Einstein was a socialist. He was also a genius. And what is more, like us, Einstein lived through difficult times, times of national and international turmoil: Einstein survived two World Wars and escaped NAZI Germany while many of his Jewish brothers and sisters were imprisoned and murdered. Most of us in the U.S. don’t have it quite so bad. Some do, but not those of us in the white middle-to-upper class. Still there’s an important point to be made: there are trends today that are strikingly similar to the ones that led to the conflicts of a hundred years before.
Then, as now, nationalism is all the rage, nationalism which is a thinly veiled disguise for prejudices of all kinds. Then, as now, there is a sense that those with political power have completely lost touch with the masses and betrayed public trust. Then, as now, productive and meaningful dialog is threatened to be lost in a sea of memes and antagonistic propaganda. All of the above has led to scapegoating various people groups or religious or movements: immigrants, Muslims, feminists, homosexuals, liberals, etc.
And like the time period of a hundred years ago, we in the U.S. are experiencing a repeat of unfettered economic capitalism. We are reaping what we’ve sown, experiencing the consequences of oligarchy: the upper class controls an enormous amount of the nation’s wealth and uses that wealth to manipulate information and to buy political power. Then, as now, we are living through one of the most corrupt periods of democracy in our nation’s history.
“Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered”
The turmoil in our culture is cause for despair in itself. But to make matters worse, rather than working on new and better ways of solving our problems, the powers-that-be are jamming the same solutions down our throat.
There’s the recent tax bill as an example of the many things that are wrong with America right now. Less than 40% supported it (roughly the same as approve of Trump’s performance, a percentage that is a historical low for a President), and 55% opposed it.
What is more, when we look around, we find that it is our family and friends and neighbors who are lending support to these corrupted politicians. Trump & Co. are not getting much support, just barely enough to keep America sliding downward.
“I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy”
We are perplexed and discouraged by these times. I’m not really surprised by what we are seeing — I’ve been talking about the downward slide for years — but even I get depressed, from time to time, by the state of things.
But enough about me. We’re here to talk about Einstein, a man who weathered worse times, worse but strikingly similar.
In his article “Why Socialism?” Einstein spoke of humanity in “crisis,” a “painful solitude and isolation.”
Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now 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. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?”
I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days.
And yet Einstein, at the ripe old age of 70, kept his eye on the big picture. He believed that humankind could move beyond the “predatory phase” and beyond the control of the few and into socialism, a system that he believed could benefit both the individual and society.
I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals.
The next and last post in this Einstein mini-series deals with Einstein’s vision for a form of socialism that could create a better world for the many while respecting and protecting the rights of the individual.