Though I was sorely disappointed at the chopped-up style and the lack of depth in Einstein’s book, The World As I See It (not really a book at all, but a grab-bag of excerpts from his previous writings), he did touch upon some of of life’s big issues…
Einstein wrote that “we exist for our fellow men.” I find this pretty loose talk: what line of reasoning has led him to conclude that we were all created and are now maintained solely for the benefit of others? Like some sort of weird universal slavery or concubinage? I have to believe Einstein is speaking in the naive hyperbole he maintains as the only connecting thread running throughout the collection of odds and ends that is The World As I See It.
“I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received,” he wrote, saying that he found himself considering “a hundred times every day” how his life “depends on the labors of other men, living and dead,” and that this thought “often oppressed” him “by the feeling that I am engrossing an unnecessary amount of the labor of my fellow-men.”
I find all this a little hard to swallow (at least at the rate of “a hundred times a day”), but it does remind me of Kropotkin’s anarchist opinion that no single man, no matter how talented or powerful, can claim for himself alone all the glory of his successes– for even a leading captain of industry is but one spider on the vast web of human society and multi-generationally created technology which has been built up over centuries.
Einstein felt that we are all bound together by the fact that we are all pursuing our own aspirations and desires, but that one individual alone would not get very far in this endeavor, and instead “would remain primitive and beastlike.” We are inter-dependent, he wrote, responsible for ourselves and for others. He contended that “each of us has to do his little bit towards transforming the spirit of the times.”
LABOR AND THE ECONOMY
Einstein thought the masses should be occupied with ennobling labor: “I most seriously believe that one does people the best service by giving them some elevating work to do,” wrote Einstein, adding that “we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common.”
Generally, Einstein’s economic views tended toward the authoritarian-communistic side of things: “Production, labor, and distribution,” he said, “need to be organized on a definite plan.” He expressed his support for “a completely planned economy”.. but then paradoxically adds, “bureaucracy is the death of all sound work.”
Though he extols the ennobling quality of work, he felt specialization risked degrading creative, thoughtful types like scientists– “to the level of a mechanic.”
MEANING OF LIFE
Einstein, like most of us, could hold two opposing views simultaneously in his head. He felt that a man who considers his own life meaningless has little business possessing a life at all and that such a thought “almost disqualifies” him from living.
On the other hand, Einstein thought that the very question, “What is the meaning of Life?” — individually or collectively– was “absurd.”
Einstein had the luxury in life to view “the ordinary objects of human endeavor– property, outward success, luxury” as “contemptible.” He said he has chosen instead: Truth and Beauty and Goodness, and he longs for the “eternally unattainable.” …Bully for him. As for the rest of us, when the “eternally unattainable” is decent living conditions and some time for yourself, the idea of property and success doesn’t seem quite so “contemptible.”
RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY
Einstein did not believe in a justice-seeking God who punishes evil-doers. Neither did he believe in an eternal soul, finding the notion of the survival of the personality after death “beyond my comprehension,” He adds that that “such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls.” He believed individuality is a sort of cage which holds us back from the oneness of the Universe. [I hope you can’t tell from my typing that I just rolled my eyes]
Einstein believed in an ethics devoid of religion, an ethics based on Sympathy, Education, and Social Ties. “No religious basis is necessary,” he stated.
Einstein did NOT believe in Free Will, believing instead that every one acts according to “external compulsion” and “inner necessity.” He quotes Schopenhauer as saying, “A man can do as he will, but not will as he will.”
Einstein bragged that he had “never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family.”
He felt that patriotism was largely a “pestilent nonsense.”
Einstein takes a surprisingly practical stand when it comes to shared endeavors… “It is necessary for the success of any complex undertaking that one man should do the thinking and directing and in general bear the responsibility,” he wrote– adding the caveat: “But the led must not be compelled.” Additionally, his study of history caused him to believe that “tyrants of genius are succeeded by scoundrels.”
When it comes to legal codes, Einstein advised that a country should not pass any laws it cannot or will not enforce, since these sorts of laws undermine respect for all laws. And he strongly supported the neighborhood pub– or some place like it where people could go and openly and sincerely exchange views, for without such a venue, the press — which is all too easily controlled by special interests– will exert undue influence.
Einstein, perhaps with some bias, felt that a creative individual is more valuable than the State.
“Only the absolute repudiation of all war is of any use,” Einstein informs us in The World As I See It.
Unleashing his views upon national militaries, Einstein’s bitterest feelings pour forth in a stream of negativity which includes all the following words in a single paragraph: abhor, hate, despise, worst, herd nature, plague, pestilent, corrupted, abominable, contemptible.
He opined the evident fact that “in two weeks, the sheeplike masses can be worked up” into a war-craze.
“I desire to work with all my might for the establishment of an international arbitration and regulative authority superior to the State.” State sovereignty should be limited, he said, and any State should be forced to abide by the rulings of an international tribune.
“Anybody who really wants to abolish war must resolutely declare himself in favor of his own country’s resigning a portion of its sovereignty in favor of international institutions.”
SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHICAL PURSUITS
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious,” says Einstein. “It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and science.”
And I’ll end there– with the smartest thing Einstein said since E=mc^2.