I regret to inform you that the Knights of Akshully have come for Albert Einstein.
For years, it seemed the keyboard warriors would limit themselves to a once-a-year battle with the legacy of Christopher Columbus. “Actually, Columbus was a racist, oppressive, slavery loving colonialist,” they would tell everyone celebrating the Italian explorer’s accomplishment each October. “Clearly this nullifies his other accomplishments, so let’s throw his name in the dustbin of history by celebrating Indigenous People’s Day instead.”
Eventually the knights grew hungry for the reputations of the other historic figures with American cities named after them. “Actually, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.” “Actually, Abraham Lincoln was racist.” “Sure, they were monumental figures in building and preserving our nation,” the Knights of Akshully told us. “But they weren’t as enlightened on issues of race as we are, so let’s burn their monuments to the ground.”
Once again, it seemed there were limits to their reputational bloodlust. Surely these increasingly absurd battles would end when the Knights of Akshully saw the breadth of their domain and wept tears of joy because there were no presidents left to conquer.
But then they came for Einstein. Al. Bert. Einstein.
In a recent article for The New York Times, Yonette Joseph and Tiffany May discuss a recently published translation of diaries Einstein kept while on a tour of Asia in 1922. They write:
Mr. Rosenkranz said in an email on Thursday that the book ‘provides an insight into his prejudices, opinions and attitudes on the members of foreign nations, but also on the national/ethnic groups he belonged to himself: the Jews, the Germans and the Europeans.’
He added that it also ‘confronts us with the limits of his humanism, his intellectual elitism.’
‘I think a lot of comments strike us as pretty unpleasant — what he says about the Chinese in particular,’ he also told The Guardian. ‘They’re kind of in contrast to the public image of the great humanitarian icon. I think it’s quite a shock to read those and contrast them with his more public statements,’ he added.
So what does Einstein say in his diaries? “This theory of relativity thing could come in really handy at eliminating inferior races with an atom bomb?” “Let’s enslave uppity Chinese women who want to study quantum mechanics?”
No. Of the Japanese, he says, “Intellectual needs of this nation seem to be weaker than their artistic ones — natural disposition?” Of the Chinese, he considered some that he saw to be “industrious, filthy, obtuse people” and said “it would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us, the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”
To recap, unlike Columbus, Washington, or Jefferson, who inflicted real pain upon many people through real actions, in 1922, Einstein had some private thoughts that are roughly as offensive as the 15 RealPatriotsAgainstMexico.blogtown.net articles you aunt shared on Facebook last week. Einstein then wrote those unsavory thoughts in a private journal, never spoke them aloud publicly, and never lived a life in accordance with them. The horror.
Fighting Prejudice Is Too Hard, So We Just Post Memes
Why is this news for the Knights of Akshully? The answer is fairly simple. Their goal is not to eliminate injustice. If it were, they’d spend their time fighting against the slavery, oppression, and racism that still run rampant in the world instead of attacking historical figures who were increasingly less guilty of perpetuating slavery, oppression, and racism.
Likewise, it’s hard to believe they’re seeking a genuine debate about how much a man’s moral failings ought to affect his legacy, since the answer is always the same: “Terminate with extreme prejudice the one with extreme (or modest) prejudice.” Rather, it seems the Knights of Akshully’s goal is to devise an ethical system that gives them bragging rights over the far more accomplished figures of history.
Self-righteousness, jealousy, and laziness is a bad combination, but it’s an increasingly popular one. It’s the official cocktail of those who want the favor of God and the world and are envious of those who appear to possess it, but are unwilling to do any real work to merit what others have. So, to gain righteousness without breaking a sweat, the Knights of Akshully have developed an ethical system rigged in their favor.
“If you hold very progressive views on race, that alone makes you righteous and you don’t need to do anything else,” the Knights of Akshully insist. “Likewise, if you don’t hold progressive views on race, you are unrighteous and nothing else you do matters. Ever so conveniently, we hold very progressive views on race, so, actually, we’re more righteous than all the great figures of history who didn’t, despite the fact that we’ve never done anything that warrants mentioning in a history book.”
“So sure,” the knights tell us. “Columbus discovered the new world after navigating a few wooden ships across half the planet by looking at flecks of light in the sky and thereby ushering in an era that would culminate in founding the greatest and freest country in the history of the world. And sure, we’ve never discovered anything other than more efficient ways to give strangers HPV courtesy of smartphone hookup aps. But Columbus was racist and we are not, so actually, we’re better than Columbus.”
“Sure, Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln built a mighty nation based upon the principles of God-given rights, individual freedoms, and universal human dignity, but they didn’t fully understand the spirit of these principles. We did with regard to race (although not so much with regard to the unborn, but how can we maximize our HPV-giving potential without abortion on demand?). So actually, we’re better than all those guys with monuments and statues in our (racist) nation’s capital.”
Your Achievements Mean Nothing If You Hold a Bad Idea?
Later in their essay, Joseph and May tell us that Einstein’s racism-scented diaries “add an unexpected twist to the legacy of man who, in no uncertain terms, evolved.” In other words, “Sure, Albert Einstein was a brilliant scientist whose work helped the United States save the world from tyranny and worldwide slaughter and, sure, Einstein spoke out about race relations in ways that were light years beyond how many of his contemporaries spoke, but unlike us, Einstein wasn’t always super-woke. So we don’t need to feel bad about not even understanding theoretical physics, let alone failing to better the world through it.”
All of this is, of course, an exercise in absurdity. Discovering America is better than discovering that Columbus was a sinner. Building a government atop the words “all men are created equal” is better than copying and pasting those words onto your Facebook profile picture. Issuing the Emancipation Proclamation is better than having a black friend. Developing the theory of relativity is better than tut-tutting the problematic private thoughts of dead scientists.
Whenever the Knights of Akshully attack these accomplishments, they’re not highlighting the horrors of racism. They’re highlighting the foolishness of an ethical system that says “I don’t have to find or build or create or learn or develop or accomplish anything in my life. In order to be better than history’s greatest figures, all I have to do is not be racist.”
In Romans 5, Saint Paul says, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
Paul is saying, “Don’t bother competing with your neighbors (dead or living) for the favor of God. Don’t bother trying to tear down the works of others to show God how righteous you are by comparison. You aren’t. Like all other men, you have failed to make yourself righteous through your works. But out of love, God sent Christ to be righteous in your place. That’s what Christ did at the cross and all who believe in Him now possess His righteousness.”
Tearing Other People Down Doesn’t Make You Good
The Knights of Aksully have come for Einstein. Unless we change their way of thinking, they’ll soon be insisting that PBS should shove Mr. Rogers down the memory hole because rumor has it he used the term “colored” in 1948.
If we want to stop that from happening, we should certainly aim to deprogram the knights of the cultural Marxist impulses that make them interpret every historical accomplishment through the lens of power and oppression. But even more so, we need to show them they won’t find the divine favor they seek by tearing apart the legacies of explorers, presidents, or physicists.
We need to convince the Knights of Akshully that they don’t need to diminish or disqualify the works of their neighbor to gain God’s favor. We need to show them that righteousness is not a zero-sum game. It’s a gift, given freely from the heart of a loving God through the blood of his son, a gift that frees us to evaluate the accomplishments of historical figures honestly because it disposes of the self-righteousness that otherwise clouds our judgment.
“All men are sinners, and no sinner can make himself acceptable to God,” we need to tell the Knights of Akshully. “But some sinners manage to make the world a better place for their neighbors than other sinners do. Columbus, Washington, Jefferson, and Einstein have all done a better job of this than you have. But Jesus died for you, so get over it.”