The United States has come a long way in technology, but have we gone too far into the future that we forget about history and even worse, the present? Times have changed dramatically and are continually changing. For example, in an interview for Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, 1921 that appeared in Berliner Tageblatt, July 7, 1921, Albert Einstein provides his first impressions of the United States. He notes that one thing that strikes a visitor to the U.S. is “the joyous, positive attitude to life. A person is friendly, self-confident, optimistic, and without envy. Compared with the American, the European is more critical, more self-conscious, less kind-hearted and helpful, more isolated, more fastidious in his amusements and his reading, generally more or less of a pessimist…The American lives even more for his goals, for the future, than the European. Life for him is always becoming, never being…More emphasis is laid on the “we” than the “I”…Hence the most important cultural functions can be left to private enterprise and the part played by the government in this country is, comparatively, a very restricted one.” Today, America has taken on the lives that the Europeans had back in the early 1900’s. I truly believe that technological developments have played a major role in this transformation. Such websites as Facebook and Twitter that are not only accessible by computer, but by cellular phones as well, have depersonalized people. Don’t get me wrong, social networking does have its advantages by finding long lost friends and keeping in touch with family and friends worldwide. Unfortunately, the main disadvantage is that we rely on technology to keep in touch and have lost that personal connection through meeting face to face. Violence seems to be at a peak because without that personal connection, people lose touch of reality and lose sight of values and morality.

Penetrating research and keen scientific work have often had tragic implications for mankind, producing, on the one hand, inventions which liberated man from exhausting physical labor, making his life easier and richer; but on the other hand, introducing a grave restlessness into his life, making him a slave to his technological environment, and—most catastrophic of all—creating the means for his own mass destruction. The desire to live life springs from the darkness in which the individual finds himself, from his sense of forlornness when he stares without love into the void, from his self-forgetfulness when he feels that he is being consumed by the busy-ness of the world, when he suddenly wakes up in terror and asks himself: What am I, what am I failing to do, what should I do? That self-forgetfulness has been aggravated by the machine age. With its time clocks, its jobs, whether absorbing or purely mechanical, which less and less fulfill man as man, it may even lead man to feel that he is part of the machine, interchangeably shunted in here and there, and when left free, to feel that he is nothing and can do nothing with himself. And just as he begins to recover himself, the colossus of this world draws him back again into the all-consuming machinery of empty labor and empty leisure. But man as such inclines to self-forgetfulness. He must snatch himself out of it if he is not to lose himself to the world, to habits, to thoughtless banalities, to the beaten track.

Einstein hit the mark with this statement: “Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital that leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals that I mentioned before. This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. 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 toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society. 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…my political ideal is democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized…Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive; but the desire to be acknowledged as better, stronger, or more intelligent than a fellow being or fellow scholar easily leads to an excessively egoistic psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual and for the community.”

Over the course of history, we have learned that speaking out can cause misunderstanding and conflict, but not speaking out can endorse far worse. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel is fond of saying that “the opposite of love is not hate, but silence.” In a world of growing bureaucracy and information overload, we have the danger of having our voices drowned out. No reality is more essential to our self-awareness than history. It shows us the broadest horizon of mankind, brings us the contents of tradition upon which our life is built, shows us standards by which to measure the present, frees us from unconscious bondage to our own age, teaches us to see man in his highest potentialities and his imperishable creations. We can make no better use of leisure than to familiarize ourselves and keep ourselves familiar with the glories of the past and the catastrophes in which everything has been shattered. We gain a better understanding of our present experience if we see it in the mirror of history. And history becomes alive for us when we regard it in the light of our own age. Our life becomes richer when past and present illumine one another. The framers of the United States Constitution hoped to combine democratic principles (a Congress) with some of the benefits of an undemocratic elite rule (a Senate, a Supreme Court, a Bill of Rights). Part of our society’s ambivalence about intellectuals is due to this constitutional tension, however, it is mostly a manifestation of deeper psychological conflicts. We want to have authoritative guidance, but we also want autonomy. We don’t like feeling stupid, yet when we are honest we realize we need to learn some things. We respect the accomplishments of others, but sometimes feel threatened and resentful. We have a respect for authorities when it suits us, and embrace relativism in other cases.

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