Sorry for this vague title but I don't understand the whole passage below and didn't know what to ask specifically. Any correction to the title would be appreciated.

We all deprecate prejudice; but if all of us were not animated sacks of prejudices, and at least nine tenths of them were not the same prejudices so deeply rooted that we never think of them as prejudices but call them common sense, we could no more form a community than so many snakes.

-George Bernard Shaw (The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism)

I don't really understand what the text above means, and the problem is not the figurative expressions used but more about the structure(?) I guess.

Shouldn't it be like below?

If all of us were animated sacks of prejudices, ... we could no more form a community than so many snakes.

If we are not walking prejudices, then why does he call us people are snakes, not a community? I don't get why the negative assumption "if ~ were not" was used here.

What am I missing here and what exactly does the passage mean?

  • Prejudice, which we all have and some of which is deeply ingrained, is a factor that makes it difficult to form community with our fellow human beings. GBS is saying that even if we were so enlightened not to carry around all that prejudice, we still wouldn't be able to form that community. That even without all that prejudice we would still be no better than a bunch of snakes. Pretty dark sentiment.
    – user105719
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 16:20

1 Answer 1


You might want to think twice about trying to "correct" a writer like this.

"if all of us were not x"= since we are x.

He is considered one of the greatest writers in the English language.

1) If all of us were not fools = Since we are fools.

An easier example: If my brother were not stupid, he would study harder.

If my brother were not stupid= Since he is stupid.

2) We could no more form a community than so many snakes [could form a community].

  • I could no more do x than y [could do x].
  • They could no more fly to the moon than bluebirds [could fly to the moon].

The full comparative is implicit, not spelled out. That's the tricky bit.

Summary: Since we all are animated sacks of prejudice where the 9/10s of the sacks are viewed as common sense, we are able to form a community.

And if we were not, we could not form them just as snakes could not form a community.

There are two ways of saying this:

If I were not x, I could not y. Since I am x, I can y.

Please note: snakes are considered to be tricky.

  • 1
    Nine tenths of the prejudices are viewed as common sense, surely. Shaw seems to me to be saying that it's our shared attitudes ('prejudices') which enable us to form communities. Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 18:21
  • Agreed, @KateBunting. I firmly disagree with the previously posted interpretations that he is saying either "because of our prejudices we cannot form a community" or "even if we didn't have our prejudices we couldn't form a community". On the contrary he is saying it is precisely the (shared) prejudices which enable community-forming. This is apparent from the initial "We all deprecate prejudice but..." construction, the "but" clearly implying that what is about to be said is a 'good thing' about prejudices. Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 19:26
  • @KateBunting Yes, and were we not sacks of prejudice (where nine-tenths are called common sense), we would not be able to form communities, just as snakes cannot form them. In other words,since we are sacks of prejudice we can form them. These utterances can be said in the negative or the declarative.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 19:47
  • Your 'Summary' does not clearly express that interpretation. Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 19:49
  • @KateBunting I edited it.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 19:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .