Memo to the Supreme Court On Of Mice and Men and the Death Penalty, With Helpful Hints from Literary Criticism

Image of members of the Supreme Court

The August 22 New York Times story by Adam Liptak—“Supreme Court to Consider Legal Standard Drawn From ‘Of Mice and Men’”—suggests that a book by John Steinbeck, like the Bible itself, is open to misinterpretation whenever there is a point to prove. In response to the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision barring execution of the “intellectually disabled,” reports Liptak, “Texas took a creative approach, adopting what one judge there later called ‘the Lennie standard,’” so named for Lennie Small, the mentally handicapped farmhand who kills and gets killed in Of Mice and Men. “This fall, in Moore v. Texas, No. 15-797,” Liptak continues, “the United States Supreme Court will consider whether the Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas’ highest court for criminal matters, went astray last year in upholding the death sentence of Bobby J. Moore based in part on outdated medical criteria and in part on the Lennie standard.”

The story by Adam Liptak suggests that a book by John Steinbeck, like the Bible itself, is open to misinterpretation whenever there is a point to prove.

John Steinbeck explained that his fictional character was based on fact in a 1937 New York Times interview quoted by Liptak. “Lennie was a real person,” Steinbeck told the Times. “He is in an
insane asylum in California right now.” Responding to the misuse of his father’s novel when the Texas case made news in 2012, Thomas Steinbeck—a novelist very much in his father’s image—objected in the strongest terms. “The character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability,” he said at the time. “I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous and profoundly tragic [and] I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here, he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way.”

Lessons from Literary Criticism for the Supreme Court

Of Mice and Men is popular with middle and high school students, yet legal authorities continue to misread the author’s intention, as noted in Liptak’s story. The Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Lennie standard seems certain to set a precedent for legal debate about the death penalty, so understanding what Steinbeck intended matters. Judges like source citations, and reviewing literary criticism written around Steinbeck’s intention in Of Mice and Men may clarify their thinking. The brief summary of literary criticism that follows is intended to spare Steinbeck from further misreading as arguments over eugenics, euthanasia, and the Lennie standard unfold in the courts.

Of Mice and Men is popular with middle and high school students, yet legal authorities continue to misread the author’s meaning.

Fundamental to the death penalty debate is understanding what Steinbeck meant by having George execute Lennie at the end of the novel. Charlotte Hadella and critics have questioned the inevitability of this ending, the so-called mercy killing carried out by George at Slim’s urging as something that must done to spare Lennie from being lynched. George looks up to Slim, a figure of respect whose word counts among the menon the ranch. But Slim’s motives are murky, and he is associated with earlier killings in the novel—the shooting of Candy’s dog and the elimination of Lulu’s unwanted puppies.

Fundamental to the death penalty debate is understanding what Steinbeck meant by having George execute Lennie at the end of the novel.

Likewise, Louis Owens’s reading of the novel revolves around “the various deaths that punctuate the story,” beginning with Slim’s drowning of four puppies from Lulu’s litter. Carlson takes the opportunity to agitate for saving one puppy for Candy so that they can shoot Candy’s old dog, whose offense is that he “stinks.” In an attempt “to give his argument the kind of humanitarian bent euthanasia proponents prefer,” Carlson tells Candy it’s cruel to keep the dog alive—even though there is nothing to indicate that the animal is suffering or unhappy—and a killing of convenience suddenly seems inevitable. Candy appeals to Slim, who takes what Hadella calls “an enormous ethical leap” by saying he wishes someone would shoot him if he got “old and crippled” like the dog. Or like Candy himself, who Owens suggests may have cause to wonder whether Slim will decide to shoot him too someday. Like Lennie and Crooks, Candy is just the kind of character Curley’s wife calls weak—“unproductive,” “valueless,” inconvenient like his dog.

The Gun: Connecting Eugenics, Execution, and Fascism

Steinbeck makes the parallels between the dog’s shooting by Carlson and George’s shooting of Lennie unmistakable, for both are shot “in exactly the same way with the same gun.” As Owens notes, “Dog and man are both annoyances and impediments to the smooth working of the ranch. One stinks and one kills too many things.” When the body of Curley’s wife is discovered, George’s first impulse is humane, to capture Lennie and lock him up so he won’t be a danger to society. But Slim objects. Using the rationale that justified killing Candy’s dog, Slim argues that Lennie would be better off dead than incarcerated—in Slim’s words “locked up, strapped down, and caged.” Slim, Owens observes, “is playing God.” Significantly, the gun used for these killings is described as a Luger, according to Owens a deftly emphasized detail intended by Steinbeck to associate them with eugenics and fascism in Germany.

The gun used for these killings is described as a Luger, according to Owens a deftly emphasized detail intended by Steinbeck to associate them with eugenics and fascism in Germany.

In support of this point, Owens demonsrates Steinbeck’s familiarity with studies of eugenics whose conclusions were used to justify the forced sterilization of those deemed defective by the Heredity Court in Hitler’s Germany. Their Blood Is Strong, the title of the predecessor to The Grapes of Wrath, shows Steinbeck’s familiarity with when he wrote Of Mice and Men. As Owens points out, the ominous repetition of the word Luger in the novel clearly connects “the supposed ‘mercy’ killings of the novel with the rise of Fascism in Germany.”

Their Blood Is Strong, the title of the predecessor to The Grapes of Wrath, shows Steinbeck’s familiarity with eugenics when he wrote Of Mice and Men.

In the light of literary criticism, then, Of Mice and Men can be understood as a cautionary tale written in response to current events. Accepting Lennie’s and the dogs’ deaths as inevitable, as mercy killings that simply must be done, is contrary to Steinbeck’s meaning, the act of misappropriation pointed out by Thomas Steinbeck in his comments about his father and capital punishment. Furthermore, Slim’s inviting George to have a drink after shooting Lennie is an invitation to accept a worldview in which life is nullified—the Nazi world of eugenics, euthanasia, and extermination. This worldview is reflected in current political rhetoric about racial purity, national identity, and the justification of police violence and mass deportation.

This worldview is reflected in current political rhetoric about racial purity, national identity, and the justification of police violence and mass deportation.

Both presidential campaigns remind us that the sanctity of the Supreme Court depends on the outcome of the election. Both would benefit from understanding the moral questions raised by John Steinbeck in Of Mice and Men. Where is our compassion? Who will care for the Lennies of our world today? As for the Supreme Court as presently constituted, I have this advice: read Steinbeck’s novel—closely, slowly, carefully, paying attention to details—and read with your heart, as Steinbeck intended for all his books. Though it may seem so sometimes, America isn’t Nazi Germany. Don’t use Steinbeck’s story as an excuse to execute those who are mentally ill or intellectually handicapped because they don’t pass the Lennie test.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Hadella, Charlotte Cook. Of Mice and Men: A Kinship of Powerlessness. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.

