Tag Archives: Albert Einstein

A child of society

troll-imadeWEB-1The man with the tattered coat opens his briefcase, taking out a few sheets of paper and walks round the room to offer them to some of the customers seated at the tables.  Probably an insurance salesman looking for new customers he can hoodwink into buying his very latest special offer.   30 years ago, Hresso café was far from busy in high season.  The tourists had yet to arrive, while most Icelanders spent their holidays in the far-flung corners of the earth, giving young people a chance to earn a bit of pocket money during their holidays.  At that time, Hresso café was therefore mainly popular with scribblers, who spent hours there filling sheets of paper with their words, leaning on one side next to their white iron coffee pot.   At this time, you could only buy alcohol in State shops, and coffee was still served in large half-litre pots which kept the scribblers from dehydrating over the next four hours.  What’s more, it was not recommended to drink too many pots of this powerful beverage, and those of you who have survived the nightmare of caffeine poisoning, know what I am talking about.

Ragnar struck up a lively conversation with the man.  As it turned out, he was not an insurance salesman, but a poet trying to sell his latest poems.  The man wanted to know if his poems were not good enough, since Ragnar had not bought a single sheet, to which Ragnar replied that he already had these poems, before closing with these words:  ‘He is a child of society’

Haldor Laxness, had already developed philosophical considerations on the term society. In his book ‘Í túninu heima’, he looked into what might really be meant by this word:

‘Society didn’t even exist when I grew up.  Today, we would like to believe that it exists, in order to improve it, despite the fact that its address is unknown and it’s impossible to summon it to a court.  A while ago, I asked an intelligent acquaintance, if they knew what type of association society was: the people, the Government, the parliament, or perhaps the sum of these?  My friend frowned, then finally answered: “Doesn’t this word rather refer to the police?”

Today, subsequent generations know that while society does indeed exist, it cannot be improved.  Because what Albert Einstein said holds true:  “To be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must above all be a sheep oneself”. To which Niklas Luhmann added:

“ … What is really misleading about the mental state of members of society is the convergence of their ideas and concepts. We naively think that if most men share the same ideas or feelings, these must be fair.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Convergence on its own is no guarantee of intelligence or mental health.”

Society can be described by the fact that its members have activities that are successful enough to attract attention.  As for attention, it can be measured by the mental state as recorded by the daily TV ratings.  Over time, we have simply forgotten that communities originally formed in order to find sufficient food, protect themselves from the threat of other species and learn from one another.  With the disappearance of these needs, these healthy tissues have become cancerous tumours which we refer to as a society.  For example, if we were to compare the relationship between the number of people killed in the name of good, and those killed in the name of evil, we would find this difficult, because of those whom we don’t consider as criminals.

Bjarni_Bernharður-150x150The white iron coffee pots of yesteryear have long since disappeared, along with the scribblers.   Café Hresso is now always busy and full of young people and tourists who prefer coca-cola or a yellow liquid that has a certain resemblance to beer.

And the man?  He is still there.   However, now he stands in front of the door, against the wall, next to the ’Austurstræti stand.  The poet and painter Bjarni Bernharður still sells his self-published poems (Egóútgáfan), now available in the form of bound collections, together with a bar code and a ISBN number.

The kiss of the bat

I was living
in a dark cavern
in my childhood

When the bat
kissed me

That warm kiss
sealed my destiny
I took the path
of cold nights

on the boundary
between light and darkness

Bjarni-3Bjarni Bernhardur sells his latest collection ‘Koss Leðurblökunnar’, with his own illustrations for 2,000 crowns, but he also has English versions of his poems, for tourists. There is no greater proof that in his sixty-fifth year of life, Bjarni Bernharður is still a hopeless optimist.

Translation: Jackie Dobble

deEin Kind in der Gesellschaft

frUn enfant dans la société

The information society based on science

troll-imadeWEB-1Tilvera: In a democracy, no-one is powerless. Man’s power can be broken by a man, by a revolt of moral conscience and by civil society.

Ónytjungur: He who prefers to say nothing often resorts to hollow concepts; and since the hallmark of societies is the love of chatter …

Tilvera: I didn’t use a hollow concept.

Ónytjungur: Interesting. And what should I think when I hear the words democracy, moral conscience and civil society?

Tilvera: Democracy  is the sovereignty of the people, civil society is an information society based on science, and moral conscience is considered to be a particular characteristic of human conscience that determines how we should judge.

