Einstein, socialism, and the relativity of intelligence

GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI, 1.10.2014

(Original publication: Movimento Libertario)

The fact that socialism, in every single one of its expressions (“right”, “left”, “no-global”, incoherently pro-market, etc.), is linked to an objective and specific deficiency of intellectual ability, is well known.

In fact, socialists are intellectually unable to conceive of something that can be useful to man and that, unlike a hammer or an organization, has not been intentionally designed by someone. In other words, they are intellectually unable to conceive of a spontaneous order. This is the social order brought about by the interplay of human action though not by human design. Some examples of spontaneous order are money, the free market, the Law intended as general and negative rule of individual conduct valid for all in the same way. The fact that language itself is a spontaneous order, and that it cannot be explained in any other way, produces an intellectual crisis in socialists and therefore they are often inclined not to confront it.

The spontaneous order is not the expected result of someone’s decision or plan but instead it is the unintentional, dispersed and long-term result of persons acting for their own individual purposes (which does not necessarily mean egoistic purposes). While pursuing their own ends, in relation to which individuals are the only ones possessing the relevant knowledge (a peripherally dispersed individual knowledge that is also knowledge of time and place), without this being at all in their intention they realize something that is indispensable to their prosperity and to their very existence and that can exist only as a result of a spontaneous and unintentional process of this kind.

Since they are intellectually unable to conceive of a spontaneous order, socialists are necessarily inclined to believe that without positive order there would be chaos. In other words, they are necessarily inclined to believe that without a deliberate organizing and planning activity extended to the whole society and such that in some way and to some extent everyone must be forced to contribute to the realization of collective ends imposed by those who hold political power, the society and indeed the economy would be unable to work. In fact, socialists can also be defined as those who, because of their deficiency of intellectual ability, make a confusion between liberty and chaos. As Hayek says, «Those […] who cannot conceive of anything serving a human purpose that has not been consciously designed are almost of necessity enemies of freedom. For them freedom means chaos»[1].

The mentioned deficiency of intellectual ability and the confusion between liberty and chaos that derives from it, lead socialists to destroy the spontaneous order by progressively replacing it by positive order. For example, they replace money with fiat money; Law (the limit to arbitrary political power) with fiat “law” (the instrument of arbitrary political power)[2]; democracy with totalitarian ‘democracy’[3]; market interest rate with the interest rate arbitrarily decided by central banks; the free market with interventionism and/or economic planning.

By doing this, they are cutting the branch they are sitting on. The replacement of the spontaneous order with a positive order (i.e. the destruction of the spontaneous order) is in fact comparable to a lethal form of pollution which progressively makes the air unbreathable and poisoned, and which in the long run leads to the progressive destruction of what, though invisible to many, is necessary to man’s prosperity and to his own very existence.

*   *   *

The politically incorrect thesis suggested at the beginning of this article is therefore that socialists suffer from an objective and specific deficiency of intellectual ability and that it is because of this deficiency (not considering other factors such as envy, for example) that they are socialists. Now, an argument that is often opposed to this thesis is that it is not impossible to find socialists who are undoubtedly clever individuals. In some cases (let us think of Albert Einstein for example) it is possible to find among them even geniuses.

This argument, however, is groundless. In fact, it does not take into account the fact that intelligence is a relative concept, not an absolute one. In other words, this argument expresses the extremely common mistake to associate intelligence to a person rather than to a person in a particular field. It is a common mistake, for example, to define Einstein as a genius rather than as a genius in the field of natural sciences and, in particular, in the field of theoretical physics. The fact that Einstein was a genius in physics induced many people to hang on his word also in the fields of political philosophy and even economics. However, in these fields he showed, as we will see shortly, an objective deficiency of intellectual ability that was not inferior to that of the average socialist.

The fact that intelligence is a relative concept and not an absolute one derives necessarily and aprioristically from the very fact that intelligence is the ability to acquire, select, organize and elaborate information; which means that there are as many different forms of intelligence as the kinds of information that are considered. For example, a person who is extremely intelligent in relation to information constituted by sounds can be extremely unintelligent in relation to information constituted by emotions, or by numbers. A person being extremely intelligent in mathematics (or more in general in the field of exact sciences) can be unable to conceive of a spontaneous order and therefore be extremely unintelligent in political philosophy and economics (or more in general in the field of the social sciences, whose starting point is the insight of the spontaneous order[4]).

The latter was indeed the case of Albert Einstein. His case deserves consideration not only because of the importance he had in the history of physics but also because (in relation to the scarce intelligence in the field of the social sciences, not in relation to the high intelligence in the field of the natural sciences) his case has some points in common with that of many contemporary intellectuals, especially of the left (the so-called ‘gauche caviar’).