Heavilin, Barbara A. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men: A Reference Guide. Westport, Connecticut, 2005.

Owens, Louis. “Deadly Kids, Stinking Dogs, and Heroes: The Best Laid Plans in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.” Steinbeck Studies. (Fall 2002), 1-8.

John Steinbeck, Islamic Religion, and the Globalism Of The Grapes of Wrath

Cover image of Turkish edition of The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck grew up in the Episcopal Church during an era when religion, like politics, tended to be insular. But parochial thinking never suited Steinbeck, a freethinker who practiced tolerance, traveled widely, and employed images and ideas from other faiths in his writing. Not surprisingly, Chaker Mohamed Ben Ali finds echoes of Islamic religion in The Grapes of Wrath, the novel that continues to attract attention to Steinbeck’s broad-minded values and ecumenical vision. A teacher in Algeria, Chaker Mohamed Ben Ali delivered his paper on Islam in the The Grapes of Wrath (written in collaboration with Salah Eddine Merouani) during the conference on Steinbeck’s internationalism held at San Jose State University in May. Posting his video presentation now seems especially appropriate in the context of current world events. It is a timely reminder that John Steinbeck’s global perspective is more relevant than ever, and it includes a helpful discussion about how to broadcast conference papers, like this one, to an online international audience.—Ed.

East of Eden Comes Alive at Brigham Young University

Image of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah

Image of Brigham Young University professor Steve LiddleThe information systems professor who heads the entrepreneurship program at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business probably isn’t the first person who comes to mind when thinking about how to explain Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden to an academic audience. But that’s exactly what Steve Liddle—a California native who first read The Grapes of Wrath as a boy—brought off brilliantly in a stirring speech about free will and personal responsibility to Brigham Young University faculty and students on May 3. Non-members of the Mormon Church, with which the Provo, Utah university is affiliated, might consider Latter-Day Saints (the accurate term for Mormons) too conservative for Steinbeck, but Steve Liddle explains timshel better than anyone we’ve heard anywhere. Listen to the address at Brigham Young University’s podcast site to learn how. (To get to the East of Eden part quickly, advance the podcast dial to 20 minutes. But Liddle’s full speech is inspiring, even for non-Mormons.)

Why Steinbeck Matters: Bernie Sanders’s Bill of Rights Speech at Georgetown University Recalls Franklin Roosevelt

Image of Bernie Sanders as a student and Franklin Roosevelt as President

Google “Bernie Sanders-Georgetown University” for proof that John Steinbeck still matters. Sanders, the progressive Senator from the State of Vermont who is running for President of the United States, echoed Steinbeck’s greatest novel and channeled Franklin Roosevelt, Steinbeck’s favorite President, during a passionate speech to students at Georgetown University on November 19. Advertised as “Sanders on socialism,” the hour-long address called for the enactment of an “economic bill of rights” for all Americans, first envisioned in 1944 by Franklin Roosevelt in a speech delivered not long before Roosevelt died. In it Roosevelt said that true freedom requires economic security for everyone: the right to a decent job at a living wage, adequate housing, and guaranteed healthcare. Sanders agrees, adding freedom from corrupt campaign financing to Roosevelt’s litany of change. Steinbeck, a lifelong Democrat, met Franklin Roosevelt on several occasions, and Eleanor Roosevelt became an ally and, later, a friend. But in 1944 Steinbeck felt disappointed with America and depressed about the future. His experience reporting from Italy on World War II shook him badly, his domestic life was a mess, and his best period as a writer of socially conscious fiction lay in the past. His siblings were Republicans and he was trying to go home again.

Bernie Sanders, the progressive Senator from the State of Vermont who is running for President of the United States, echoed Steinbeck’s greatest novel and channeled Franklin Roosevelt, Steinbeck’s favorite President, during a passionate speech to students at Georgetown University on November 19.

Still, Steinbeck’s writing of the 1930s is evidence that, if asked, he would have supported Roosevelt’s economic bill of rights in 1944. Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, dramatizes the same Depression-era America that Roosevelt described in his 1937 inaugural address as “ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished.” Sanders quoted Roosevelt’s 1937 line at Georgetown University, building his case on Roosevelt’s policies and employing statistics to back up his assertion that Americans are underemployed, over-incarcerated, and sicker than they should be, despite unprecedented national wealth. Alone among the current crop of candidates in either party, he views the growing gap between rich and poor as a moral outrage equivalent to the Great Depression, one that requires legislative remedy through political revolution. Sanders began his hour-long speech at Georgetown University in anger but closed in hope. He called for political revolution on the Franklin Roosevelt model, but he also gave shout-outs to Martin Luther King, Jr., Lyndon Johnson, and King Abdullah of Jordan in his position statements on foreign and domestic affairs. Judging by audience response, his listeners got the message, and his biggest applause lines were worthy of John Steinbeck: black lives matter, social injustice is evil, and immigrants make America strong.

Image of Bernie Sanders at Georgetown University

“Corporate media” ranks high on Bernie Sanders’s list of oligarchies to be overthrown by breakup, along with Wall Street banks, drug manufacturers, and the billionaires who buy elections. As a result, the mainstream coverage of his campaign to date has been biased, misleading, and focused on surface rather than substance. Despite its depth and drama, his Georgetown University address—the most detailed articulation of his views so far—was no exception. News stories about the speech the next day were as scarce as copies of The Grapes of Wrath in Kern County, California. When TV talking heads deigned to mention Sanders’s revival of Roosevelt’s economic bill of rights, most mumbled “socialism” before moving on to friendlier content: Hillary Clinton’s emails, Donald Trump’s demand for the deportation of undocumented Mexicans, and Ted Cruz’s call for closing America’s borders to Muslims in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris. Like John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, Bernie Sanders’s campaign has stirred deep animosity within power structures that control the system. They hate being exposed, and as Steinbeck learned they fight back.

Like John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, Bernie Sanders’s campaign has stirred deep animosity within power structures that control the system. They hate being exposed, and as Steinbeck learned they fight back.

