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[flagged] Einstein's travel diaries reveal attitudes towards people he met in Asia (theguardian.com)
37 points by Sjenk 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments



After your death all of your life's browser history, every facebook/youtube/reddit/HN/myspace/etc comment and submission you ever wrote, every photo you ever took, every off-hand remark you ever made in the presence of a smartphone with facebook installed .. will be published for all of the world to read and judge.

Better get that road rage under wraps!


>Better get that road rage under wraps!

After my death I could not care less...


After my death nobody else will care either


Everyone has demons, different faces we show different people, and a face we show no one.

The problem is we haven’t come to terms with this. We could all stand to be less judgmental of others, while being mindful of our own beliefs.


That also assumes that society will never learn proportionality in judgment, and always come down on people as if everyone were godlike. Hopefully future society will learn to exercise context, grace, and proportionality in an age of permanent memory.


Why is it so "shocking"? Discussing racial differences was more common in his time, and being a great scientist does not necessarily coincide with general wisdom.

I hope this story will help people realize that we should not ban the work of people who have said problematic things.


Why is it so "shocking"? Discussing racial differences was more common in his time...

Thats why they put it between quotes I guess, and I guess for the extra clicks.

I hope this story will help people realize that we should not ban the work of people who have said problematic things.

Also this. That is the reason I shared this article.


That is a way of looking at it. Another perspective is that any attempt to deify a real human being is bound to be nonsensical, and we should always be wary of the complex human nature behind a carefully constructed "public figure".

At least hopefully nobody will somehow look at this as an excuse for their own racist agenda (i.e. look, such a greatly respected person has also been so racist, why can't I?). The simplistic attempt to instill one-dimensional interpretations of personalities in the public consciousness has to stop, and hopefully both the educational institutions and the media can always remind people of the complexities of every individual. Though this seems to be a tall order at least for now.


At least hopefully nobody will somehow look at this as an excuse for their own racist agenda (i.e. look, such a greatly respected person has also been so racist, why can't I?)

Lets hope it, although I am afraid, there will be persons who use it as an excuse or even some sort of scientific evidence or proof. I.e: "See even one of the smartest person walked on this earth finds Chinese gross this must proof something about the Chinese right?!"


I am not sure why this has been downvoted. Will somebody care to explain?


It takes more than 17 minutes for the votes on a comment to reach a level worth mentioning.


This is also addressed in the original article:

> Rosenkranz told the Guardian that although views like Einstein’s were prevalent at the time, they were not universal. “That’s usually the reaction I get – ‘we have to understand, he was of the zeitgeist, part of the time’ – but I think I tried here and there to give a broader context. There were other views out there, more tolerant views,” he said.


Einstein was a great physicist, but I’m not looking to him for moral guidance. If he was awful for his time that would be sad, but if he’s merely average, I don’t see why we’d care.


> I’m not looking to him for moral guidance

I suppose this is the question. Einstein is certainly more known for his moral legacy than most scientists.

He was a WWII refugee and a pacifist, he authored (and later regretted) the letter sparking US nuclear ambitions, he joined the NAACP and his offer of testimony in W.E.B. DuBois' trial led to the charges against him being dropped. To me, this isn't merely the halo effect around his academic work - Einstein was at least a modest player in morality and social politics in his time, and his work fighting racism in the US does add particular relevance to the story.

I agree, though, that the story is already being overblown; we're getting news stories with Einstein's picture edited to look demonic. This is a scientist's diary from the 1920s containing views less racist than ones openly stated by US politicians from the last 50 years.


That's the right point of view, in my opinion. Unfortunately many people tend to take the word of intellectuals outside their realm of expertise. I'm sure you've heard arguments about religion which mentioned Einstein's remark that "God doesn't play with dice" (it doesn't help that people frequently misunderstand this quote, but even if they didn't: why would Einstein's religious beliefs -- or lack of them -- matter?).


