themselves!


When it was all done, folly landed via fresh elections. Shaw is caustically realistic on this front once more,

“Fools not only elect fools but at times persuade men of action to elect them too. Party leaders seek followers, who can always be depended on to walk tamely into the lobby at the party whip’s orders, provided only the leader will make their seats safe for them.”

Shaw reports,

“The electorate disgusted at its own work, recoiled to the other extreme, and this new government elected on an idiotic platform had to pretend to abuse its European victory after the armistice, just as it had promised, and proceeded to starving the enemies who had thrown down their arms. In short, winning the election by promising to be thriftlessly wicked, cruel and vindictive; these pledges were harder to escape than nobler ones requiring too much imagination and will.”

Today, such a floodgate of evident misinformation has been guzzled on, those who pride themselves for their stances, should sobriety ever return, will be fleeing in horror from the overdue accounting of this debacle in which they were directly or indirectly complicit.


And Now?


“Neither Shakespeare, not Swift, nor Wellington saw war as we have seen it. Shakespeare blamed great men, saying ‘Could great men thunder as Jove himself does, Jove would ne’er be quiet; for every pelting petty officer would use his heaven for thunder: nothing but thunder.’ Of course, he could not even in fevered fantasies have contemplated such wanton, widescale destruction from the literal twitch of a finger. An angry ape endowed with powers of destruction that Jove never pretended to, would have beggared even the Bard’s powers of expression.”

Well neither Arthur Miller, nor Lawrence and Lee, nor Chayefsky, could have anticipated the erosion of our conscience, and the corrosion of our perspicacity, rendering us so absurdly susceptible to being terrorized by lunatic fringe alarmists, nihilists with medical badges, and so called “leaders” who swoon at the inducements of authoritarianism. Who could have painted our mass servility so comprehensively? Here we are, an entire society wishing to flee from accountability, readily willing to audition as lemmings


And for all our moralizing and all our lip service to spirituality and sham religiosity, we come face to face with this. Says Shaw,

“The Kingdom of the King of Peace is far from us, his attempts at “invasion” into our lives have been resisted far more thoroughly than the Kaiser’s in Europe at that time. People who can risk all on the battlefield, sooner than do honest work, will sell their honor for trinkets and distractions. Successful as the resistance to grace has been, it has piled up a sort of National Debt that will come due or is coming due all around us.”

A blockade that cuts off “the grace of our Lord” insofar as us evolving in morals and not just in tools, is one against which, says Shaw, our vaunted Armada is impotent.

“In the blockader’s house, we are assured, are many mansions, and they do not include either Heartbreak House or Horseback Hall.”

Our immunity to grace and to the inducements of spiritual insight from a variety of sources, to being grounded in our sense of “being” mindfully, as opposed to venerating distraction, commercial gewgaws and the aesthetic degradation of kitsch, all compound and provide a toxic cocktail that leaves us amenable to manipulation, salivating on cue, reflexively distracted and thereby indifferent to any call to ripen into self-aware personhood.


Germany on the brink of starvation by a war it started and was not prepared for, the victors perilously close to bankruptcy having pushed past prudence themselves, so what was gained? No one will ask about the enormity of what was lost.


Today, knowing our craven compliance deep down, our sick, narcissistic, nihilistic capitulation before a mediocre influenza strain, relentlessly hyped, we dare not look at it. Hence, we bristle at the suggestion that it was for nothing. Hence, we cling to our “mask-erade” when it’s evident any particles of the size of this pathogen would laughingly bypass this useless totemic shield. Hence, we lock ourselves inside with pathetic gullibility, and make a virtue of our being terrorized and paralyzed, and our moral ennui is recast as “saving granny” or “protecting the world”, as long as those who are disposable bring me my dinner, my cosmetics, my pharmaceutical supply and any other trinkets or amusements which allow me to “pad” my cell.


And as the basis for a sustainable world crumbles around us, as the artefacts of culture or heritage decay and lose their viability, we at some level, must be sickened at our vanity, of wanting to eke another few miserable years of “non-death” from an age stratified virus that had the audacity to even follow normal mortality. It showed us what we were made of…and weren’t. And we will howl with outrage at those who dare to bypass the same capitulation and hold a mirror up to our folly.


Diversions and Immersions


Back in Shaw’s era, khaki clad officers flocked to theaters, bewildered by the dramatic, looking for diversion and antics and tomfoolery, artists imitating cocks crowing and pigs squeaking. Shaw tells us,

“It was hardly possible initially to find stuff crude enough to feed these good lads and their damsels on. They were theatrical novices after all. And while Shakespeare, or the Demon Barber of Fleet Street would probably have been quite popular with them as well, as these novices were a minority, no one bothered to help bridge from their simple merriment to slightly headier fare.”

He continues,

“But even sophisticated folks, recoiling from war, wanted to laugh, to guffaw, to seek delightful, innocent pleasures. Actors did not have to coax audiences, they had simply to exploit the desire of men recently under fire, to see pretty girls and laugh at funny men.”