They called Steinbeck a communist. Sanders, like Roosevelt, they dismiss as a socialist. A plum-toned aristocrat sometimes described as a traitor to his class, Roosevelt fought “economic royalists” from both parties and welcomed their scorn. Sanders, who comes from Brooklyn and faults Democrats for acting like Republicans, admires Roosevelt’s attitude and quotes him frequently, as he did at Georgetown University. Compared with Roosevelt, however, Sanders is a roughneck speaker who still sounds like a New Yorker. He said “crap” early in his remarks at Georgetown University and admitted that, like Steinbeck at Stanford, he didn’t apply himself as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago in the early 1960s (see photo). In the 1950s Steinbeck supported Adlai Stevenson, a polished and erudite Illinois progressive who lost two elections to Dwight Eisenhower, a man with a vocabulary so limited that Steinbeck said it disqualified him from being President. During the period Bernie Sanders was demonstrating for desegregation rather than doing his homework at the University of Chicago, Steinbeck’s political affections moved on to Lyndon Johnson, an unpolished President who talked tough while reviving Roosevelt “socialism” in landmark legislation—civil rights, Medicaid, Medicare—that Sanders praised in his November 19 address. The dead no longer vote, but if Steinbeck were alive today I think his big heart would be with Bernie Sanders. Watch the video of Sanders’s Georgetown University speech and see if you agree:

Pope Francis, John Steinbeck, and an Act of Grace in London, England

Image of Pope Francis

The historic visit to America by Pope Francis, which included the canonization of the Spanish-California missionary Junipero Serra, made some right-wing Catholics in Washington angry, though it would have pleased John Steinbeck, a politically progressive Episcopalian with Catholic sympathies. The pope’s call for justice, mercy, and kindness to strangers in his address to Congress inspired the editor in chief of Steinbeck Review to write about her experience with grace during a trip she took with her husband to a city John Steinbeck experienced as a welcome guest in times of war and peace: London, England.—Ed.

In “Republicans Could Have a Pope Problem,” a syndicated column about Pope Francis’s recent visit published in the September 25, 2015, Birmingham, Alabama News, the journalist Margaret Carlson writes, “Pope Francis suffused Washington with what Catholics would call grace and what everyone else—for the crowds aren’t just believers—would call pure, almost childlike happiness.” Concluding that “this is what goodness looks like,” she predicts that certain politicians and vested interests may find the Pope’s message to America—one that is so very much like John Steinbeck’s moral stance in The Grapes of Wrath—problematic, even meddling. Notes Carlson of the Pope’s emphasis on immigration reform, economic justice, and ecological awareness during his speech to Congress:

My God, he’s questioning unfettered capitalism and the worship of wealth. . . . “The son of an immigrant family” said we should welcome those who come to the U.S. Such effrontery. With Republicans watching from lawn chairs, he said that those at the top of the economic heap have a duty to fight climate change on behalf of the millions left behind by the global economic system. “Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” he said. Before he leaves, he could very well call for raising taxes.

John Steinbeck would have loved this pope, who chose the occasion of his American visit to canonize Junipero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary to Spanish California. Like Steinbeck, Pope Francis has a compassionate heart for the dispossessed, a dim view of ostentatious consumerism, and an abiding sense of our intimate connection to Mother Earth and the interrelatedness of all things that Casy proclaims in The Grapes of Wrath. Like Francis, John Steinbeck’s novel challenges the status quo, holds out hope for change despite the odds, and calls for love in a world threatened equally by the hatred of enemies and the complacency of friends and allies.

John Steinbeck would have loved this pope, who chose the occasion of his American visit to canonize Junipero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary to Spanish California.

Although not a Catholic, California’s greatest writer was a political progressive who was friendly to Catholicism and saved his criticism of organized religion for the narrow-minded and the hypocritical—characteristics of conservative Catholic politicians such as Senator Marco Rubio, to whom Carlson refers in her article. “As for Rubio,” she suggests, “perhaps the Pope will persuade him to follow Christ’s teachings and not his most conservative followers and donors. Miracles do happen.”

Although not a Catholic, California’s greatest writer was a political progressive who was friendly to Catholicism and saved his criticism of organized religion for the narrow-minded and the hypocritical.

An Anglican who loved to travel, John Steinbeck particularly liked London, England, where I experienced my own minor miracle on the last leg of the European trip my husband Charlie and I took shortly before Pope Francis came to the United States. The date was September 20, the night before our return flight to Atlanta; the place, London’s Mayfair Millennial Hotel. As we finished dessert in the hotel dining room and prepared to pay our bill, my husband reached for his wallet. It wasn’t in his pocket. We knew instantly how someone had taken it earlier in the day—giving me a shove and stealing Charlie’s billfold while we were distracted. Far from home and facing the prospect of having to cancel all of our credit cards, we felt violated, desolate, and a bit desperate.

I experienced my own minor miracle on the last leg of the European trip my husband Charlie and I took shortly before Pope Francis came to the United States.

Thirty minutes before we were scheduled to check out the next morning, our concierge phoned our room with welcome news: “A lady has called to report that she has your billfold. It is being held for you at a hotel not too far away, and you may pick it up any time.” When we arrived at the hotel, we found Charlie’s wallet intact—his credit cards, his driver’s license, even his cash. Details of what happened to the billfold—it had been found by a Good Samaritan on a street far from Regent’s Park, where we had spent the previous afternoon—remained a mystery. As we left for the airport to fly home, everyone at the hotel desk was smiling, agreeing that this warmhearted act of grace was a “London miracle.”

As we left for the airport to fly home, everyone at the hotel desk was smiling, agreeing that this warmhearted act of grace was a ‘London miracle.’

The incident in England made an impact on us that John Steinbeck would have understood and appreciated. Like the presence of Pope Francis in the United States, it restored our belief in the possibility of goodness and honesty, decency and kindness. As Margaret Carlson notes, “Miracles do happen.”

The incident in England made an impact on us that John Steinbeck would have understood and appreciated.

Pope Francis is calling for miracles today, and characters in Steinbeck’s fiction like Ma Joad attest to their possibility. Perhaps we shall see more “miracles” in the future. I hope so, because our own fate and that of the earth we inhabit depend on them. Perhaps “good will,” “the common good,” and sustaining “Mother Earth” will become practical possibilities rather than impossible dreams. Perhaps the impression left by Pope Francis will endure, making life better for the planet we inhabit and for the strangers in our midst, whether on our border or on a side street in London, England.

 

Is Pope Francis a Fan of John Steinbeck? CBS News Reporter Scott Pelley Gives The Popular Pope a Copy of The Grapes of Wrath

Image of CBS News reporter Scott Pelley

Has Pope Francis read John Steinbeck? CBS News reporter Scott Pelley, a big fan of both men, thinks they have much in common in matters of justice, mercy, and conscience. (Barbara A. Heavilin, editor in chief of Steinbeck Review, agrees, relating the pope and the author’s shared hope for suffering humanity to an incident that occurred on a recent trip abroad.) During a 60 Minutes segment that aired on September 20, Scott Pelley previewed the pope’s historic visit to the United States, which included an address on Capitol Hill boycotted by three Catholic members of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing. Earlier, Pelley explained in a 60 Minutes Overtime interview why he handed Pope Francis an Italian edition of The Grapes of Wrath while on assignment in Rome in preparation for the segment. He said he was a descendant of displaced Dust Bowl victims who, like the “Okies” in The Grapes of Wrath, were refugees within their own country during the Great Depression. That connection, he explained, made John Steinbeck and Pope Francis more than news for him. It made them relevant.

