The problem with people who lived in the past is that they were not completely perfected in their enlightenment and progressive values, like we are. So obviously they have to be taken down a peg, and the “woke” brigade is on the job.
George Washington may have been the Father of Our Country, but his plaque needs to be removed from the church he helped found, so it can be more “inclusive.” Monticello is apparently using tours of Thomas Jefferson’s house to berate him about Sally Hemings, which is way more important than the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln freed the slaves, but man, was he a bigot.
That last article, by the way, is from all the way back in 2008, in the benighted days when Barack Obama was still opposed to gay marriage. It ends by asking, “So should we tear down [Lincoln’s] memorial on the National Mall? Only if we are ready to impose a present-day absolutism on a realistic and deeply empathetic politician who took matters one careful step at a time to try to keep them moving in the right direction.” All of the available evidence indicates that yes, we are definitely ready to do this.
Do you know who else was totally a racist, by these standards of retroactive wokeness? Albert Einstein. Why? Because he had vaguely insensitive thoughts that he wrote down in his private travel diary and never shared with anyone, the scoundrel.
In 1922, the same year he received the Nobel Prize in Physics, Albert Einstein set out with his wife, Elsa, on a five-and-a-half-month odyssey of discovery of a new world: the Far East and Middle East.
Along the way, he was feted by a Japanese empress and had an audience with the king of Spain. He also kept a travel diary, noting in stark, often racist terms his impressions of the people he encountered on stops in Hong Kong and Singapore, China, Japan, India and Palestine.
The personal writings…expose ‘Einstein’s stereotyping of members of various nations and raise questions about his attitudes on race,’ according to Princeton University Press, which has published the first full English-language edition…. It complicates the portrait of a man often described as the most brilliant physicist of the modern era.
So wait, does this mean Einstein should no longer be considered the “most brilliant physicist of the modern era” because he used “stereotypes” in his personal diaries? This is a parody of political correctness gone wild. But everything nowadays is a parody of PC gone wild.
Here are some of the things Einstein wrote that are presented as examples of his “racism.”
He expresses sympathy for the ‘stricken people, men and women, who beat stones daily and must heave them for 5 cents a day.’ He adds, ‘The Chinese are severely punished for the[ir] fecundity by the insensitive economic machine.’…
A Chinese funeral is described as ‘barbaric for our taste,’ the streets ‘swarming with pedestrians.’…
Visiting the British colony that later became Sri Lanka, Einstein writes that the residents of Colombo ‘live in great filth and considerable stench at ground level,’ adding that they ‘do little, and need little. The simple economic cycle of life.’
You see, that’s racist because…er, um, I’m not really sure how. Basically, Einstein traveled the world in 1922 and found that there were a lot of really poor people. This is apparently shocking to modern writers who are unaware, I guess, that most of the world used to live in horrible squalor.
To be sure, there are one or two items that can be interpreted less sympathetically, the worst of which is when Einstein observes the “spiritless” drudgery of life among the poor in China and concludes, “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us, the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.” But overall, this has the by-now-familiar air of a contemporary writer dredging for dirt on a historical figure. It is particularly ridiculous because later on, as the piece acknowledges, “Einstein…became known as an advocate for human rights. He once said in an interview, ‘Being a Jew myself, perhaps I can understand and empathize with how black people feel as victims of discrimination.'”
Hans Fiene has already pointed out one of the purposes of this kind of retroactive shaming. The contemporary critic does not need to actually do anything to improve the state of humanity. He does not need to discover a new continent, found a free country, or unlock the secrets of the universe. All he needs to be greater than the greatest is to remind you of his superiority to them in his views on race.
Pastor Fiene then uses this as a springboard for a homily, as he is wont to do, but given that this is Einstein we’re talking about, I’m more interested in nailing down a precise, scientific understanding of this phenomenon, a grand unified theory of retroactive historical judgment.
The explanation for the hit piece on Einstein, along with the attempts to knock down all of the other historical figures, is what we might call the Theory of Wokeness Relativity. The degree of racial enlightenment of any historical figure depends, not on absolute facts about his life and character, nor even on his relative enlightenment within the reference frame of his own era, but only on the need for contemporary critics to feel a superior sense of racial enlightenment. To put the Theory of Wokeness Relativity in more succinct form: the wokeness state of a historical figure is determined by the superior wokeness state of the contemporary observer.
This explains everything about how we judge historical figures today. Or we might have to throw in an additional corollary: by definition, no historical figure can ever match the wokeness of the contemporary observer, which approaches infinity. We can express this in a formula. Let us choose the Greek character omega to represent wokeness, because as the last letter of the Greek alphabet, omega represents the ultimate and perfect end state—and because it looks like a little “w.” “H” represents a historical figure, while “O” represents the contemporary observer. So the Theory of Wokeness Relativity can be summed up in a single equation.
ω(H) < ω(O)
I encourage you to keep this handy as a guide to this and any future controversy on the issue of race. I will now patiently await my Nobel Prize for this momentous discovery.
Robert Tracinski is a senior writer for The Federalist. His work can also be found at The Tracinski Letter.