George Bernard Shaw? John Harris? Brigid Brophy? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote investigator: George Bernard Shaw was a strong advocate of vegetarianism who was greatly concerned with animal welfare. The following statement attributed to Shaw encouraged the reader to embrace an abstract extraplanetary perspective and asked the reader to condemn the instrumental use of animals for food, clothing, and sport:
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?
I have been unable to locate this passage in the writings of Shaw. Would please examine its provenance?
Quote investigator: QI has found no substantive support for the claim that George Bernard Shaw wrote the words above. Indeed, QI hypothesizes that the fallacious ascription originated with the misreading of a passage from a volume published in 1979. Details are given further below.
The earliest strongly matching evidence located by QI was published in a 1972 collection called “Animals, Men, and Morals: An Enquiry into the Maltreatment of Non-Humans”. An article titled “Killing for Food” by John Harris argued that there was “no justification for continuing to eat meat”. Near the end of his essay Harris asked readers to contemplate an alien perspective: 1
I should like to leave those of you who remain unconvinced with a final thought. Suppose that tomorrow 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 they have the right to treat you as you treat the animals you breed, keep and kill for food?
QI believes that the modern quotation was derived from the passage above although the wording was somewhat different. Harris should be credited with this statement and not Shaw.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1972, Animals, Men, and Morals: An Enquiry Into the Maltreatment of Non-Humans, Edited by Stanley Godlovitch, Roslind Godlovitch, and John Harris, Article title: Killing for Food, Article author: John Harris, Start Page 97, Quote Page 110, Publisher by Taplinger Publishing Company, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