Ed Ricketts, Aldo Leopold, And the Birth of the Modern Environmental Movement

Cover image of Leopold's Shack and Ricketts's Lab by Michael J. Lannoo

A bright, breezy book timed for the 75th anniversary of Ricketts and Steinbeck’s famous expedition to the Sea of Cortez traces today’s environmental movement and the modern field of conservation biology to two prophets born ahead of their time, 10 years and 200 miles apart, more than a century ago. As Michael J. Lannoo dramatically demonstrates in Leopold’s Shack and Ricketts’s Lab: The Emergence of Environmentalism, Aldo Leopold and Ed Ricketts approached wildlife biology, marine biology, and the earth’s ecology in a whole new way, the result of intimate observation, original thinking, and lively conversation at Ricketts’s lab on Cannery Row and Leopold’s shack on reclaimed farmland in Wisconsin—apt metaphors for the sociable minds of two unconventional scientists whose parallel paths never crossed.

Image of Ed Ricketts, subject of Michael J. Lannoo's book

The story of Ricketts, marine biology, and the 1940 collecting expedition to the Sea of Cortez is familiar territory for Steinbeck fans and “Ed Heads,” the ardent admirers who consider Doc’s lab a shrine, like Lourdes. A less familiar narrative, equally fateful, was unfolding in the woods of Wisconsin during the same period, the 1930s and 40s, in the shack and mind of Aldo Leopold, the father of professional wildlife biology and author of Sand County Almanac (1949). Like Sea of Cortez, Leopold’s classic took time to gain steam; like Ricketts, Leopold died too soon to see his ideas change the course of science, land management, and the way we think.

Image of Aldo Leopold, subject of Michael J. Lannoos' book

Leopold died of a heart attack on the Wisconsin land he loved in 1948, months before the book that made him an environmental-movement hero was published. Two weeks later Ricketts was also dead, the result of injuries sustained when his car struck a train near his Cannery Row lab. Leopold, 10 years Ricketts’s senior, never met the transplanted Chicago native who made Cannery Row famous, in fiction and in fact. But Ricketts’s mystical thinking about marine biology eventually converged with Leopold’s ethic of wildlife biology to create the field of conservation biology and the holistic vision of today’s environmental movement, a benign way of living with nature minus the impulse to over-farm, over-fish, over-build, and over-populate. Like Steinbeck, Leopold was angered by urban sprawl and consumer waste. Like Steinbeck and Ricketts, he thought science was a saner faith than religion.

Ricketts’s mystical thinking about marine biology eventually converged with Leopold’s ethic of wildlife biology to create the field of conservation biology and the holistic vision of today’s environmental movement.

Leopold and Ricketts, opposites types in personality and behavior, come to life like the parallel protagonists of a Steinbeck novel in Lannoo’s elegant little book. Like all prophets, both men had their problems with power. Though Leopold’s 1933 work on game management became the standard textbook of its time, Sand County Almanac was passed over by publishers who doubted the commercial value of any collection of essays about nature not named Walden. Ricketts’s Between Pacific Tides (1939) eventually become a standard text for teaching marine biology, but not before it was rejected, accepted with edits, then endlessly delayed by Stanford University, its publisher. As for Sea of Cortez, does anyone think Viking Press would have touched that book without John Steinbeck’s name on the byline over “E.F. Ricketts”? True, Steinbeck mourned Ricketts’s death, but he later agreed to republish Sea of Cortez, with an essay “About Ed Ricketts” but without Ricketts’s name as co-author.

Leopold and Ricketts, opposites types in personality and behavior, come to life like the parallel protagonists of a Steinbeck novel in Lannoo’s elegant little book.

Fortunately, Michael Lannoo—a practicing scientist and popular writer about conservation biology—ignores this shameful incident, and other fetishes of what one wag calls the modern Steinbeck-studies industrial complex. Instead, he concentrates on the lives and science of his told-in-tandem subjects without the literary baggage that weighs down books about the anxiety of influence and the pleasures of symmetry by professors of English. He wisely lets Leopold and Ricketts stand on their own, unfolding their parallel stories in alternating chapters with Steinbeckian skill. Robert DeMott, the scholar and fly-fisherman who turned me on to this little gem, accurately describes Lannoo’s book as “blessedly free of cant, jargon, or technical obfuscation.” Read it and rejoice, but hear its message. Like Ricketts (who quit college) and Leopold (who went to forestry school), you don’t need a PhD to enjoy the exciting story or get the scary point. The disappearance of frogs and other species, Lannoo’s primary interest, is our generation’s Dust Bowl—“the defining event,” as Lannoo reminds us, “that made ecology suddenly relevant.”

Why John Steinbeck Would Support Bernie Sanders Now

Composite image of Bernie Sanders, John Steinbeck, Franklin Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson

If John Steinbeck were alive today he would support Bernie Sanders for president.

Why? Because Bernie Sanders is the kind of outspoken progressive the author of The Grapes of Wrath enthusiastically embraced during his controversial career as a prize-winning writer of popular fiction. A passionate believer in fair play, Steinbeck endorsed presidential candidates committed to populist causes, actively campaigning for Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected four times, and Adlai Stevenson, who ran twice but lost both races. More than either man, Bernie Sanders talks straight in plain language about equality and integrity, Steinbeck’s core values—a New England character trait that Steinbeck both admired and inherited. The Sanders movement is about issues, not personality; Steinbeck wanted to be remembered for his books, not his life. But his life was public and political, and a little biography is needed to show why he’d be for Bernie Sanders today.

Why John Steinbeck and Bernie Sanders Would Get Along

Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, in 1902, and grew up in the small town during the era of Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican President who busted the big business trusts and moved to curtail private exploitation of public lands by creating parks such as Yosemite. John’s mother was an ex-schoolteacher and tireless civic volunteer. His father was a failed small-businessman who became the elected Treasurer of Monterey County. His mother’s parents emigrated from Ireland, while his father’s people were New Englanders—half-English and half-German. Both parents were Party-of-Lincoln Republicans who believed in social improvement, access to education, and reforming government to make it work better. Steinbeck was proud of these roots, later writing that everybody in Salinas was a Republican back then, and that if he had stayed in Salinas he would have become one, too.

Steinbeck was proud of his roots, later writing that everybody in Salinas was a Republican back then, and that if he had stayed in Salinas he would have become one, too.

