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 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. – Albert Einstein, “Why Socialism?” (1949)
I’ve read this a few times now. I probably go back over it every few years. I’m always astonished by Einstein’s sharp grasp on social issues, in addition to being one of the most influential physicists in the history of the subject.
This time around, however, I was struck by some of the topics to which Einstein paid particular attention. His focus on the individual, for instance, and the individual’s attitude toward humanity (e.g., Einstein’s anecdote about the man who asked him why he was opposed to the disappearance of the human race) and their kind of selfish attitude, I think is often posed as a particularity of contemporary, neoliberal capitalism. Capitalism, however, has always attempted to pit the individual against the whole of society, such that, even in the midst of the post-war boom and the height of New Deal reforms, Einstein still felt compelled to confront the claim that the individual and society were mutually exclusive entities.
You can read the entire essay here.
“Every question “runs in a vicious circle” because political life as a whole is an endless chain consisting of an infinite number of links. The whole art of politics lies in finding and taking as firm a grip as we can of the link that is least likely to be struck from our hands, the one that is most important at the given moment, the one that most of all guarantees its possessor the possession of the whole chain.” – Lenin, What Is To Be Done?
In a world where that can so often feel defined by suffering, misery, oppression, and violence, those of us who want to win a better world can often feel a moral pressure to do everything at once. This is almost especially true when our movement is particularly weak, or when it feels like things are progressing too slowly. There is so much to be done!
I find this quote from Lenin to be such a powerful, sober reminder to maintain a long term perspective on the kind of movement we want to build, i.e. it is ineffective to try to respond to all the various needs of our movement at once, regardless of our limited resources and capacities, e.g., members, time, money, skills, etc. Instead we have to ask: what can be done right now to put us in a better position to accomplish our goals tomorrow?
This patient, long-term perspective shouldn’t replace a sense of urgency in our work. On the contrary, it should inform us in how we constructively go about preparing ourselves and our organizations to meet the urgent tasks we face. Without that kind of patient perspective, we can often waste our limited resources, e.g., burn out our membership, exhaust limited funds, etc., as if we were rubbing together two dry sticks into nubs as we try to spark a fire.
President Obama has said he’s eying New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to replace Janet Napolitano as the head of Homeland Security.
“Ray Kelly’s obviously done an extraordinary job in New York,” Obama told reporters. “I think Ray Kelly is one of the best there is. He’s been an outstanding leader in New York. Mr. Kelly might be very happy where he is, but if he’s not I’d want to know about it, because obviously he’d be very well qualified for the job.”
During his tenure as the NYPD Commissioner, Kelly has consistently been under fire for overseeing the notorious stop-and-frisk program. According to data released by the NYPD (which has to be made public as part of a lawsuit), there have been over 5 million stop-and-frisks in New York City. Nine out of every ten people stopped are completely innocent. Over 80% of those stopped are Black and Latino.
Not only does the data reveal clear racial discrimination, but Kelly defends it. “About 70 to 75 percent of the people described as committing violent crimes,” Kelly told reporters last March. “So really, African-Americans are being understopped in relation to the percentage of people being described as being the perpetrators of violent crime. The stark reality is that a crime happens in communities of color.”
These aren’t just casual stop and chats, but often are very violent, and laden with overt racism. Watch below:
The choice of Kelly is not only disturbing, but perplexing. As Colorlines points out, “Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policy is being challenged in federal court by the Center for Constitutional Rights right now. Obama’s own Justice Department may be sending in a federal monitor to ensure that NYPD stops racial profiling.”
Last month, Colorlines editor Kai Wright drew out the connection between the growing surveillance state and stop-and-frisk, writing:
“The logic used to defend secretly collecting the communications data of people not accused of any crime is the same logic used to defend NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program and Homeland Security’s deportation apparatus. The logic of “national security” was developed and honed by law enforcement practices inside communities of color. It is one of the more striking examples of a basic truth: racial injustice is cancerous; it eats the national body from the inside out.”
So is this what we can expect from a DHS headed by Commissioner Kelly? The implications are truly disturbing.
Alongside stop-and-frisk, Ray Kelly’s tenure as NYPD commissioner has also been marked by the revelation that the department used explicitly Islamophobic films as part of police training, created a program targeting Muslims for surveillance, and a startling rise in police brutality against Blacks and Latinos–including the murders of Ramarley Graham, Kimani Gray, and Shantel Davis. In 2011 two NYPD officers were charged in the sexual assault of a woman who asked the police to escort her home because she was too intoxicated to walk home alone. They were acquitted, even though one of the officers admitted on tape to having sex with her with a condom on.
Obama’s choice of Ray Kelly falls in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal. The murder of Trayvon Martin has sparked a nationwide debate on racism and the ongoing criminalization of young Black men in America. An official White House statement issued following the acquittal completely ignored that debate, however, calling instead for people to remain calm and respect “law-and-order.” The ignorance and dismissal of the crisis facing Black communities in Americans is consistent throughout Obama’s administration, reflecting the real priorities of his administration.