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.
* * *Acknowledgements: People's Weekly World