Like Bernie Sanders, John Steinbeck grew to distrust the corrupting influence of corporations and how working people were manipulated to vote against their economic self-interest—urban vs. rural, native- vs. foreign-born, small farmers and white laborers vs. Mexicans, Chinese, Filipinos, and refugees from the Dust Bowl. He hated the social snobbery he encountered as a student at Stanford University in the 1920s, working as a field hand and night watchman in summers and off-semesters to help pay his way but quitting before getting a degree. In 1925 he left for New York to find his own way. There, like Bernie Sanders, he failed at more than one job before returning to California to make ends meet as a caretaker-handyman on a rich man’s estate. The Great Depression that resulted from Wall Street’s collapse in 1929 gave Steinbeck the subject he needed to become a politically engaged writer: the brutal suppression of non-union workers by California’s big business interests. The state’s powerful industrial-agriculture complex became the target of his 1939 masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath.

The Great Depression that resulted from Wall Street’s collapse in 1929 gave Steinbeck the subject he needed to become a politically engaged writer: the brutal suppression of non-union workers by California’s big business interests.

Also like Bernie Sanders today—and most Americans at the time—Steinbeck believed in gun-rights, but was too tenderhearted to hunt. Instead, he kept a gun for self-protection. Hired thugs threatened to break his legs or worse for what he was writing about workers’ rights, even before The Grapes of Wrath, and the sheriff warned him of a plot to set him up for a rape charge. Threats failed to change his mind, and the celebrity he achieved through his writing changed his behavior but not his character. Like Bernie Sanders, he remained pro-labor all his life and more at ease with working people than with billionaires. He refused to own a Ford because Henry Ford was an anti-union anti-Semite whose cars Steinbeck thought inferior. Steinbeck described another billionaire as so driven by avarice that late-life regret forced him to try buying his way into heaven through philanthropy.

Like Bernie Sanders, he remained pro-labor all his life and more at ease with working people than with billionaires. He refused to own a Ford because Henry Ford was an anti-union anti-Semite whose cars Steinbeck thought inferior.

The greatest influence on Steinbeck’s thinking about politics was probably his first wife, Carol Henning, a progressive activist who suggested the title of The Grapes of Wrath. Together they supported the New Deal programs of President Franklin Roosevelt, whose First Lady became Steinbeck’s friend and ally. Like Bernie Sanders, however, Steinbeck had a wise way of not rejecting those who disagreed with him about party affiliation. He remained loyal to his Republican sisters, though he deeply disliked their fellow Californian Richard Nixon, and he despised William Randolph Hearst, the father of yellow journalism—the Fox News of American politics at the time. Steinbeck died in New York the month after Nixon was elected president in 1968. If Steinbeck and Bernie Sanders had met in the ’60s, unlikely but conceivable, they would have agreed about the movement for desegregation and voting rights and disagreed about the war in Vietnam, an issue that eventually got Steinbeck in trouble with his friends.

John Steinbeck, Franklin Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson

When Steinbeck’s enemies accused him of being Jewish because of his surname and his sympathies, he replied that he would be pleased if it were so. In reality his religious roots were Protestant, and he grew up in the Episcopal Church—the church of Franklin Roosevelt, a New York aristocrat of Dutch descent whom detractors also accused of being a Jew. Just as Steinbeck’s parents had supported the progressive policies of Teddy Roosevelt, FDR’s Republican cousin, Steinbeck advocated Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal as a way out of the pain and suffering caused by Wall Street in the Great Depression. When world war broke out the year The Grapes of Wrath was published, Steinbeck found himself blackballed by military bureaucrats in Washington and abused by his local draft board. Despite his support for FDR and the fight against Fascism, he questioned the government’s internment of Japanese-Americans and criticized pro-war propaganda created by New York ad men and Hollywood studio warriors. After showing courage under fire as an embedded newspaper correspondent on the Italian front, he was refused the award for valor that many thought he deserved. When he returned to the United States he said the worst thing about war was its dishonesty.

Despite his support for FDR and the fight against Fascism, he questioned the government’s internment of Japanese-Americans and criticized pro-war propaganda created by New York ad men and Hollywood studio warriors.

Doubts about the Cold War, plus Eleanor Roosevelt’s endorsement, motivated John Steinbeck to support Adlai Stevenson over Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. Stevenson’s cool intelligence and firm grip on fact-based reality appealed to Steinbeck’s intellect, which he developed by dialogue and research. The same traits made Stevenson a target of Cold Warriors from both parties connected to what Eisenhower later called out as the military-industrial complex in his last State of the Union address. Stevenson was an independent-minded politician with a consistent message, an activist following, and an aversion to the kind of character assassination used against him when he ran for president. Like Franklin Roosevelt and Bernie Sanders, he was John Steinbeck’s idea of an authentic progressive.

Adlai Stevenson was an independent-minded politician with a consistent message, an activist following, and an aversion to the kind of character assassination used against him when he ran for president. Like Franklin Roosevelt and Bernie Sanders, he was John Steinbeck’s idea of an authentic progressive.

Along with Eleanor Roosevelt, Steinbeck encouraged Stevenson to run again in 1960 before shifting his support to John Kennedy. After the election Stevenson and Steinbeck grew close, closer than Steinbeck ever was to Franklin Roosevelt. Like Bernie Sanders, Stevenson had a scientific, secular worldview that attracted Steinbeck but invited opponents to characterize Stevenson as an egghead who was unqualified to be president because he read books and liked culture. Steinbeck, who wrote long books, shared Stevenson’s enthusiasm for music and reading. Cool Bach was playing in the background as Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath. So was the edgy music of Igor Stravinsky, a Russian refugee with a wild, insistent sound more like Bernie Sanders than Bach or Adlai Stevenson.

But Couldn’t John Steinbeck Be for Hillary Clinton?

Answer: If Bernie Sanders weren’t running, yes, but with reservations. Here’s why.

John Steinbeck’s third wife was a Texas friend of Lady Bird Johnson, and the Steinbecks were White House guests when LBJ needed help with the intellectuals he thought Steinbeck, like Stevenson, represented. It’s easy enough to imagine Elaine Steinbeck, the first non-male stage manager in Broadway history, favoring a female candidate for president today. But the influence she exerted turned out badly for her husband in the 1960s. Steinbeck’s sense of loyalty to the Johnsons led him to get the Vietnam War very wrong, despite the lesson he learned in World War II. He kept his mouth shut in public after touring Southeast Asia at Johnson’s urging. In private he confessed that the government had no business interfering in the civil war of a country that hadn’t attacked America.

Today John Steinbeck would be for Bernie Sanders, the no-nonsense New Englander with a consistent record on everything that mattered most to Steinbeck: social justice, individual integrity, and saving the people and the planet Steinbeck celebrated in The Grapes of Wrath.

