The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

A reminder

“If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need – go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.”
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Only when we understand, deep in our bones, that life and the world are profoundly, vastly unfair, do we approach compassion.


The coming catastrophes and the Rawlsian veil of ignorance


The Logic of Surveillance


  1. S Brennan

    That’s been my experience..

  2. Roman Berry

    My favorite book. I hated it growing up when it was a school assignment. During a nearly year’s stay in the VA hospital I came back to it and as with many books I did not appreciate as a very young person, I found that maturity gave a different viewpoint and appreciation. I now re-read it every few years. There’s much there that is part of the very foundation of my liberalism.

    When Occupy sprung up, I was reminded of this passage from Steinbeck’s book:

    One man, one family driven from the land; this rusty car creaking along the highway to the west. I lost my land, a single tractor took my land. I am alone and I am bewildered. And in the night one family camps in a ditch and another family pulls in and the tents come out.

    The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen.

    Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other. Here is the anlage of the thing you fear. This is the zygote. For here “I lost my land” is changed; a cell is split and from its splitting grows the thing you hate – “We lost our land.” The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one. And from this first “we” there grows a still more dangerous thing: “I have a little food” plus “I have none.” If from this problem the sum is “We have a little food,” the thing is on its way, the movement has direction. Only a little multiplication now, and this land, this tractor are ours. The two men squatting in a ditch, the little fire, the side-meat stewing in a single pot, the silent, stone-eyed women; behind, the children listening with their souls to words their minds do not understand. The night draws down. The baby has a cold. Here, take this blanket. It’s wool. It was my mother’s blanket- take it for the baby. This is the thing to bomb. This is the beginning – from “I” to “we.”

    If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin, were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into “I,” and cuts you off forever from the “we.”

    That’s why Occupy had to be put down. It was the beginning of “I” to “we.”

    Ma Joad was right.If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need – go to the poor people. They’ll help.

    Next time you’re traveling and see someone stopped to help someone that has broken down by the road, if the break-down isn’t with the vehicle of a pretty girl, pay attention to who has stopped to help. It won’t be a late model Mercedes, Beemer or Cadillac driven by someone well dressed that’s stopped to lend assistance. It will be someone working class, or poor. Almost always.

  3. At the risk of being anal, the thought that comes to mind is that your phrase, “Only when we understand, deep in our bones ..” underplays the reality.

    That is that only through living out the experience, as in being on the receiving end of life’s unfairness, whether as a result of fate, misfortune or circumstance, do we then truly understand.

    Just my two-pennies worth.

  4. nobody

    A couple years back I visited the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California. I had planned to visit the museum, but it was closed to the public on account of a visiting cluster of congresspersons. (A spot of shopping in the gift store, however, was allowed.)

    Seems so fitting in its way.

  5. Roman Berry, beautiful passage. Perfect. Thanks for posting.

    And I believe that’s why the NDAA was passed — to put down Occupy. Our fearless leaders saw the writing on the wall and suddenly weren’t so fearless.

  6. Another Steinbeck quote I ran across just this morning:

    As for the question about a swing Left. No, I haven’t swung left. I’ve always been left. I don’t look back with nostalgia to any good old time nor ahead to a static perfection. But I do believe and see a constant improvement (in the long view) a constant and consistent struggle toward a better kinder life, and I do see that the struggle and the impulse comes invariably from the common people. As for participation in this struggle – I take part when it is required of me. And one knows when it is required.

    – Posted by Andrew Tobias from Three “Historic Letters”, written two years before the publication of The Grapes of Wrath

  7. Geithner's Robot Arm

    I’m not as sanguine about OWS as the other posters, it always seemed pretty obvious to me that the OWS “leadership” was consistently playing “good cop” to the Dems in much the same way that the Dems play “good cop” to the Repugs. I suppose the violent fury unleashed against such a low-key and utterly ineffective protest was still telling in a way.

  8. Phoenician in a time of Romans

    That’s why Occupy had to be put down. It was the beginning of “I” to “we.”

    Hmm. It’s almost as if people were becoming conscious of belonging to a economic strata with its own interests and concerns at odds with those of others.

    There must be a term for that. I wonder why no-one has ever thought of it before?….

  9. David Kowalski

    Steinbeck’s thoughts also apply to health care. I’ve been in the fancy suburban hospitals and the older ones in the poor cities as a patient and although the room was newer and the food better in the suburbs the care was better and the staff actually gave a *&%* in the ghetto.

    The poor people literally saved my life.

  10. The Tragically Flip

    Related to this, I love the scorn the members of the women’s committee at the government camp express at the idea of “charity” – they spit the word out. If I recall, they discuss charity as an awful humiliation the rich inflict on the needy in order to feel superior in exchange for a few crumbs.

  11. stephen benson

    along with steinbeck i’ve been reveling in the cadences and fury of some of the “red” poets, like carl sandburg. sandburg especially, his poems move and slap at you. he fell far out of favor, first with congress and those powers that be, then with academia.

    go back to sandburg and check that stuff out.

  12. @The Tragically Flip:

    …they discuss charity as an awful humiliation the rich inflict on the needy in order to feel superior in exchange for a few crumbs.

    Not only the “rich.” Insofar as there is systemic support for maintaining the presence of “needy” in our society, such an observation is not so easily dismissed.

  13. @The Tragically Flip: Oscar Wilde (early anarchist) on philanthropy

    “[People] find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence…It is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.

    They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor.

    But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it…Charity degrades and demoralizes…Charity creates a multitude of sins.

    …It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property.”

  14. Celsius 233

    “If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need – go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.”
    ― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
    I know that’s true; an indisputable truth!
    From my memories of the 2nd grade to the present (some 14,000 km from “home” and 60 yrs. later), it’s still the same; I’ve always gravitated to the “real” people and that’s been my anchor in this wonderful journey. But it’s a gritty, dirty, dishonest, cruel, struggle to get through and still see the beauty…

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