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Essays in Humanism

By Ethel Black,2014-11-04 17:03
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Essays in Humanism

    Essays in Humanism ? Albert Einstein ?

    ? Contents ? 1. Why Socialism? (1949) ? 2. The Negro Question (1946) ? 3. Science and Society (1935) ? 4. Towards a World Government (1946) ? 5. The Way Out (1946) ? 6. On Receiving the One World Award (1948) ? 7. Science and Civilization (1933) ? 8. A Message to Intellectuals (1948) ? 9. Open Letter to the General Assembly of the United Nations (1947) ?

10. Dr. Einstein’s Mistaken Notions—An Open Letter from Sergei Vavilov, A. N.Frumkin, A. F.

    Joffe, and N. N. Semyonov (1947) ? A Reply to the Soviet Scientists (1948) ? 11. For an Organization of Intellectual Workers (1945) ? 12. “Was Europe a Success?” (1934) ? 13. At a Gathering for Freedom of Opinion (1936) ? 14. Atomic War or Peace (I-1945;II-1947) ? 15. The War Is Won but Peace Is Not (1945) ? 16. The Menace of Mass Destruction (1947) ? 17. The Schools and the Problem of Peace (1934) ? 18. On Military Service (1934) ?

    19. Military Intrusion in Science (1947) ? The Military Mentality ? 20. International Security (1933) ? 21. Isaac Newton (1942) ? 22. Johannes Kepler (1949) ? 23. Marie Curie in Memoriam (1935) ? 24. Max Planck in Memoriam (1948) ? 25. Paul Langevin in Memoriam (1947) ? 26. Walther Nernst in Memoriam (1942) ? 27. Paul Ehrenfest in Memoriam (1934) ? 28. Mahatma Gandhi (1939) ? 29. Carl von Ossietzky (1946) ? 30. Why Do They Hate the Jews? (1938) ? Just What Is a Jew? ? Where Oppression Is a Stimulus ? 31. The Dispersal of European Jewry (1948) ? 32. Let’s Not Forget (1934) ? 33. Unpublished Preface to a Blackbook (1945) ? 34. The Goal of Human Existence (1943) ? 35. Our Debt to Zionism (1938) ? 36. To the Heroes of the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto (1944) ?

    37. Before the Monument to the Martyred Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto (1948) ? 38. The Calling of the Jews (1936) ? 39. Moses Maimonides (1935) ? 40. Stephen Wise (1949) ? 41. To the University of Jerusalem (1949) ? 42. The American Council for Judaism (1945) ? 43. The Jews of Israel (1949) ? A Biography of Albert Einstein ? Acknowledgments ?

1. Why Socialism?

    ?

    IS IT ADVISABLE for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views onthe subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

    Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It mightappear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics:scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribedgroup of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearlyunderstandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. Thediscovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance thatobserved economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluateseparately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced andlimited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most ofthe major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoplesestablished themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conqueredcountry. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthoodfrom among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division ofsociety into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people werethenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

    But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome whatThorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economicfacts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable toother phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyondthe predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throwlittle light on the socialist society of the future.

    Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot createends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means bywhich to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with loftyethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted andcarried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slowevolution of society.

    For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methodswhen it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the onlyones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

    Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing througha crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such asituation 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 personalexperience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat ofanother war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and Iremarked that only a supranational organization would offer protection from that danger.Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed tothe 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 thiskind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium withinhimself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painfulsolitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is thecause? Is there a way out?

    It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance.I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelingsand strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and

simple formulas.

    Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, heattempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy hispersonal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain therecognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfortthem in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of thesevaried, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, andtheir specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an innerequilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that therelative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But thepersonality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens tofind himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, bythe tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. Theabstract concept “society” means to the individual human being the sum total of his directand indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. Theindividual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much uponsociety—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to thinkof him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” whichprovides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought,and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and theaccomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word“society.”

    It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact ofnature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while thewhole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditaryinstincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable andsusceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oralcommunication have made possible developments among human beings which are not dictated bybiological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, andorganizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art.This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through hisown conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

    Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixedand unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. Inaddition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from societythrough communication and through many other types of influences. It is this culturalconstitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to avery large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology hastaught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the socialbehavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns andthe types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who arestriving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned,

    because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of acruel, self-inflicted fate.