If he’d lived, Steinbeck would have opposed the Bush-Cheney wars for the same reason—plus the deceit and dishonesty used to justify the invasion of Iraq. At the time, Bernie Sanders joined Barack Obama in opposing the Iraq war from the floor of the U.S. Senate. Like a Cold War Democrat in the days of Lyndon Johnson, however, Senator Clinton went along with the crowd and voted yes. Steinbeck paid dearly, in reputation and in conscience, for following the White House line on Vietnam, despite his distrust of Wall Street and warmongering and his understanding of their connection. Given that experience, he’d distrust Clinton—for her Wall Street friends as much as for her flip-flopping on Iraq. In 2008 Steinbeck would have supported Obama—an egghead from Illinois, like Adlai Stevenson—and rejoiced in the result. Today he’d be for Bernie Sanders, the no-nonsense New Englander with a consistent record on everything that mattered most to Steinbeck: social justice, individual integrity, and saving the people and the planet Steinbeck celebrated in The Grapes of Wrath.

John Steinbeck Explains Marco Rubio on Global Warming in Sea of Cortez

Image of Marco Rubio live on ABC

This week the issue of global warming caused embarrassing problems for Marco Rubio as the Republican Senator from Miami rolled out his unofficial entry into the 2016 presidential race. Sorry, but I couldn’t help noticing. Although I am not a Republican and no longer live in Florida, I once owned a home on the Intracoastal Waterway near Palm Beach. During hurricanes, our little beach disappeared along with half of our yard. A two-foot sea rise will leave storm water at the new owner’s front door. Another two feet will make the house, along with thousands of other coastal homes, uninhabitable. So I’ve been scratching my head over the confused case Marco Rubio tried to articulate for doing nothing to mitigate global warming—an odd position for any elected official from South Florida to take. Oops! There goes Miami Beach!

I’ve been scratching my head over the confused case Marco Rubio tried to articulate for doing nothing to mitigate global warming. Oops! There goes Miami Beach!

As usual, John Steinbeck helped me think. Because his science book Sea of Cortez is also political and philosophical, I turned to the writer’s “Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research” in the Gulf of California to help me understand politicians like Marco Rubio who (1) deride global warming data, (2) deny that fossil-fuel use is a factor, or (3) insist that it’s too late to turn back, so what the hell! During the course of speeches and interviews in New Hampshire and elsewhere, Marco Rubio denied global warming so often and so recklessly that he became the butt of a Wednesday night Stephen Colbert Show “F*ck It!” segment. What part of Rubio’s brain shut down when he opened his campaign for president? Three observations made by John Steinbeck on the biology of belief and behavior in Chapter 14 of Sea of Cortez provided clarity, but little comfort, about Marco Rubio’s recent statements regarding global warming. Hold the applause. They are nothing to laugh about.

1. Forget simplistic causation. Find provable relationships and prepare for complexity.

Sea of Cortez starts with first principles. From microbes to mankind, variation in nature is a universal principle; causative relationships are complex and outcomes aren’t always predictable. But worldwide climate disruption is a particularly violent variation with measurable relationships and very clear consequences. Denying the significance of man-made carbon emissions in accelerating global warming by implying, as Marco Rubio and others do, that . . . well, shit happens . . . is like letting a drunk drive on the theory that other things can go wrong too, so what’s the big deal? Ignition failure, bad brakes, lousy weather, all contribute to accidents on the road. But driving while drunk, like loading the atmosphere with pollutants, foolishly increases the severity and consequences of co-contributing factors.

Driving while drunk, like loading the atmosphere with pollutants, foolishly increases the severity and consequences of co-contributing factors.

“Sometimes,” John Steinbeck would have agreed, “shit just happens.” But try taking that excuse to court and see what happens there—if you survive the wreck you caused. Steinbeck was a Darwinian who tried not to judge, but deadly driving while drunk has been described by those who are less forgiving as a form of natural self-selection for stupid individuals. Unlike solitary drinking, however, global warming denial is a social disease. Following the dimwitted herd of reality-deniers, like lemmings, over the looming climate cliff? That takes systematic self-delusion and self-styled leaders like Marco Rubio. How do they operate? John Steinbeck had a theory.

2. Reality-denial is a form of adolescent wish-fulfillment. It’s most dangerous in a mob motivated by a self-appointed leader.

Sea of Cortez—co-authored with Steinbeck’s friend and collaborator, the marine biologist Ed Ricketts—develops many of the ideas Steinbeck expressed in the fiction he wrote before 1940. His 1936 novel In Dubious Battle, for example, dramatized the murderous behavior of opposing mobs, behavior worse than anything within the capacity of their individual constituents. Steinbeck’s characterization of politically-driven leaders like Mac, the novel’s Communist labor-organizer, is particularly disturbing, even today. Sea of Cortez develops both of these core ideas—the behavior of mob members and the psychology of mob leaders—using biological terms that help explain Marco Rubio and his position on global warming.

Sea of Cortez develops both of these core ideas—the behavior of mob members and the psychology of mob leaders—using biological terms that help explain Marco Rubio and his position on global warming.

Like Steinbeck’s metaphorical ameba in Sea of Cortez, Mac the Communist and Marco Rubio the Republican are political pseudo-pods who detect a mass-wish within their followers and press toward its fulfillment: “We are directly leading this great procession, our leadership ‘causes’ all the rest of the population to move this way, the mass follows the path we blaze.”  But one difference between Mac and Marco Rubio, worth noting, was apparent in this week’s events. Steinbeck’s labor agitator was a tough guy with street smarts who stayed on-message; Marco Rubio manages to look as unfixed and immature as he sounds. In right-wing global warming politics, Rick Perry—no George Bush, and take that as a compliment—seems statesmanlike by comparison. Oops! I meant Department of Education!

3. Extinction is possible. Double extinction.

John Steinbeck read encyclopedically, and in Sea of Cortez he explains what he calls “the criterion of validity in the handling of data” by citing an example from an article on ecology in the 14th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. It concerns the extermination of a certain species of hawk that preyed on the willow grouse, a game bird in Norway. Failing to note the presence of the parasitical disease coccidiosis in the country’s grouse population, the Norwegians systematically eradicated the predator that kept the infection under control by killing off weaker birds affected by the disease. The result was double extinction—hawk and grouse—caused by uninformed human behavior.

The Norwegians systematically eradicated the predator that kept the infection under control by killing off weaker birds affected by the disease. The result was double extinction—hawk and grouse—caused by unintelligent human behavior.

