Morality exists because of “human nature.” In other words, it is a manifestation of innate behavioral traits that themselves exist by virtue of evolution by natural selection. It follows that morality has no goal, no purpose, and no function, because in order to have those qualities it must necessarily have been created by some entity capable intending a goal, purpose, or function for it. There was no such entity. In human beings, the traits in question spawn the whimsical illusion that purely imaginary things that exist only in the subjective minds of individuals, such as good, evil, rights, values, etc., actually exist as independent objects. The belief in these mirages is extremely powerful. Occasionally a philosopher here and there will assert a belief in “moral relativity,” but in the end one always finds them, to quote a pithy Biblical phrase, returning like dogs to their own vomit. After all their fine phrases, one finds them picking sides, sagely informing us that some individual or group is “good,” and some other ones “evil,” and that we “ought” to do one thing and “ought not” to do another.
What does all this have to do with Einstein? Well, recently he was accused of expressing impure thoughts in some correspondence he imagined would be private. The nutshell version can be found in a recent article in the Guardian entitled, Einstein’s travel diaries reveal ‘shocking’ xenophobia. Among other things, Einstein wrote that the Chinese he saw were “industrious, filthy, obtuse people,” and “even the children are spiritless and look obtuse.” He, “…noticed how little difference there is between men and women,” adding, “I don’t understand what kind of fatal attraction Chinese women possess which enthralls the corresponding men to such an extent that they are incapable of defending themselves against the formidable blessing of offspring.” He was more approving of the Japanese, noting that they were “unostentatious, decent, altogether very appealing,” and that he found “Pure souls as nowhere else among people. One has to love and admire this country.”
It goes without saying that only a moron could seriously find such comments “shocking” in the context of their time. In the first place, Einstein was categorizing people into groups, as all human beings do, because we lack the mental capacity to store individual vignettes of all the billions of people on the planet. He then pointed out certain things about these groups that he honestly imagined to be true. He nowhere expressed hatred of any of the people he described, nor did he anywhere claim that the traits he described were “innate” or had a “biological origin,” as falsely claimed by the author of the article. He associated them with the Chinese “race,” but might just as easily been describing cultural characteristics at a given time as anything innate. Furthermore, “race” at the time that Einstein wrote could be understood quite differently from the way it is now. In the 19th century, for example, the British and Afrikaners in South Africa were commonly described as different “races.” Today we have learned some hard lessons about the potential harm of broadly associating negative qualities to entire populations, but in the context of the time they were written, ideas similar to the ones expressed by Einstein were entirely commonplace.
In light of the above, consider the public response to the recent revelations about the content of Einstein’s private papers. It is a testimony to the gross absurdity of human moral behavior in the context of an environment radically different from the one in which it evolved. Einstein is actually accused by some of being a “racist,” a “xenophobe,” a “misogynist,” or, in short, a “bad” man. Admirers of Einstein have responded by citing all the good-sounding reasons for the claim that Einstein was actually a “good” man. These responses are equivalent to debating whether Einstein was “really a green unicorn,” or “really a blue unicorn.” The problem with that is, of course, that there are no unicorns to begin with. The same is true of objective morality. It doesn’t exist. Einstein wasn’t “good,” nor was he “bad,” because these categories do not exist as independent objects. They are subjective, and exist only in our imaginations. They are imagined to be real because there was a selective advantage to imagining them to be real in a given environment. That environment no longer exists. These are simple statements of fact.
