The Guardian February 16, 2000


Albert Einstein

Joseph Reed Petticrew seeks to rescue Einstein from being
Man of the Century for the wrong reasons

There was a controversial book published in 1978 called Four 
Arguments for the Elimination of Television, written by the amusingly 
named Jerry Mander. I would now like to add three more arguments to 
Mander's list. They are Henry Kissinger, William F Buckley and Walter 
Isaacson.

Mr Isaacson is managing editor of Time magazine. He appeared 
recently on a CBS TV program with presenter Dan Rather to announce 
Time's "person of the century"  decided by a panel of worthies, 
not by a readers' poll.

The "winner" was Albert Einstein and not Adolf Hitler, who had reportedly 
been under serious consideration.

Mr Isaacson expressed great relief that Hitler had been so clearly knocked 
out of the running by Einstein, the great physicist being the "obvious 
choice" because of "the bomb" and "technology and the Internet".

One can only suppose that he meant something like this. Albert Einstein is 
certainly the most celebrated scientist of the century; technology and the 
Internet are  vaguely  "scientific", as is the bomb, ergo Einstein must 
be the man.

Dan Rather made the observation that it was Einstein's understanding of 
light, its speed, the fact that things "grow larger" when they approach the 
speed of light that constitute, in part, his importance to the 20th 
century.

He went on to comment on what a difficult decision it must have been, 
considering the many choices that could have been made, especially between 
the other three men who were involved in a sort of run-off in Time's 
contest  Franklin Roosevelt, Ghandi and Hitler.

A mini-symposium was later convened on the public service TV station PBS, 
which was host to more examples of Mr Isaacson's wisdom, along with that of 
Mr Kissinger and Mr Buckley.

Kissinger agreed with the choice, though Buckley dissented, naming Pope 
John Paul II as his choice. What followed for almost another hour was quite 
a spectacle.

Kissinger began by stating: "I am not a scientist" and went on to say that 
the chief importance of Einstein's contribution to the century was that he 
proved that "the earth is not the centre of the universe".

It must be said that, if Kissinger actually believes that Einstein proved 
anything of the sort, then the initial disclaimer was appropriate and he 
might have added: "I know nothing of science, not even that which could be 
considered the common  knowledge of any well-educated school student".

A few weeks before, the BBC had held a similar contest, asking its viewers 
and listeners to respond to a poll to choose the most important person not 
of the century, but of the millennium.

Einstein made this list as well, coming in second to Karl Marx. And the 
poll was not the issue of the judicious ruminations of a group of hand-
picked savants, but of the general public.

All of this hoopla points to a singular fact. Albert Einstein was certainly 
one of the great thinkers of this or any age.

He saw the world with such profound insight that, even in a time when much 
of what he wrote and thought has passed into the general repository of 
public education, accessible to millions, we can still be quite startled by 
the clarity of his thought and vision.

And if he did not "prove the earth was not the centre of the universe", if 
he did not invent the bomb, the Internet, or even lay the foundations for 
them, then what are some of his insights into the world we all inhabit?

What was never mentioned was the fact that Einstein was, for most of his 
life, a devout believer in socialism and an ardent critic of capitalism and 
all that it stood for. His world view must certainly be expanded beyond its 
bare-bones presentation by Isaacson, Kissinger, Buckley and Time 
magazine.

It seemed obvious to Einstein that the development of capital was 
responsible for much human misery throughout the world and the situation 
was unlikely to change by any action of a capitalist elite.

He began his essay "Why Socialism?" with the following: "Is it advisable 
for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views 
on the subject of socialism? I believe, for a number of reasons, that it 
is."

And he continued: "The observable economic facts belong to that predatory 
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".

These are powerful and concise words that could have been used by any 
commentator if there were any real interest in plumbing the depth of 
Einstein's thought.

As for his own view of science and its importance to the well-being of 
humanity, he wrote: "We should be on our guard not to overestimate science 
and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we 
should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to 
express themselves on questions affecting the organisation of society."

He was candid in his appraisal of a system he deplored. "The economic 
anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the 
real source of the evil. Private capital tends to become concentrated in 
few hands, partly because of the competition among capitalists and partly 
because of technological development.

"The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital, the 
enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a 
democratically organised political society."

These words could have come from the writings of Karl Marx; they are 
certainly informed by them.

And on another burning issue of the present he maintained that 
"[Capitalist] production is carried out for profit, not for use. There is 
no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a 
position to find employment; an `army of unemployed' almost always exists.

"Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment, rather 
than an easing of the burden of work for all. The crippling of individuals 
I consider the worst evil of capitalism."

"I am convinced that 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 towards social goals."

These are certainly words to live by and it is not surprising that they 
were written by a man who is, because of his genius and wisdom, now 
honoured throughout the world as the person of the century.

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Acknowledgements: People's Weekly World

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