I think journalists may care because they come from universities which teach postmodernist 'deconstruction'. Basically, they are looking for a reason to dismiss everything that western culture has ever built.


I don't think they have given a helpful broader context though. How common were those more tolerant views in that era? If just a few extreme outliers or a significant minority would be relevant.

This is citizen of the Weimar Republic writing 3 years after the end of WW1. China had joined the allies in 1917, the same year as the US. Education of the era tended to encourage belief in the Empire first, civilising mission. Not to forget years of wartime propaganda. Belief in eugenics was rising and becoming popular. Including in the US and UK. It was a little later in the century those ideas would die out.

Certainly tolerance was famously prevalent in the theatre district of Berlin in the pre-Nazi early 30s. Elsewhere not so much. No doubt the historians I've read have also been biased or incomplete - that of course is far harder to judge.


Ron Paul, for example.


I don't see what the big deal is ... everyone thinks stuff like this in their head, and it's a personal diary. Only recently do we live in a globalized & diverse economy which makes it less polite to say stuff like this. It is a big stretch to equate lack of politeness with racism.


"Chinese don’t sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods. All this occurs quietly and demurely"

This is still true in the countryside. It's a cultural not racial difference.


> “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”

That's pretty much xenophobia in a nutshell.


Racism? I took for granted this was about aliens.


not everyone


... is an Einstein


Without taking any sides in this particular case, i highly recommend everyone read Intellectuals and Race[1] by Thomas Sowell. It is a concise, well researched, and largely damning look at how the same intellectual class that is leading the charge of globalized western morality (particularly in regards to enforced diversity, ethnic erasure, race based policies, and identity/victimhood politics) is cut from the very same cloth of their predecessors in the early 20th century (the Progressives) who championed Social Darwinism, racial segregation, and eugenics. He draws many parallels between the two groups, including but not limited to the perceived unanimity of thought amongst the "greatest, leading minds," the utter incomprehensibility by the status quo to even consider dissenting ideas, the ostensible moral superiority, and the faith based reliance upon unproven assertions. It is a brief and powerful read. Regardless of one's politics, Sowell forces the reader to honestly confront preconceived notions not with emotional exhortation, but rather hard facts and verifiable data.

[1]https://www.amazon.com/Intellectuals-Race-Thomas-Sowell/dp/0...


I think if Einstein were alive today he would see his words and repent to them. Especially in light of other things he has said like: "Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.". Though this had nothing to do with race he understood something in those times that many others didn't in regards to human nature.


These comments, particularly those about toilet habits don't really look too different from the comments I was reading 5 years about about the behaviour of Chinese tourists, so I'm not sure what to think about this.

If you took a contemporary Chinese sophisticate and transported him or her back to 1920s China, what would his or her comments be like?


Shock at different toilet habits is actually the least racist and more understandable reaction. But some of his assertions are indefensible:

> “I noticed how little difference there is between men and women; I don’t understand what kind of fatal attraction Chinese women possess which enthrals the corresponding men to such an extent that they are incapable of defending themselves against the formidable blessing of offspring”

and

> “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”

White supremacists could easily hold these views as well.


Those statements boil down to "I think Chinese people are ugly". Do men have a moral obligation to find women of all races beautiful?


I can say "I don't find most Chinese women attractive". Or I can say "Chinese women are so ugly, I cannot understand how people manage to reproduce in China". Do you see the difference? One statement is not racist and the other is.


So you are saying racism is defined by the degree of some dislike vs. collectivist categorizations?

Otherwise, they do seem to be the same.


Actually both are not racist. Both are subjective statements.

One needs not explicitly add "I, personally" to his personal correspondence.

"Chinese women are so ugly, I cannot understand how people manage to reproduce in China" should be read as: "I find Chinese women so ugly, that I cannot understand how people manage to reproduce in China".


I don't understand your point.