Like Steinbeck, I loved college biology, and the biology department at Wake Forest was very good. My freshman professor, a John Steinbeck-Ed Ricketts type named Ralph Amen, introduced us to an idea that makes Marco Rubio’s anti-global warming demagoguery more than a little scary 50 years later. “Imagine,” Dr. Amen suggested, “that the earth is an organism, Gaia, with a cancer—the human species, overpopulating and over-polluting its host. What is the likely outcome of this infection for Gaia and for mankind?” A question in the spirit of Sea of Cortez, which on reflection I’m certain he had read.

‘Imagine,’ Dr. Amen suggested, ‘that the earth is an organism, Gaia, with a cancer—the human species, overpopulating and over-polluting its host. What is the likely outcome of this infection for Gaia and for mankind?’

John Steinbeck, a one-world ecologist even further ahead of his time than my old teacher, would have answered, “things could go either way.” The cancer might kill the host or the host eradicate the cancer. But global warming presents a third possibility—double extinction. Now imagine that Marco Rubio is a soft, squishy symptom of global warming denial, a terminal disease. Then reread John Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez as I just did. Reality-based thinking is our first step toward a cure, although under a president like Marco Rubio it could also be our last. Oops! There we go—along with the planet! How in the world did we let that happen?

Cannery Row’s Human Parade: Helpful Hints for Better Training Design

Image of "The Marriage of Psyche," painting by Burne-JonesAs an instructional designer in business and industry I had the responsibility for preparing employees to face critical and risky tasks—ones that demanded courage and flawless creativity. It is a fact that most risky tasks are handled alone and not by a team or committee. To meet the challenges, I had to replace the usual classroom experiences with new training methods that considered the whole work environment. My methods were built on the ideas of the psychologist Carl Jung that were applied so well by John Steinbeck in his fiction and non-fiction, including Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, The Log From the Sea of Cortez, The Moon Is Down, and East Of Eden. What follows continues the line of inquiry in my most recent post.
 
Like Carl Jung, John Steinbeck understood the principle well, as shown in a letter to John O’Hara, his friend and fellow writer:

“I think I believe one thing powerfully-that the only creative thing our species has is the individual lonely mind. Two people can create a child but I know of no other thing created by a group. The group ungoverned by individual thinking is a horrible destructive principle. . . . “
 
As a result of my study, it became very clear to me that while individuals were facing creatively demanding tasks alone, the physical and social environment in which the creative effort must be undertaken influences job-holder perception, judgment, problem-solving, and decision-making—and inevitably, success or failure.

Carl Jung, Cannery Row, and the Human-Persona Divide

In my assignments as a training program developer, I became curious about the influences of the work environment on the individual. My goal was to create a richer and more realistic learning experience. I had years of independent study of Carl Jung and was aware of his influence on John Steinbeck’s fiction and non-fiction. Both inspired my efforts and spurred my curiosity.

As a result of reading Jung and Steinbeck, I began to understand why particular types of individuals seem to gravitate to certain jobs. For example, the personality difference between the engineer- and customer service and marketing-types is typically dramatic. What did John Steinbeck have to say about this particular human-persona divide? It seemed obvious to me that the Cannery Row character Doc would not have made a successful sporting house manager like Dora, and that Mack would have been a poor replacement for Doc in the role of Caretaker for the Row. Strong characters all, but hardly interchangeable.

Delving deeply into The Log From the Sea Of Cortez—John Steinbeck’s collaboration with Ed Ricketts, the model for his Cannery Row character Doc—I was struck by the idea that a person’s social and physical environment is no more random than that of the tide pool creatures described by the authors:

“We wanted to see everything our eyes would accommodate, to think what we could, and, out of our seeing and thinking, to build some kind of structure in modeled imitation of the observed reality. We knew that what we would see and record and construct would be warped, as all knowledge patterns are warped, first, by the collective pressure and stream of our time and race, second by the thrust of our individual personalities. But knowing this, we might not fall into too many holes-we might maintain some balance between our warp and the separate thing, the external reality.”

A Cannery Row-Sweet Thursday Human-Type Continuum

A training program, physical environment has purpose, patterns, lessons, and consequences like those imposed by the surrounding tide pool environment on a biological specimen. The life in a peaceful, safe, and unchallenging tide pool may actually impede species evolution and survival. The microbes that infect us evolve and strengthen in response to antibiotics designed to kill them. Grapes from a difficult growing season often produce superior wine. Trainees who survive a practical-and stressful- learning environment may likewise perform better than others on the job.

Consider the social environment and social impact upon the denizens of Cannery Row in Sweet Thursday, John Steinbeck’s sequel to the earlier novel:

“To a casual observer Cannery Row might have seemed a series of self-contained and selfish units, each functioning alone with no reference to the others. There was little visible connection between La Ida’s, the Bear Flag, the grocery (still known as Lee Chong’s Heavenly Flower Grocery), the Palace Flop house, and Western Biological Laboratories. The fact is that each was bound by gossamer threads of steel to all the others—hurt one, and you aroused vengeance in all. Let sadness come to one, and all wept.”

Or, by contrast, the following passage from Cannery Row:

“The previous watchman was named William and he was a dark and lonesome-looking man. In the daytime when his duties were few he would grow tired of female company. Through the windows he could see Mack and the boys sitting on the pipes in the vacant lot, dangling their feet in the mallow weeds and taking the sun while they discoursed slowly and philosophically of matters of interest but of no importance. Now and then as he watched them he saw them take out a pint of Old Tennis Shoes and wiping the neck of the bottle on a sleeve, raise the pint one after another. And William began to wish he could join that good group. He walked out one day and sat on the pipe. Conversation stopped and an uneasy and hostile silence fell on the group. After a while William went disconsolately back to the Bear Flag and through the window he saw the conversation spring up again and it saddened him. He had a dark and ugly face and a mouth twisted with brooding. The next day he went again and this time he took a pint of whiskey. Mack and the boys drank the whiskey, after all they weren’t crazy, but all the talking they did was “Good luck,” and “Lookin’ at you.” After a while William went back to the Bear Flag and he watched them through the window and he heard Mack raise his voice saying, “But God damn it, I hate a pimp!” Now this was obviously untrue although William didn’t know that. Mack and the boys just didn’t like William.”

Individual Levels in John Steinbeck’s The Moon Is Down

Just as examining a biological specimen in its surrounding tide pool yields greater information than isolated examination in a laboratory, we can learn more about individuals by studying them within their physical and social environment than in solitude. Conceptual tools such as Carl Jung’s functional and attitudinal types and Jim Kent’s Gathering Place Roles (discussed previously in this series) further expand our horizon. Deeper drilling reveals why particular Jungian functional types and attitudes will gravitate naturally to specific Gathering Place roles.

