Beware, in this digital age, of the wrath of the people
1. strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire.
2. vengeance or punishment as the consequence of anger.
Snatching some early summer sun in Greece, I have been reading John Steinbeck’s seminal American novel, The Grapes of Wrath.
For those who do not know, it is the story of an agricultural 1930s American family – the Joads – who are driven from Oklahoma to California in search of work. As the Joads strive to survive, the book tracks their lives, and their world, disintegrating into chaos and despair.
Published in 1939, the people and the scenes in The Grapes of Wrath are, in every way, a world apart from modern Britain.
Or are they?
It is impossible to read The Grapes of Wrath without thinking of where we are in the market economy we have created – and in which, we hoped, especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, the world might be safer, better place.
1. Get this:
‘Once California belonged to Mexico and its land to Mexicans; and a horde of tattered feverish Americans poured in. And such was their hunger for land that they took the land…. The put up houses and barns, they turned the earth and they planted the crops. And these things were possession, and possession was ownership….
No matter how clever, how loving a man might be with earth and growing things, he could not survive if he were not also a good shopkeeper…
And all the time the farms grew larger and the owners fewer…. it came about that owners no longer worked on their farms. They farmed on paper; and they forgot the land, the smell, the feel of it, and remembered only that they owned it, remembered only what they gained and lost by it…..’ (Chapter 19).
Ring a bell?
Here you go: Tesco milk price cut sparks farmer anger
See the comments below the article. Wrath. Or what?
2. Get this:
‘And now the great owners and companies invented a new method. A great owner bought a cannery. And as cannery owner he paid himself a low price for the fruit and kept the price of the canned goods up and made his profit. And the little owners who owned no canneries lost their farms, and they were taken by the great owners, the banks, and the companies who also owned the canneries…
The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line. And the anger began to ferment.’ (Chapter 21).
How are your local shopkeepers faring?
Small independents being forced out?
3. Get this:
‘This little orchard will be a part of a great holding next year, for the debt will have choked the owner…. This vineyard will belong to the bank. Only the great owners can survive, for they own the canneries too….
The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest bitterest thing of all…
And the smell of rot fills the country….
In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy…’ (Chapter 25).
Banks? Business? Brands? Backlash?
Here you go: Three famous Instances of Consumer Backlash
4. Get this:
‘And gradually the greatest terror of all came along…
They ain’t gonna be no kind of work for three months…
In the barns, the people sat huddled together; and the terror came over them, and their faces were gray with terror. The children cried with hunger, and there was no food…
Then the sickness came, pneumonia and measles…
Then from the tents, from the crowded barns, groups of sodden men went out, their clothes slopping rags, their shoes muddy pulp. They splashed out through the water, to the towns, to the country stores, to the relief offices, to beg for food, to beg for relief, to try to steal, to lie. And under the begging, and under the cringing, a hopeless anger began to smolder… (Chapter 29).
Been to your local unemployment office recently?
Wandered around any big cities?
What to do?
On the admirable BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Great Lives’- a must for anyone who is interested in human beings and human behaviour – Matthew Parris described The Grapes of Wrath as ‘a novel of passion and compassion‘.
In today’s world, it is encouraging that digital technology provides communication channels whereby people can direct their wrath at commercial and political targets – albeit, admittedly, and frustratingly, hidden amongst giant inboxfuls of drivel and junk.
And, of course, we have a General Election next year.
However, I do believe that, over time, online campaigning and complaining will become more and more sophisticated – and, as a result, more effective.
When this happens, it might just be that the idea of voting on a five-year basis for increasingly untrustworthy and inept career politicians- who have imposed welfare cuts with such a disgraceful lack of compassion – will become an irrelevant business model.
If this happens, I have no doubt that The Grapes of Wrath will have played its part.