It's understood that in personal correspondence everything stated is the opinion of the author. Both my fictional examples were written from a personal point of view.

The actual difference was that one expressed a personal preference without being offensive; the other called a vast group of people "ugly", which is offensive, and expressed incredulity that they even managed to find each other sexually attractive enough to reproduce (which is naive as well as offensive).

Racism is primarily subjective, so that's no excuse either. Rational justifications for racism are more often than not a posteriori justifications.


>It's understood that in personal correspondence everything stated is the opinion of the author. Both my fictional examples were written from a personal point of view.

Having established that...

>The actual difference was that one expressed a personal preference without being offensive; the other called a vast group of people "ugly", which is offensive

My point is that racism is not about being offensive (or not) in one's subjective opinions. Being rude is not the same as being a racist -- even if the characteristics you're rude about belong to a race of people.

>Rational justifications for racism are more often than not a posteriori justifications.

They might be, but without them there's no racism. Just personal preference or dislike, which people are entitled to.

"Freedonians look ugly" is not racist. "Freedonians are genetically inferior" is.

Even saying "freedonians are stupid" is borderline, because they might indeed be by the criteria of the one making that statement (e.g. they might value leisure, where the one making the statement might think that it's smarter to be productive).


If racism were subjective, we wouldn't ban it in the public scope as there would be no clear standard for anyone to follow in their self-censorship.

Racism should reflect an attribute that can be factually proven---intelligence, strength, moral character at birth, etc.

It should not reflect a totally subjective physical attribute like beauty.


I've never heard your definition of racism ("attributes that can be factually proven"?). In my experience, racism is subjective and every rationalization is done afterwards. How often have you heard of someone convincing an avowed racist of anything based on arguments?

"I've always thought <class of people> were dumb, weak, morally bankrupt, and have brought decadence to our country, but now that I look at this scientific study I'm convinced otherwise".


Every racist position I have ever heard of has been defanged by the truth, and proof. Racism is not bad because it makes you feel bad, it is bad because it is demonstrably untrue and basing your society on the bedrock of racist lies is simply shooting yourself in the foot.

I don't know why you disagree.

Do you think racist views are true, but we should ignore them out of political correctness?


> "It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary."

What if he is just implying that the loss of global racial diversity would be dismal, given that Chinese dwarf all other races in the world by a large margin? FWIW I know this is unlikely given the context of this post.


This is one of those examples of holding a man born in the 19th century to the standards of the 21st. I'm pretty sure lots of the things we think, say, and do will be seen as very problematic in the 22nd century.


Indeed. I hope someday people would hold as much disdain and shock as this for statements justifying/rationalising things like gun ownership, immense private wealth when others around you suffer and need for private transport.


This is more click-bait journalism; I'm not sure why Einstein should be singled out for sharing the same beliefs as others in the society in which he was raised. "Europeans in 1922 were Xenophobic" is not worthy of an editorial.

The writer claims that Xenophobia was not Universal, and therefore this is interesting. No view is universal; there are people alive today who believe the earth is flat, although they are a minority. In 1922 Europe, only a very small minority of people would not have been Xenophobic.


I think people in those days had a very exaggerated idea of the scale of genetic differences between people of different ethic groups. Nowadays we know such differences are a rounding error and that looking at differences in genomes between individuals, those attributable to ethnicity are generally a minority. Back then, this wasn't known.

EDIT - I had a bit of a laugh at the quote about the Chinese supplanting other races. I'm a WASP, but my wife is Chinese and our kids are pretty obviously half Chinese.


Does knowledge of genome proximity help you to find women of other races more attractive?


I've always found Chinese girls attractive, long before I knew anything at all about population genetics. Not that I know a whole lot about it now, but still. I was lucky enough to go to a school in the UK, but with a large proportion of foreign students from all over Africa, the Middle East and Asia so maybe that had an influence.