    If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should bechanged in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly beconscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. Asmentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject tochange. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries havecreated conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with thegoods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and ahighly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, lookingback, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be

    completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constituteseven now a planetary community of production and consumption.

    I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence ofthe crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. Theindividual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does notexperience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, butrather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, hisposition in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly beingaccentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate.All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process ofdeterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, anddeprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning inlife, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

    The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the realsource of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which areunceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not byforce, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect,it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productivecapacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—maylegally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

    For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all thosewho do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quitecorrespond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in aposition to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, theworker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential pointabout this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, bothmeasured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the workerreceives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needsand by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workerscompeting for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the workeris not determined by the value of his product.

    Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition amongthe capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division oflabor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones.The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of whichcannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This istrue since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largelyfinanced or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes,separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives ofthe people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections ofthe population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control,directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thusextremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen tocome to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

    The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thuscharacterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately ownedand the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course,there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should benoted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securinga somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. Buttaken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

    Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able andwilling to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed”

    almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed andpoorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods isrestricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results inmore unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, inconjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in theaccumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions.Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the socialconsciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

    This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educationalsystem suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into thestudent, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

    one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through theI am convinced there is only

    establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would beoriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by societyitself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production tothe needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to workand would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of theindividual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in hima sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and successin our present society.

    Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. Aplanned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. Theachievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-politicalproblems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political andeconomic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can therights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power ofbureaucracy be assured?

2. The Negro Question

    ?

    I AM WRITING as one who has lived among you in America only a little more than ten years. And Iam writing seriously and warningly. Many readers may ask: “What right has he to speak outabout things which concern us alone, and which no newcomer should touch?”

    I do not think such a standpoint is justified. One who has grown up in an environment takesmuch for granted. On the other hand, one who has come to this country as a mature person mayhave a keen eye for everything peculiar and characteristic. I believe he should speak outfreely on what he sees and feels, for by so doing he may perhaps prove himself useful.

    What soon makes the new arrival devoted to this country is the democratic trait among thepeople. I am not thinking here so much of the democratic political constitution of thiscountry, however highly it must be praised. I am thinking of the relationship betweenindividual people and of the attitude they maintain toward one another.

    In the United States everyone feels assured of his worth as an individual. No one humbleshimself before another person or class. Even the great difference in wealth, the superior powerof a few, cannot undermine this healthy self-confidence and natural respect for the dignity ofone’s fellow-man.

    There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equalityand human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there areprejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparisonwith the attitude of the “Whites” toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion,particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. Ican escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.

    Many a sincere person will answer me: “Our attitude towards Negroes is the result ofunfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country.They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability.”

    I am firmly convinced that whoever believes this suffers from a fatal misconception. Yourancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force; and in the white man’s questfor wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded intoslavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain thisunworthy condition.

    The ancient Greeks also had slaves. They were not Negroes but white men who had been takencaptive in war. There could be no talk of racial differences. And yet Aristotle, one of thegreat Greek philosophers, declared slaves inferior beings who were justly subdued and deprivedof their liberty. It is clear that he was enmeshed in a traditional prejudice from which,despite his extraordinary intellect, he could not free himself.

    A large part of our attitude toward things is conditioned by opinions and emotions which weunconsciously absorb as children from our environment. In other words, it is tradition—besidesinherited aptitudes and qualities—which makes us what we are. We but rarely reflect howrelatively small as compared with the powerful influence of tradition is the influence of ourconscious thought upon our conduct and convictions.

    It would be foolish to despise tradition. But with our growing self-consciousness andincreasing intelligence we must begin to control tradition and assume a critical attitudetoward it, if human relations are ever to change for the better. We must try to recognize whatin our accepted tradition is damaging to our fate and dignity—and shape our lives accordingly.

    I believe that whoever tries to think things through honestly will soon recognize how unworthyand even fatal is the traditional bias against Negroes.

    What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must havethe courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children becomeinfluenced by this racial bias.

I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But

until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person

than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.

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