My quest today led me to rediscover some important messages that Einstein wrote in May 1949. I was just 3 years old at that time. I’m offering you some choosen extracts from his article in The Monthly Review, which has just been republished in the current issue. These extracts seem to me amazingly prescient today, 60 years after they were written.
- Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organisation which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving 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 a cruel, self-inflicted fate.
- The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. In so far as the labor contract is free what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.
- I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, 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 real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor — not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules.
- I am convinced 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 toward social goals.
- Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralisation of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?
- Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.
The full article can be downloaded following the link http://www.monthlyreview.org/598einstein.php
This brings me to the subject of a theory – it sails mainly under the name Cultural Theory but also Theory of Plural Rationality, Grid-Group Theory, Theory of Socio-Cultural Viability and even Neo-Durkheimian Institutional Theory – of which the foundations were lead by Mary Douglas, and courageously further developed by her followers, the leading researcher of which is Michael Thompson.
I strongly recommend the book he edited with Marco Verweij: “Clumsy Solutions for a Complex World: Governance, Politics and Plural Perceptions” published by Palgrave.
It is a powerful and original statement on why well-intended attempts to alleviate pressing social ills so often derail, and how effective, efficient and broadly accepted solutions to social problems can be found.
It takes its cue from the idea that our endlessly changing and complex social worlds consist of ceaseless interactions between four organising, justifying and perceiving social relations. Each time one of these perspectives is excluded from collective decision-making, governance failure inevitably result. Successful solutions are therefore creative combinations of four opposing ways of organising and thinking. The book shows the force of these theoretically sophisticated, yet simple and practical ideas for a number of pressing issues from around the World.
To introduce you to the matter, you might follow the link hereafter. It will lead you to what is substantially the first chapter of the book: https://mercury.smu.edu.sg/rsrchpubupload/3224/SMUPreprint.pdf
What I find most extraordinary is that Einstein’s intuition led him to the same conclusion. He had a hard time changing the paradigm on which his field of research, physics was built. The theory that Michael, Marco and many other scientists and action researchers practice are also putting founding paradigms of social science into question.
Both Einstein and my friends are facing the fate Nicolo Machiavelli describes so eloquently in “The Prince”:
It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.
I am but a grassroots practitioner of action research in social systems, but I have applied the theory Michael and Marco and others developed. It worked beyond my best hopes. I have read (studied) most their books and articles, and followed their work in many ways.
Moreover their conclusions seem so evident to me, and I have verified, also to a fast increasing number of people. A growing number accept today that social systems are more like complex adaptive systems, uncontrollable, unpredictable, oscillating between order and chaos. And who other than people “who do well under the old conditions” can resists the idea that in modern societies, every voice should be allowed, listened to, every point of view expressed and taken into account.
I am determined to fight until Michaels and Marco’s voices are heard, listened to and their viewpoints taken into account in societal decision making.
I sincerely hope that more and more will join in this fight for mere recognition of “uncomfortable knowledge”. By doing so I believe that we might contribute to better decisions, and see societal change for betterment happen, driven peacefully and gradually the collective intelligence and engagement of all fractions of society.