Overweening Generalist

Friday, June 10, 2011

70-Plus Years of Posterity, Via the Rear-View Mirror

NB: Regarding my short history post of a couple days ago (thanks for the lively comments, guys!), I am well aware that my second-named favorite historian, Vico, said this about my first-named favorite historian, Herodotus: "[Herodotus] wrote in prose using the vernacular alphabet, and who wove nearly all of his history from myths."And the oft-heard line about Herodotus being the Father of History is mistaken, he should be called the Father of Lies, or something like that. You've all seen a variation of that. But what these far-flung peoples told Herodotus and he (sorta Tweeted, really) collected these Amazing Stories and gossip, seemed overly credulous, etc: this refers to my quote from Berger and Luckmann's book The Social Construction of Reality, and their idea that the sociology of knowledge "must concern itself with everything that passes for 'knowledge' in society." (pp.14-15, italics in their original)


This reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson giving credit to Ed Sanders for teaching him to read the tabloids as if they are folklore or psycho-archaeology.
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Anyway, posterity. Dig Einstein here, who said this at the 1939 World's Fair:

"Our time is rich in inventive minds, the invention of which could facilitate our lives considerably. We are crossing the seas by power and utilize power also in order to relieve humans from all tiring muscular work. We have learned to fly and we are able to send messages and news without any difficulty over the entire world through electric waves.

"However, the production and distribution of commodities is entirely unorganized so that everybody must live in fear of being eliminated from the economic cycle, in this way suffering from the want of everything. Furthermore, people living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals, so that also for this reason anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror. This is due to the fact that the intelligence and character of the masses are incomparably lower than the intelligence and character of the few who produce something valuable for the community.

"I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority."
-"Message In The Time-Capsule," found in Ideas and Opinions, Albert Einstein, p.18


Hoo-kay, Einstein. Posterity answers 72 years later and we thank you for so graciously taking the time to meet with us, via this odd medium. I'm not really sure how this was done, but I'll "go with it" (laffs), as we say in the business.

First off, I hope you're doing well, wherever you "are" in the space-time continuum, and that you got to meet your idol Newton. Oh yea: Got some bad news for ya on the physics front. Your desperate attempt to unite quantum mechanics with your relativity, the project you worked feverishly on for the last 30 years of your life? Well, I'm just some schmuck sitting here in the year 2011, but I do follow your field, and your intellectual progeny seem nowheres near your desideratum, the Unified Field Theory. There have been some wonderful breakthroughs and much in the way of ultra-creative insights, but we still don't have that One Equation that can fit on the back of some real-estate agent's business card, to be carried around in our wallet. There's always the Large Hadron Collider! But I'm getting away from our subject.

Now: your World's Fair speech. Uhhh...world population has just about tripled (editor's note: 2.3 billion in 1940, will hit 7 billion soon) since those days, and terror is all the rage. Hate to break it to you. The U.S. has been maybe the largest terrorist state since you died, in 1955. But no one really talks about that.

The ability to impound scientific laws as Real Wealth to produce things that people need has been, frankly....well, you would be astonished at how effective your "intelligence and character of the few" were able to perform! (By the way, a lot of people now think that the way you describe the "many" and the "few"was a little...indelicate. Some of those "few" - the professors in the Humanities, especially - would call you horribly Politically Incorrect.)

Lemme just say this, Professor, and I don't mean any disrepect: you were probably wrong about that bit that seemed to link "intelligence" with "character." We have these people named Dick Cheney, and Lloyd Blankfein and Sarah Palin, two brothers named Koch...so many others, and...Oh, it would take up too much of our time. We're here to talk about 1939 and you.

I'm not sure if you can understand <cough> our "ways" in this 2011 world, Professor, but...that bit about sending "messages and news without any difficulty over the entire world through electric waves"? Oh, wow! Man, you wouldn't believe what we have these days...You can carry in your pocket...How do I explain this, it's so amazing...Professor get this: There is a congressman who just this week got into trouble because he sent a picture of...lemme just say this, Dear Professor: we haven't worked things out the way you wanted. We have done some marvelous things, Professor, but those of us in..."the future"...or does that mean anything to you? especially because even when you were alive you were telling us that identical twins, ya know, one that stayed on Earth and one that travelled through space...you know, that freaky aging puzzle you said was real because of relativity? You told us that mass warps space and therefore time, fer crissakes!

Sorry, Professor, I got carried away. But some of us just read your short speech about the future - our "reality" and our "past" but your idealized "future," from 1939. And we don't exactly feel "proud" and with "justified superiority."

But we are not everyone. There are some who seem to feel overwhelmingly superior and filled with pride. They tend not to read very well, or think much, and they watch something called "Fox News," I don't think this is making any sense to you, Herr Professor. Oh, you have to go watch Beany and Cecil? Okay!

Thank you for your <ahem> space-time.

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