Friday, July 31, 2009

I Had No Idea Einstein was a Socialist

If Einstein were alive today, I could guarantee two things: 1. He would use a fancy smelling, expensive hair pomade that could only be purchased at salons (either to tame that crazy mop or to accentuate his bed head look that is so popular). 2. He would call himself a Cosmopolitan (because calling yourself a socialist never seems to be in style).

My former professor Fred Dubee sent me this article, written by Albert Einstein for the inaugural issue of The Monthly Review in 1949. Einstein acknowledges that, even sixty years ago, people were not content with their relationship to society as a whole. He asserted that "human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong." He admits that the reasons for this are varied, complex, and sometimes conflicting. The primary culprit, he argues, is capitalism and its celebrated paradigm of competition and profit. The relatively few owners of the means of production not only amass disproportionate amounts of capital in relation to their workers, but also rob individuals of the satisfaction that comes with serving their immediate community. In the not so distant past, small communities thrived by themselves, without relying too much, if at all, on external entities. In 1949, Einstein felt it was only a "slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption." I wonder if he would be surprised to see the planetary community we have now. No exaggeration.

The world's capitalistic environment, which encourages people to focus on acquiring individual power and success, perpetuates the disconnect between people and their relationship with society that Einstein identified in the middle of the last century. Repairing this relationship so that people can look more positively on their dependence and involvement with the collective, rather than despising the competitive, profit-driven imbalance that is the core of our society would, according to Einstein, take two things: 1. A planned, socialist economy and 2. An overhauling of the educational system so that children were raised with a sense of social responsibility instead of competition and individualistic goals that do not take the well being of others into account. For most, a planned, socialist economy sounds like a scary, bureaucratic nightmare. I have no idea what a planned, socialist economy would look like. It makes me feel better that Einstein wasn't sure, either. However, the prospect of revamping the educational system so that children learn to take care of themselves, as well as each other, doesn't seem so far fetched. Can learning to "share" be synonymous with "success?"

1 comment:

  1. It is inspiring and saddening to see such a man of stature so elegantly critique the very system he lives in and even go as far as being pro Socialism in the thick of McCarthyism. It is saddening because I look around today and feel that this is not the norm anymore. I think if Einstein were alive today he would reiterate the fact that the corporations are winning. Most forms of information that we receive are directly controlled by the oligarchy we live in. I do however believe there is hope. The Internet has allowed us a way to disseminate mostly unadulterated information to the masses and threaten this stronghold. They have attempted (and will continue to try) to censor the Internet to regain the control they once had but the cat is out of the bag. However, they have one form of control that many people fail to recognize which Einstein directly indicates. Education. Education to me is now used as a form of control for the masses. While I agree we are raising our children to be competitive by nature and a pedagogic shift needs to take place, I fear we are rapidly approaching the fundamental problem of not teaching our children effectively in general. Maybe the answer is to continue to dumb down our educational systems so that we can shift to teaching socially conscious lessons but that is for a different post :)