What Would |Einstein Do?


     “The essence of the crisis of our time … concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naïve, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. … The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil.”
     Don’t blame me. Albert Einstein wrote that in 1949.
     We have elected Barack Obama president because he offered us a way out of this.
     Humans are social creatures, as surely as are ants and bees. That we have a greater intellect than insects does not negate this. Our moral instincts and habits, by and large, are no more highly developed than the morality of insects, and less noble than the instincts and habits of the dog.
     Einstein’s analysis, by the way, came in an essay in which he explained why he was a socialist. He began the essay by apologizing for writing it. Just because he was the world’s most famous and influential scientist – a fact he neglected to point out – Einstein said, it was nonetheless legitimate for others to question whether he had the authority to write upon economic and social questions. But Einstein said he had to speak because he felt that all of us are obligated to help humanity overcome “the predatory phase of human development.”
     Speaking of predators, here’s a selection from an essay that Einstein wrote in 1939: “The formation of Fascist states (was) attended by a series of broken pacts and undisguised acts of violence against humanity and against weaker nations. … The lie was raised to the dignity of a political instrument. … The pseudo-success of political adventurers has dazzled the rest of the world; it becomes apparent everywhere that this generation lacks the strength and force which enabled previous generations to win, in painful struggle and at great sacrifice, the political and individual freedom of man.”
It’s interesting to read these old essays in a new time.
     In a 1946 essay on “The Negro Question,” Einstein apologized again for writing about a subject upon which many Americans would feel him unqualified. Einstein said Americans were deluding themselves about this issue, and in doing so we were doing violence to ourselves and to the world. An outsider, who came to America as a mature man, was better able to discern this than Americans themselves, Einstein said.
     He pointed out that this racial violence, committed in ignorance, was an American tradition. “It would be foolish to despise tradition,” Einstein wrote. “But with our growing self-consciousness and increasing intelligence we must begin to control tradition and assume a critical attitude toward it, if human relations are ever to change for the better. We must try to recognize what in our accepted tradition is damaging to our fate and dignity – and shape our lives accordingly.”
     We see around us today the wreckage of our own social and economic system – a wreckage we inflicted upon ourselves and allowed our so-called “betters” to inflict upon us. The rising unemployment, the millions of lost homes, the multibillion-dollar thefts in broad daylight, have become so common that we cannot consider them aberrations of the system – they are the natural result of our system.
     In the first essay I cited, Einstein wrote: “Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of the legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population.”
     All these essays come from Einstein’s book, “Out of My Later Years,” published in 1950 by The Philosophical Library. The book is out of print.
     One more thing. In his book, Einstein explained the special and general theories of relativity in language that laymen can understand in 8 pages – about 2,700 words – the length of Barack Obama’s inaugural speech.
     Today’s economic catastrophe came about because semi-sophisticated thieves who push stocks, bonds and financial products derived from stocks and bonds persuaded Congress, the president and the Judicial Branch that financial derivatives are so sophisticated, so complicated and mysterious that it is a hopeless task to expect simple legislators or poor schmucks like you and me to understand them. Therefore, the crooks said, they should be allowed to continue their thievery without regulation, which they called interference.
     Now, seeing that it took Einstein only 8 pages to explain the theories of relativity, is it conceivable that it is really impossible for pushers of stocks, bonds and derivatives to explain what they are doing?
     I don’t believe that is the case. I believe this comparison demonstrates pretty clearly that Einstein was an honest seeker of truth, and that the men who brought our country to financial ruin are liars, charlatans and thieves.

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