As so often happens in such cases, one side accuses the other of “moral relativity.” In his response to this story at the Instapundit website, for example, Ed Driscoll wrote, “A century later, is the age of moral relativity about to devour the legacy of the man who invented the real theory of relativity?” The problem here is most definitely not moral relativity. In fact, it is the opposite – the illusion of objective morality. The people attacking Einstein are moral absolutists. If that were not true, what could possibly be the point of attacking him? A genuine moral relativist would simply conclude that Einstein’s personal version of morality was different from theirs, and leave it at that. That is not what is happening here. Instead, Einstein is accused of violating “moral laws,” the most fashionable and up-to-date versions of which were concocted long after he was in his grave. In spite of that, these “moral laws” are treated as if they represented objective facts. Einstein was “bad” for violating them even though he had no way of knowing that these “moral laws” would exist nearly a century after he wrote his journals. Is it not obvious that judging Einstein in this way would be utterly irrational unless these newly minted “moral laws” were deemed to be absolute, with a magical existence of their own, independent of what goes on in the subjective minds of individuals?
Consider what is actually meant by this accusation of “racism.” Normally a racist is defined as one who considers others to be innately evil or inferior by virtue of their race, and who hates and despises them by virtue of that fact. It is simply one manifestation of the universal human tendency to perceive others in terms of ingroups and outgroups. When this type of behavior evolved, there was no ambiguity about the identity of the outgroup. It was simply the next tribe over. The perception of “outgroup” could therefore be determined by very subtle differences without affecting the selective value of the behavior. Now, however, with our vastly increased ability to travel long distances and communicate with others all over the world, we are quite capable of identifying others as “outgroup” whom we never would have heard of or come in contact with in our hunter-gatherer days. As a result, the behavior has become “dysfunctional.” It no longer accomplishes the same thing it did when it evolved. Racism is merely one of the many manifestations of this now dysfunctional trait that has been determined by hard experience to be harmful in the environment we live in today. As a result, it has been deemed “bad.” Without understanding the underlying innate traits that give rise to the behavior, however, this attempt to patch up human moral behavior is of very limited value.
The above becomes obvious if we examine the behavior of those who are in the habit of accusing others of racism. They are hardly immune to similar manifestations of bigotry. They simply define their outgroups based on criteria other than race. The outgroup is always there, and it is hated and despised just the same. Indeed, they may hate and despise their outgroups a great deal more violently and irrationally than those they accuse of racism ever did, but are oblivious to the possibility that their behavior may be similarly “bad” merely because they perceive their outgroup in terms of ideology, for example, rather than race. Extreme examples of hatred of outgroups defined by ideology are easy to find on the Internet. For example,
- Actor Jim Carrey is quoted as saying, “40 percent of the U.S. doesn’t care if Trump deports people and kidnaps their babies as political hostages.
- Actor Peter Fonda suggested to his followers on Twitter that they should “rip Barron Trump from his mother’s arms and put him in a cage with pedophiles.” The brother of Jane Fonda also called for violence against Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and called White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders a “c**t.”
- An unidentified FBI agent is quoted as saying in a government report that, “Trump’s supporters are all poor to middle class, uneducated, lazy POS.”
- According to New York Times editorialist Roxanne Gay, “Having a major character on a prominent television show as a Trump supporter normalizes racism and misogyny and xenophobia.”
Such alternative forms of bigotry are often more harmful than garden variety racism itself merely by virtue of the fact that they have not yet been included in one of the forms of outgroup identification that has already been generally recognized as “bad.” The underlying behavior responsible for the extreme hatred typified by the above statements won’t change, and if we whack the racism mole, or the anti-Semitism mole, or the homophobia mole, other moles will pop up to take their places. The Carreys and Fondas and Roxanne Gays of the world will continue to hate their ideological outgroup as furiously as ever, until it occurs to someone to assign as “ism” to their idiosyncratic version of outgroup hatred, and people finally realize that they are no less bigoted than the “racists” they delight in hating. Then a new “mole” will pop up with a new, improved version of outgroup hatred. We will never control the underlying behavior and minimize the harm it does until we understand the innate reasons it exists to begin with. In other words, it won’t go away until we learn to understand ourselves.
And what of Einstein, not to mention the likes of Columbus, Washington, Madison, and Jefferson? True, these men did more for the welfare of all mankind than any combination of their Social Justice Warrior accusers you could come up with, but for the time being, admiring them is forbidden. After all, these men were “bad.”