Naturally, Einstein’s deficiency of intellectual ability in the field of the social sciences does not derive from the fact that he had ‘wrong’ philosophical ideas, but:

  1. from the fact that, as every socialist, he was unable to conceive of a spontaneous order;
  2. from the fact that, in the field of social sciences, his positions had the same logical incoherence as that showed by someone who, in order to get dry, jumps into the sea.

The first point is supported by phrases such as: «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»[5]. For reasons of space, let us ignore to discuss the scientific reasons why the “needs of the community” do not exist. Phrases such as this one show an ‘economic’ mentality that is not different, in its essence, from that of the idiot who sprayed a wall in front of which I often happen to drive with the phrase: «let us work less, so that all could work». Like a spoiled child who, being unable to see the relation existing between his parents’ savings and his present and future daily meals, demands gifts that would eliminate the former, Einstein was unable to conceive the fact that economically sustainable jobs can be created only by the process of the free market. This is the spontaneous process that values (through the free exchange) and communicates (through the price system) the individual knowledge of time and place which is dispersed peripherally among the individuals and which is unavailable to any directing mind. This spontaneous process is necessarily destroyed by the government coercion that is needed in order to redistribute or arbitrarily decide and impose what to produce, what “work has to be done”, working hours, income, wealth, factors of production, interest rates, or any other thing. In other words, Einstein was unable to understand that in a planned economy, where the spontaneous order of the free market is replaced by the positive order of the command economy, it is technically impossible to “adjust production to the needs” of individuals because this adjustment would require a knowledge, also of time and place, that is peripherally dispersed among the single individuals and that cannot be available to any planner or group of planners, however ‘expert’ or ‘knowledgeable’ they are and however powerful are the computers, the software or the models they use. Because of his economic ignorance and of his intellectual inability to understand a spontaneous order, Einstein, like most voters in contemporary so-called ‘democracies’ (not to mention those who represent them), while thinking that he was offering the magic recipe for an immediate creation of wealth from nothing, in fact offered the best possible recipe for the long-term destruction of the existing wealth and for the further worsening of the economic situation especially of the ‘poor’.

The macroscopic logical incoherence of Einstein’s positions in political philosophy and economics, which creates an interesting contrast with the strict logical coherence of his work in physics, is showed for example by the fact that while on the one hand he was a passionate defender of individuality (in the words of Walter Isaacson, «what repelled him more -and had repelled him his entire life- was repression of free thought and individuality»[6]), on the other hand he was in favour of ‘social justice’ («Striving for social justice is the most valuable thing to do in life»[7]) and therefore of policies aimed at attacking and repressing individuality.

The term ‘social justice’ implies that there exists a ‘macro’ justice that is quite separate from ‘micro’ justice. In other words, it implies that an action that is unjust when it is performed by an individual for some mysterious reasons can miraculously become just if it is performed by the state, i.e. by the parasites who control it. Therefore the term ‘social justice’ is logical nonsense that characterizes as idiot in the field of the social sciences and/or thief whoever uses it. By this resounding logical nonsense socialists want to give respectability to redistributive policies. However, not only are these policies an act of looting, but they also necessarily imply the aggression and the devastation of that very same individuality that those who advocate them usually do not hesitate to exalt loudly.

Let me give a quick example to explain this point. For reasons that concern only him and that only he knows, Marc can have his free time as his first priority. Therefore he will tend to prefer a job that takes into account this priority of his: e.g., a job that, in the face of a relatively low monetary compensation, offers a relatively high amount of free time. Vice-versa, again for reasons that concern him alone and that only he knows, George can have as main priority the purchase of a Lamborghini sport-car with a body in platinum. Therefore he will tend to prefer a job that takes into account this priority of his: e.g., a job that, in the face of very little free time, offers a very high monetary compensation. Now, when the government, in the name of ‘social justice’, redistributes wealth or income from George (who earns more) to Marc (who earns less), not only does it legally commit an act of looting (which is even worse than committing it illegally) and violates the principle of equality before the Law, but it also explicitly affirms that Marc’s tastes and priorities are better than George’s (e.g. because more in line with the opinions and/or the interests of the majority). In other words, by redistributing, the government attacks George because his tastes and priorities are different from Marc’s. Of course, one may think that, from his or her own point of view, George’s tastes are tacky or that Marc’s are more ‘important’. However, in a free society not only should these value judgements not be a reason for coercive government action (e.g. for redistributive policies) but they could not.

