Albert Einstein's racist travel diaries


#54

Who said that anyone shouldn’t look at his views from later in life? Certainly not me.

I wrote “but I do think we gain something by looking at what historical icons actually were and how they changed.”

I think looking at the whole person is valuable when looking at someone like Einstein (or Churchill, or Lincoln, or Mandela) instead of defining them by a narrow slice of their lives. I think Einstein’s later stance against racism should be looked at in the context of an evolving view through his life, as opposed to him springing fully ideologically formed to adorn dorm room walls.

(edited to tone down snark–be the change you want to see in the world!)


#55

Here is a proof the Nazi party would never have accepted: that German Jews were Germans, too. But they needed a convenient scapegoat for their failure to win WWI.


#56

11th-doc-this


#57

I don’t think that @DrNobelDynamite is ignoring that. He’s pointing out that Einstein is treated as a mythological figure, who was always the wacky looking, crazy haired scientist, instead of a real human being who through out his life changed and evolved. Most people only know his activist period, not his views in the earlier parts of his life. Seeing that transition matters, too, I think.


#58

Why? What did Mileva Marić and Hermann Minkowski do? :wink:


#59

You know you’re not obligated to read blog posts, right? I get by just fine by ignoring most of what’s posted on the internet.

For the rest of us, this kind of humanizing historical context is valuable. Should we stop because our discussion irritates you?

First of all, the tone of the article was to show how his views changed. Just calling Einstein out wouldn’t be better, it would be worse. Secondly, why should people not talk about these things merely because some nitwits won’t RTFA?


#60

Bobby Kennedy for President, the Netflix 4-part documentary, does a pretty good job doing this, obviously wrt RFK. I really hadn’t known as much about his nasty work with McCarthy, his early views of the civil rights movement and its leaders. But RFK definitely evolved over time, to become the person many in society now celebrate.

Have to agree with you that it’s more useful and honest to acknowledge the full story. We all stand to benefit from seeing how people are able to undertake this very transformation, for our own sake, and that of our fellow planetary inhabitants.


#61

If Einstein had not existed, we would have had to invent him. And even though he did exist, we invented him anyway.


#62

Yeah I mean I used to think Thomas Jefferson was a pretty cool dude, that’s what they said in school. And he did do great stuff! But the whole raping slaves thing kinda opened my eyes to how maybe he wasn’t such a cool dude after all.


#63

Woah, dude.


#64

#65

#66

There is nothing wrong with realizing that you were mistaken and changing you views for the better. As it was said “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”


#67

You know you’re not obligated to read article comments on the internet, right?

I’ve actually read several articles on the topic, and hundreds of articles on the topic of “OMG EINSTEIN WUZ WRONG” more generally. (For what it’s worth, this nitwit also has a PhD in physics and has read multiple scholarly biographies of Albert Einstein. The most comprehensive is Albrect Fölsing’s)

The problem is not the humanizing part of it. It’s all of the headlines wrapping the whole thing in the implicit expectation that Einstein should be above the norms of his culture and his contemporaries just because he was a “genius”. Continually fostering that expectation contributes to the mythologizing of Einstein, not his humanization.


#68

No doubt. But of course, given that he was a politician running for office, we have to ask about his motives in shifting. Do you think that the documentary tackles that?

Sounds interesting. I hadn’t even heard about it, actually.

I… guess. He’s not the only individual who is lionized in that manner, I’d say.


#69

The doc doesn’t make declarative stances — there is no narration, only archival footage and interviews with people who were there and knew RFK and worked with him directly. I like this, as it allows viewers to make their own conclusions.

My takeaway, forged largely by watching many civil rights leaders talk about RFK, is that he did genuinely evolve, but also realized that this was how the tide was shifting. I don’t think that sullies it, and he certainly took risks by taking this path. He was assassinated, after all.

I had the chance to meet some of the key folks involved with the project last week. I’m only halfway through and will watch the second two parts soon. Highly recommended.


#70

Cool. Thanks for the mini-review of the first two parts. It does sound interesting.

I like those kinds of documentaries too (although, of course what the film maker decides to put in or not is also a form of bias, but still - less so, I think).


#71

And miss people’s sunny dispositions? Perish the thought.

I wasn’t calling you a nitwit. I was criticizing asking the media not to talk about something because some nitwits won’t read past the headline. Pandering to the lowest common denominator is not good journalism.

I’m very happy for you. There are several physicists among the commenters here. Why, you never know when you just might be talking with one. How is that pertinent to the apparent evolution of a fellow scientist’s social views?

I’ll check it out.

That seems very much like your assumptions of how the masses will interpret it and, since in this case at least the article and blog post here about it both explicitly refute that reading, also an assumption about the attention of the masses.

So what would make you happy? The refutation right up top in the headline? That seems more of a criticism of your assumptions about readers than of the actual article. Which in and of itself I might agree with, but criticizing the journalists and bloggers for not catering to nitwits who don’t RTFA is misplaced. Not writing about it because people are too stupid to comprehend what they read?

Or are you actually suggesting that the article mythologizes Einstein? Because that’s literally the opposite reading of most people in this thread.


#72

No, I’m saying the broader media coverage, collectively, in their headlines and their commentary about the topic, are implicitly framing the revelation with a sort of (feigned?) shock that I find disingenuous and counterproductive. Much in the way that starting any science article with “Was Einstein wrong about X?” is clickbaity and wrongheaded. God, I sure hope Einstein was wrong about an awful lot, or else physics hasn’t advanced very much in a century. I’m saying the same should be obvious of his social views.


#73

Well, you might be right, but I don’t see that in this article and this blog post.

I partially share your irritation with much of science journalism. But…

Moral and scientific enlightenment aren’t the same. One is based on values and personal experiences, whereas the other is based on theory and observations of the scientific community. Einstein’s scientific discoveries were very much a product of the era and environment in which he worked, building on necessary work that came before it. Morality and ethics require no such prior foundation. Going against the prevailing mores of the time require a measure of courage and motive for doing so, but those mores aren’t the product of collective effort to empirically verify knowledge the way that science is. One needn’t wait for social mores to catch up to live by the moral principles they may or may not embody; and Einstein is a prime example of this in that he did go against the grain of prevailing social mores later in life.