It strikes me as odd that anytime a person references a characteristic of some people from some particular country, it is generalized into racism against all people who even vaguely look like them so long as the people in question are not white.

If one says "the French are cowards", no one takes it to mean that you believe that all white people are cowards.

This is true even if the speaker is not white themselves, but merely living in a 'white' country.

To me, this means that no statement really stands on its own, but we constantly filter it through our lens of expectations, and current context. Given that, it's hard to look at someone from the past---a fundamentally alien context---then damn them using modern morals.

---

As a personal example of how we see racism within an implicit context, this poster[1], mentions "negroes" and my immediate feeling is to damn him for racism as in the modern era using that terminology is a sign of racism.

This is despite the fact that my CV could list me as a beneficiary of the Negro College Fund.

20 years ago, the term "coloured" was considered racist to some segments of the USA. Any variations of it, would be simiarly damned. Now, we are all people "of colour" as an accepted truth, and using 'black' is seen as vulgar, and 'african american' is seen inaccurate. Context matters immensely in these topics.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17303571


The more they pull this historical muckracking crap, the less people are going to care when real racism is happening right in front of them.


It goes unnoted in the article, but you could probably get an entire second piece out of the phrase "...defending themselves against the formidable blessing of offspring."

At the time it was written, Einstein had three children (though his first child's story is basically unknown, and she was either adopted or died in infancy). He was also divorced from their mother, with whom both his sons lived, but corresponded with them throughout their lives. I'd be rather interested to see an ambivalent comment like "formidable blessing" put in the context of these relationships.


The quotes are translated from german into very specific english word that carries connotation. Going by the translation however, I find the interpretation made by Rosenkranz to be with odds of my own. I see a comment about too high population growth, while Rosenkranz claim it is about "how Chinese men can find their women sufficiently attractive to have offspring with them". A question about why there is a too high population growth is not the same as a question about why there is any population growth.


And where is the relevancy of looking at someone's thoughts that he never communicated publicly or acted upon whatsoever? Are we doing a psychoanalysis or something?


It’s hard to visit a different culture for the first time and not notice their differences as a group. It’s only with extended interaction with people from a different culture that their individuality stands out.

I’ve always thought that the cure for xenophobia is travel, but it’s more than just travel that’s required. You can’t just breeze through as a tourist, you have to spend an extended length of time and get to know people as people.


When a white person in historic America encountered the negro slave trade for the first time, becoming aware of the harsh living conditions of millions of people, he have to either conclude that their values regarding justice and the human condition were either in obvious conflict with their own society and culture, or accept the narrative of white supremacy, i.e. blacks were less human and so suffering was OK because it was their natural state. Most chose the latter, as it had the least cognitive dissonance.

A Westerner observing a typical 1920's Chinese person's life for the first time would have experienced the same assault on their fundamental values, especially more humanist values. It was a feudal society, where quiet tolerance in the face of extreme hardship is a cultural value, as is producing as many (male) offspring as possible. Moreover, given harsh standard of living and the large population, human life (especially those of children) was cheap and easily discarded. Finally, post-Qing China would have seemed extremely unsanitary to Western eyes -- even today Chinese authorities struggle with promulgating basic 20th century standards of hygiene (since hygiene is a norm, not a trait).

The foreigner would have been aware that 100's of millions of people lived this way (no one knew China's population was a billion plus until the CCP did the first modern census).

It would have been all to easy to take a dim view on the Chinese as people.


Sounds more like "Chinese culture" phobia to me. He said good things about Japanese people.


Indiscriminate application of BS modern fad notions like "xenophobia" reveal shallow journalism.


Newsflash: Einstein was as human as anybody else.


How is this relevant to HN?


In case you're confused: HN is not JUST about hacking and startups, and has never been just about those things. Read the HN guidelines.


Because Einstein


This is disgusting. I mean, publication of private diaries is disgusting.

Fuck you, Rosenkranz. I see why Hamlet did not like you that much.




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