Einstein’s position in relation to redistribution shows his contempt for that very same individuality that he so passionately defends: while on the one hand he is convinced that «no one had the right to impose ideas and beliefs on others»[8] on the other hand he invokes policies that imply the imposition of the personal tastes of those who hold political power (in a totalitarian ‘democracy’, the strongest, i.e. the majority) on all others. Had he had the same ‘coherence’ in theoretical physics; had he, in this field, given the majority’s opinions the same weight he was so eager to give them implicitly in his vision of the political and economic system, he would have never discovered the theory of relativity.

Einstein’s deficiency of intellectual ability in the field of social sciences (or rather something similar to this) was noted, at that time, by some commentators and columnists[9] in reply to his defence of free speech and free thought during the McCarthy era. Naturally, these claims are nothing else than barks of sycophants trying to defend the political power that was destroying those liberties. There was nothing that was not purely noble and even courageous in Einstein’s defence of free thought and free speech. His problem, like that of many of those who today go to vote, was not the fact that he was not a good and noble person (he was both): it was his intellectual inability to conceive of a spontaneous social order and his fundamental incoherence in his defence of freedom.

This incoherence was expressed in many other positions that he held in the field of social sciences, which I will not discuss here for reasons of space. For example, while on the one hand (especially in the first and, not by accident, most scientifically productive part of his life) he had a healthy contempt for authority, on the other he advocated the solution of nearly every political problem with even more authority (e.g. a ‘world government’).

*   *   *

Where does this deficiency of intellectual ability that prevents socialists from conceiving of a spontaneous order come from? Sometimes, looking at the reaction of some socialists to the attempts to explain them what a spontaneous order is and why its replacement with a positive one implies its destruction (and, with it, that of prosperity and civilization), one could be tempted to say that this deficiency is innate. In other words, in these cases one could be tempted simply to conclude that some people can conceive of a spontaneous order and that some people can’t, just as some people can arch their tongue and others can’t because they don’t have a specific muscle.

This simplistic conclusion, however, would not take into account the fact that there are infinite artificial factors that can produce this deficiency of intellectual ability. By far the most powerful and widespread is the public school system (which includes private schools subordinated to mandatory public programmes). Public schools act on the individual ability to conceive of a spontaneous order the same way a plaster applied to the leg of a new-born child acts on its motor ability. After holding that plaster since the moment of birth, even imagining that someone removed it after eighteen years, the motor ability of that leg would be destroyed forever, or in any case strongly limited. This is the reason why the government needs the public school system, i.e. that plaster: to make someone born in a cage is the best way to reduce the costs of maintaining him there and to make sure that, even if one day that cage was opened by accident, that person would not leave it. Already after the first years of school, children take for granted that the modern state is not a criminal organization but, on the contrary, the ‘good’ that fights criminal organizations; they take for granted that legal tender is the very nature of money; that ‘law’ is made by parliament; that if the state did not finance their school this would not exist; etc. The possibility that the plastered leg could function again decreases with the increasing of the length of time the plaster is applied. In a scene of the movie The Matrix, Morpheus tells Neo that usually they don’t bring out of the Matrix individuals beyond a certain age because after a certain age the mind has difficulty to let go what since birth it has learned to take for granted.

I don’t know where socialists’ objective deficiency of intellectual ability comes from. Most probably it has a different origin and a different degree in every individual. However, what I do know is this: in the face of many people who, when the plaster is removed, collapse on the floor, there are not a few people of any age and of any background, who have never been exposed to classical liberalism or libertarianism (and in fact who have constantly been exposed to collectivist propaganda) who, when an opportunity is given to them, grasp immediately the concept of spontaneous order, as if they were discovering it within themselves rather than taking it from outside. When someone shows them a knife they do not wait for their plaster to be removed: they grab that knife and cut themselves the plaster that has immobilized their leg since birth. And miraculously, instead of falling on the floor, they start walking immediately and, indeed, they start running.

NOTES

[1] Hayek, F. A., 1999 [1960], The Constitution of Liberty (Routledge, London & New York), p. 61.

[2] See https://catallaxyinstitute.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/money-and-the-law/

[3] See https://catallaxyinstitute.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/democracy-and-law-are-antitethical/

[4] As Hayek says, «The insight that not all order that results from the interplay of human actions is the result of design is indeed the beginning of social theory» [Hayek, F. A., 1978, New Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London), p. 73, italics in the original].

[5] Isaacson W., 2008, Einstein: his life and universe (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York), p. 504.

[6] Ibid., p. 497.

[7] Ibid., p. 433.

[8] Ibid., p. 550.

[9] Ibid., p. 528.

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