I was recently having a conversation on Facebook with a conservative woman about gun control and school shootings. She gave me the typical nonsense: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Being a writer and not wanting to miss the chance to one-up a cliche with a more truthful turn-of-phrase, I responded by saying that yes, guns do kill people because gun violence is impossible without guns. I went on to say that among developed nations, America had a fairly unique gun violence problem. We can’t continue with business as usual and keep watching students get gunned down. Something needs to change. The conservative responded immediately by posting the Israel teacher meme, it’s a pic of an Israeli teacher standing behind a group of kids with an assault rifle slung over her shoulder. Do we really want that for our schools and for our kids? Most Americans don’t, but if we armed teachers, that sure would be good for gun manufacturers. Profits would boom, stock prices would soar, and the money would come rolling in.
Since 2016 there has been one long, continuous groan from cultural critics — across the political spectrum — who view the Presidency of Donald Trump as a dumbing down of the American public. On a more personal note, I have my own concerns, for my own mind. It’s so damned easy to debunk Trump that, speaking for myself, I fear intellectual sloth. A recent example: the Trump tweet about the UK healthcare system. Brits took to the streets over their healthcare system, which Trump interpreted as an opposition to the UK system. In point of fact, activists were marching in support of their healthcare. (Trump’s tweet would be a little like someone glancing at a TV headline about the recent Women’s Marches in the U.S. and then assuming that the activists were marching in opposition to women. A simple mistake, for a simple mind.) But the real point here is this: the UK system is far and away better than the United States. It isn’t even close. Last night’s Super Bowl was close. Healthcare is …
Einstein was a socialist. Einstein, however, expressed great concern about the individual. He didn’t support a socialism that submerges the individual beneath an ocean of conformity and bureaucracy, which only makes sense: why would a true original like Einstein, creative genius, want to live in a stifling world of conformity? We’ve been trained to think of socialism as a social system that impedes our self-determination, erodes our civil rights, and dims our creativity and imagination. But is that truly what socialism is about? Is socialism the path that inevitably leads to a dark and doomed dystopia? Not according to Einstein.
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.
Einstein was a socialist. One of his reasons was the ‘ole tried and true criticism of capitalism: that capitalism funnels the wealth of society to the few, the bold, the pathological, the guys like Ray Kroc. But more than that, in his essay Why Socialism? Einstein points out that concentration of wealth impedes democracy, the result of which is that masses of people go without representation. Using the today’s terms, we would say that economic privilege goes hand-in-hand with other kinds of privilege, like white privilege and male privilege. Deep inequality isn’t simply about whether or not the workers are getting a fair shake, it’s about the wider ripple effect.
Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc. I’m lovin’ it. The Founder is the true story of Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s. “Founder”? Hold up. In actual fact, it was the McDonald brothers who actually created the concept and opened the first restaurants, not Kroc, right? Yep, and you can bet yer burger on it, brother. In the film, the McDonald brothers are protrayed as a couple of quirky Southern California businessmen who are as inventive as they are principled. The brothers are appalled, for example, at even the mere suggestion that McDonald’s restaurants would sell milk shakes made from powder. It’s not a milk shake if it doesn’t have milk! This is a matter of principle for the brothers. For Ray Kroc, however, principles are beside the point.
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.