Today, no justification is required for our immersion into crassness, for a loud “joke reflex” seeking to imitate humor, indeed, even to have aspersions of wit. We do parody well, irony poorly. We like punchlines, but philosophy bores us. “Too much talk” is a critique we offer against not only Shaw (Shakespeare is fortunate to have costumes and wigs and desperate love affairs and the odd battle by which to alleviate having to truly “hear” the lyricism of his genius), but even modern-day playwrights like Kushner, or even television writers like Sorkin. Anyone who festers thought, anyone who wields language musically and evocatively, threatens our need to be shocked into awareness, our demand to be “jolted” from our aesthetic and intellectual lassitude, even in order to register stimulus.


We cannot readily have Shaw’s faith on this front. He wrote,

“To the theatre ultimately it will not matter. Whatever Bastilles fall, the theatre will stand. Apostolic Hapsburg has collapsed; All Highest Hohenzollern languishes in Holland, threatened with trial on a capital charge of daring to fight for its country against England; Imperial Romanoff, said to have perished miserably by a more summary method of murder, is perhaps alive, perhaps dead, no one cares. Prime Ministers and Commanders-in-Chief have passed from a brief glory as Solons and Caesars into failure and obscurity as closely on one another’s heels as the descendants of Banquo. But Euripides, and Aristophanes, Shakespeare and Moliere, Goethe and Ibsen, remain fixed in their everlasting seats.”

Well that amphitheater of greatness is cobwebbed today, replaced by Disney and other cartoonish distractions. Those giants who drew our portrait, and catalyzed us beyond our chagrin, who amused us, bemused us, edified us, enlarged us, inspired and challenged us, reign in some alternate universe where we truly did take the road less traveled. Where we did not sell our faculties and wits for deadening diversions that rendered us too insensate to intuit what was happening, too feeble to think, too shallow to feel, too lazy to extend ourselves beyond our comfort zones, too callow to summon the courage we needed. Yes, they are in their everlasting seats. But we are lurching away, almost comically obtuse, travesties of ourselves.


High Time?


And what of Shaw? Why did HH not come out during the war? Shaw points out you cannot make war on war and on your neighbor at the same time.

“When men are heroically dying for their country, it is not the time to show their lovers and wives and fathers and mothers how they are being sacrificed to the blunders of boobies, the cupidity of capitalists, the ambition of conquerors, the electioneering of demagogues, the Pharisaism of patriots. While these frauds must be exposed so they do not hide under genuine ideals, how and when they are addressed, matters.”

So, Shaw went with pamphlets and speeches, rather than plays during the war, by and large, aiming for the head rather than the heart.


Today the war is more subtle, and insidious, and so a different tack is needed. We have to go with the klaxons, agitate with unbridled vitality and vigor, and use everything at our disposal, from outrage to irony, from humor to incendiary wrath. What we are confronting is invidious, and yet deranged, as medically credentialed people run around seeking to jab children for a disease they are not remotely threatened by, and a bank guard in India actually shoots (literally!) a customer for not wearing a mask. Words actually fail, but our conscience and courage cannot, must not.


After the war, post armistice, the truth was heard from all kinds of quarters. Says Shaw,

“General A, in his moving dispatches from the field, had told how General B had covered himself with deathless glory in such and such a battle, now tells us General B came within an inch of losing the war by disobeying his orders and fighting instead of retreating as he should have done. An excellent subject for comedy now the war is over, but to lampoon this while war and peace are still in the balance, leads you to wonder what effect such revelations would have had on General B’s soldiers.”

Again, we are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Poltroonish behavior is fawned on, we mutely acquiesce to the most rationality bending nonsense, and defer as liberties are usurped on no basis whatsoever, and it seems the well of our passivity is truly darkly deep, a dungeon where our better angels are increasingly entombed.


So, Shaw concluded that comedy, though sorely tempted, at times stays loyally silent, biding its time,

“…seeking the right moment to serve its true allegiance, to the truth of natural history rather than the fevers of nationalism.”

So, writes Shaw,

“That is why I had to withhold Heartbreak House from the footlights during the war; for the Germans might on any night have turned the last act from play into earnest, and even then, not have waited for their cues.”

Well, today, our cues have come and gone. And it seems we will not gather ourselves to respond in earnest. And unlike Heartbreak House, our denouement is yet being scripted, on battlefields demanding human insight, and sacrifice, and activism. We are co-architects, and the forces we have allowed to gather against our humanity are desperate, daunting in their influence and reach. And against that, we have only the indomitable spirit that makes us human, that in us not ready to go quietly into the dark night, and the periodic illumination of grace that uplifts us from our struggle -- if we are willing to receive it, surrender to it, and serve it.


Shaw’s timeless play of warning, serves wittily, wisely, comically and sagely, to present us with the enduring archetypes that seem to make up Heartbreak House, generation after generation, until and if, we finally opt for the radical, dramatic alternative…of learning to grow up, and perhaps undertake the rigors of safe-guarding our autonomy, being dedicated to being educated and open enough to learn to fully be alive. And perhaps rather than awaiting centralized dictates, we can celebrate and express our vitality, in creative collaboration and community, without needing "permission" or "approval" in order to be human.


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