Einstein was a socialist. Not many people realize or appreciate this fact. Now, I’m no Einstein and you probably aren’t either, but lucky for us we don’t have to be, to be a socialist. In fact, Einstein himself actually made this point in the first few paragraphs of an article he wrote in 1949, titled Why Socialism? where he begins by suggesting that the task of evaluating the human condition is not the exclusive domain of experts. This is a job for us all. We do it together, or it doesn’t happen.
According to Einstein, an expert might be in a bad position to evaluate the human condition, because experts tend to be just a little too close to the powers-that-be, they tend to be a little too privileged. Even more to the point: the expert is working with historical fact and other such data all within the domain of the few, the privileged and the powerful.
History is written by the winners. The history of human civilization is a history of violence and domination — there are winners and losers, conquerers and conquered. Experts tend to work with the version of history that glorifies the winners. This is why Howard Zinn’s A People’s History was so revolutionary. He did history from the ground up.
We as human beings have had a hard time escaping this dynamic of violence, of winners and losers, what Einstein calls “the predatory phase” of human development.
…nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.
The winners wish to preserve their status as predator, but they don’t want to think of themselves as predators, so they give their conquests a positive spin. The United States is a great example of how this works.
When white Americans were committing genocide against Native Americans in order to control the land, this wasn’t murder and theft, we glorified it, we called it our “Manifest Destiny.” It was our divinely ordained destiny.
If we are to move beyond “the predatory phase,” it has to be an act of solidarity, something that humankind does together
This is not to say that I’m on board with discarding the academic pursuit of knowledge, nor do I join with political conservatives who throw out entire fields of scientific research (like global warming) when it proves inconvenient or if it challenges their pre-conceived ideas (or if it conflicts with their favorite talk show host).
The point is not to demonize experts, it is simply to suggest, like Einstein, that evaluating the human condition and working toward a better world is a task that we must all engage. The point is not toss out views that make us uncomfortable and to become more and more narrow-minded. It is, instead, to open wide our perspective.
If we are to move beyond “the predatory phase,” it has to be an act of solidarity, something that humankind does together. As individuals and as a collective, we must evaluate the human condition.
Whether or not we can do that, however, depends on whether we can break out of our funk, or as Einstein put it in his essay, our “painful solitude and isolation.” More on that in the next Einstein post, as we continue exploring Einstein’s 1949 essay Why Socialism?