At the beginning of the 1920s the belief began to circulate, for the first time at a popular level, that there were no longer any absolutes: of time and space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value. Mistakenly but perhaps inevitably, relativity became confused with relativism.
No one was more distressed than Einstein by this public misapprehension. He was bewildered by the relentless publicity and error which his work seemed to promote. He wrote to his colleague Max Born on 9 September 1920: ‘Like the man in the fairy-tale who turned everything he touched into gold, so with me everything turns into a fuss in the newspapers.’ Einstein was not a practicing Jew, but he acknowledged a God. He believed passionately in absolute standards of right and wrong.
He lived to see moral relativism, to him a disease, become a social pandemic, just as he lived to see his fatal equation bring into existence nuclear warfare. There were times, he said at the end of his life, when he wished he had been a simple watchmaker.
The public response to relativity was one of the principal formative influences on the course of twentieth-century history. It formed a knife, inadvertently wielded by its author, to help cut society adrift from its traditional moorings in the faith and morals of Judeo-Christian culture.
Where do we stand today? Europe issues edicts requiring the the words Christ and Jew be spelled in lower case. Hong Kong has a yen for Nazi-pr0n. And a student at U.C. San Diego shot some pornography of his own: a taxpayer-supported porn movie as a student film that aired on the college’s student-run television station. (Gee, I don’t remember shooting any of those as a student filmmaker at NYU…) What did the faculty think?
HH: But have you personally been contacted by any member of the administration?
SY: Nothing personally yet.
HH: Have you been contacted by any professor?
SY: I’ve talked with a number of professors about it, and you know, trying to explain the situation as a lot of them are in the dark about this.
HH: And what have they said to you?
SY: They’re really listening to the story and seeing how it progresses. Nothing really solid yet. After February…I never had a chance to talk to any professors specifically, as I was pretty busy doing other stuff.
HH: Has anyone stepped up to you and said Steve, you might not want to do this?
SY: You know, nobody personally has stepped up to me. No students, no administrators. They’re very supportive of this, and that’s the really odd thing.