As noted in the first of these blog posts, human beings range in maturity from simple, unconscious types to highly evolved individuals who are conscious about and in control of their lives. Now I would like add my observations about groups made up of members who have not achieved higher maturity:

1. If there is any social structure at all, the social body will be vertically directed by leaders who have realized how easy it is to influence the citizens to do their will, usually for selfish and evil reasons. “Tell the population anything and repeat it many times and they will believe it” (Adolf Hitler paraphrased).
2. Less-evolved citizens who have not awakened to the possibility of their unique self and self-direction and will easily surrender their freedom to father or mother figures, real or imagined, and remain unaware of the resulting personal cost.
3. Such followers do not actively direct their lives beyond providing for the basics of assuring food, shelter, and procreation.
4. They project upon external gods, including father and mother figures, and are closed to suggestions from outside the social group: all thinking has been entrusted to the mother or father figure.
5. Total leader-control is possible simply by publishing of a list of “ought-and-must” dictates.
6. The leadership will be threatened by anyone who refuses to surrender his or her freedoms. Given the usual absolute power of the leaders, it is simple to incite mass or MOB confrontation against those who threaten challenge or change, sometimes cruelly and violently.

Where individuals of higher maturity comprise the group the following can be observed:

1. The leadership unselfishly serves its citizens.
2. “Ought-and-must” dictates are almost useless to control the citizenry comprised of higher-evolved individuals.
3. The life of the citizens has more potential for happiness and completeness.
4. Within this positive and loving environment, interpersonal struggles will persist because everyone will not agree on every issue. There is a noticeable difference between interpersonal struggles within a loving social environment and the ones where there is virtual sibling-rivalry for the father or mother figure’s attention. Adolf Hitler actually encouraged such confrontation among his leadership.
5. Highly evolved individuals have learned that there is more in play in themselves than mere ego and have begun to explore and integrate newly discovered psychological territory. This is perhaps the most important step to becoming a complete individual.
6. The collective power for good often exceeds what would be anticipated from apparent resources. Unexpected strength and adaptability will come out of the positive and powerful phalanx of more mature individuals.

In The Moon Is Down, John Steinbeck portrayed a community of evolved (per my recent post, Level 3 and Level 4) men and women, dramatizing the power of such a phalanx in response to occupation by father-figure representatives of a distant and despotic leader. The Nazi spokesman advises the mayor to “think for” his people:

“’It is your duty to protect them from harm. They will be in danger if they are rebellious. We must get the coal, you see. Our leaders do not tell us how; they order us to get it. But you have your people to protect. You must make them do the work and thus keep them safe.’ Mayor Orden asked, ‘But suppose they don’t want to be safe?’ ‘Then you must think for them.’ Orden said, a little proudly, ‘My people don’t like to have others think for them. Maybe they are different from your people. I am confused, but that I am sure of.’”

With the various levels of individual evolution in mind, consider the history of freedom-loving Scotland with the citizens being served by the Stewart monarchy. Go back further, to the Britons and King Arthur—John Steinbeck’s ideal of dedication to duty and chivalry. Fast forward to the Ottoman Empire, where the rights of all religions were guaranteed by proclamation. Consider the social environment surrounding the Library at Alexandria—destroyed by Christians—where citizens of all cultures, ideals, and creeds mingled and freely shared their knowledge and wisdom.

Needs Analysis and Jung and Steinbeck’s Human Factor

In my instructional design career I was responsible for providing training in tasks as simple as completing personnel time records and as complex as monitoring and controlling complicated electric generating-station systems. As noted, my programs were also used to prepare teams of consultants to influence and support communities that were facing challenges. In many cases, my job required the analysis of complex systems and processes, human-to-system interface, and interpersonal and social issues, using Needs Analysis to define the gap between existing competency levels and those needed to do the job with greater expertise.

Needs Analysis provide the necessary information to design training models, proposals, and justification, cost-benefit, and standards. Technical and complex-process analysts normally have abundant technical and process data available for their task. But complex critical-skill competencies also include personal and interpersonal components such as individual jobholder style, strengths, weaknesses, creativity, perception, judgment, and decision-making, problem-solving, risk-management skills.

But the analyst’s intellect is as critical to the success of the process as the technical tools developed in preparation for the act of training. Yet the humanities side of the training is all too often ignored in the process. The briefest examination of technical-owner manuals shows how poorly qualified most computer programmers and engineers are to write useful guides for the non-technical user. Worse still, to an experienced instructional designer, the engineer’s boast that he has emulated the cognitive processes of the human mind in designing artificial intelligence and expert systems for human use is laughable at best.

When I awoke to the need for a more holistic critical skills-training perspective, little was available to guide me in the human elements of the equation beyond publications by psychological behaviorists such as Thomas F. Gilbert and Robert Mager. But their view was limited to statistically defined and empirically observable behavior and ignored the influence of individual will and social environment. In my opinion they were uninterested in the factors that form our uniqueness and individual creativity. To develop a more complete program I knew that a broader perspective was required, providing a bigger window from which to analyze work processes and standards in greater depth and detail.

The program developers I managed were almost exclusively specialists and technical experts inexperienced in or ignorant of the humanities. To do a more thorough job, their subject-matter expertise needed bolstering with knowledge of human factors, attributes, and cognitive functions. Failure to consider these essential elements within the context of a given task accounts for many problems, notably in military training, pilot training simulation, nuclear power plant operation, ship navigation, and other life-and-death tasks. The 1979 near- disaster at Nuclear Generating Station Number Two on Three Mile Island is a dramatic example of this danger.

Was John Steinbeck Right About Religion and Freedom?

But was John Steinbeck always right about the individual? In the forward to a later edition of A Russian Journal he was quoted: “The great change in the last 2,000 years was the Christian idea that the individual soul was very precious.”  I disagree, and I think Steinbeck knew better. Historically Christianity has cruelly suppressed individual behaviors and beliefs that appeared to challenge official doctrine and church control. In this regard, it is a religion with much company in the parade of human history.

The suppression of individual freedom remains an impediment to the general improvement of the human condition. As Steinbeck showed in The Moon Is Down, the simple act of raising individual consciousness from Level 1 to Level 2 improves the quality of the collective. In East of Eden, written 10 years later, the original sin isn’t eating the apple of the tree, suggesting that Eden was incomplete without self-knowledge—the real fruit of the forbidden tree. Eve is denigrated by the religious for taking that first bite of freedom. To the contrary, I am convinced that Adam benefitted from the reported act of her original disobedience. I suspect that John Steinbeck agreed.

“It is, I think, exceedingly easy to define what ought to be understood by national honor; for that which is the best character for an individual is the best character for a nation; and wherever the latter exceeds or falls beneath the former, there is a departure from the line of true greatness.”  (Thomas Paine)

This is the third in Wesley Stillwagon’s series on the application of John Steinbeck and Carl Jung’s insights in innovative corporate training program design. To be continued.