Ónytjungur: And do you think you improve your statement by adding other hollow concepts? Isn’t moral conscience the feeling of calm or agitation that enters the conscience when a planned, completed or forgotten act is in agreement or contradiction with a moral principle that an individual considers as vital?

Tilvera: I still haven’t used a hollow concept.

Ónytjungur: Interesting. And what should I think when I hear the words  information society based on science and human conscience?

Tilvera: Western society, of course.

Ónytjungur: Have you noticed that you are going round in circles?

Tilvera: Because I use synonyms?

Ónytjungur: Not at all; because you confuse assertion with reality.

Tilvera: So what would you call reality?

Ónytjungur: Well an example of reality would be like Albert Einstein said: science without religion is lame, while religion without science is blind.

Tilvera: And what would your assertion be?

Ónytjungur: That Western civil society is an information society based on science.

Tilvera: Do you want to make me believe that your intelligence is not yet sufficiently developed to establish a relation between a scientist’s statement and the statements of an information society based on science?

Ónytjungur: Quite.  Because it is indeed this information society based on science which today, just like in the past, not only produced, owned and used nuclear bombs against the will of this scientist, but into the bargain, considers it perfectly normal and legal that a handful of charlatans can destroy society and along with it, everyone on earth when they see fit, on a scale and in proportions that would make the atrocities of the barbarians in the Middle Ages seem like the pathetic attempts of novices.   If my memory serves me well, this attribute of humanity is called evolutionary humanism.

Tilvera: This is not an evil, since as I said at the beginning; no one is powerless in a democracy, because man’s power can be broken by man, by the revolt of moral conscience and by civil society.

Ónytjungur: Isn’t it true that when man evokes a possibility that theoretically exists, he has degenerated to the state of an ideologist?

Tilvera: Do you dispute the fact the man’s power can be broken by man?

Ónytjungur: What do you believe by that?  But you have to know how to be an idealist to declare that the revolt of moral conscience has never been a trigger for civil society.

Tilvera: So how would you define an idealist then?

Ónytjungur: To remain neutral, I would say it’s an idiot, who takes what is presented to him through an arrow slit as an important world concept.

Tilvera:You are forgetting the existence of the intellect.

Ónytjungur: Not at all.  The intellect and collective feeling are two separate concepts. What they share is that one must be absent for the other to exist.

Tilvera: Democracies are only made possible by the interaction between collective feeling and intellect.

HalbierterBaum-225x300Ónytjungur: Well, that would explain why after two thousand years, western civilisation has yet to experience true democracy.

Tilvera: So in your view, what has it experienced?

Ónytjungur: If I go back to a scientist, in this case, Aristotle, who introduced the concept of democracy, then democracy refers to the power of those who are guided by arete, i.e., courage, generosity, munificence, justice and wisdom. No doubt you are also aware that courage, generosity, munificence, justice and wisdom are never limited by the boundaries of countries or lands, and you will not make me believe that among the systems that you call democracies, there is just one example based on the different criteria identified by Aristotle and which operates according to these criteria.

Tilvera: No, probably not, but what other systems could there be?

Ónytjungur: Here we find the same principle as for Einstein’s phrase and that of the so called information society and based on the knowledge which has been drawn from it.  Here the result is that these systems really like to present themselves as democracies so that we fail to notice that they are pure dictatorships.  The difference between these systems and those that we consider as dictatorships can only be found in the number of dictators involved.

Perhaps here it is a specific form of an anthropological constant that occurs in information societies based on science, and therefore the result is that an intelligent person likes to replace words that have negative connotations with positive words, just as they like to use positive concepts to hide the constant meanness of reality.  While the first is totally inoffensive, since when hearing the words recycling centre, no one would imagine anything other than a dump; however, the other direction is dangerous, because it inevitably involves forgetting what the word democracy truly means.

Tilvera: All you need therefore is to talk of a democratic dictatorship, to make it impossible to know what a democracy is.

Ónytjungur: In the dictator’s mind, dictatorship is always people power.

Tilvera: You are forgetting collective feeling.

Ónytjungur: Are you talking about that stance created to condition people to support an individual?  Doesn’t that lead to creating a kind of social group that strengthens tribal behaviour, but makes fools of scientists?

Tilvera: There are more serious things.

Ónytjungur: Why does this argument remind me of the boy who said he was working on healing the world, because he had been content to rip off his classmate, while another boy had also beaten him up?

Translation: Jackie Dobble

deDie wissenschaftsbasierte Informationsgesellschaft

frLa société de l´information basée sur la science