Followup: One Big Soul

on March 15, 2011

Having written last week about the Family Farm Defenders’ call for a convoy of tractors to join the Wisconsin protests, I was particularly interested in the speech delivered on Saturday by that group’s representative, Tony Schultz.

The first thing I noticed was that Schultz was wearing a trucker’s cap almost identical to one in the image of a stereotypical hipster that I’d linked to in that same entry — but was doing so without any trace of hipster irony.

I’d suggested there that “guerrilla gardeners give the impression of acting more symbolically than out of a sense of necessity. Hipsters similarly long to put their holistic ideals into practice but wind up embracing such eccentricities as fixed-gear bicycles. But radical farmers, driven by the urgent politics of food, show no such self-consciousness.”

Damn, I love it when the universe makes my points for me.

What struck me even more strongly, though, was that Schultz began his remarks by asking jocularly, “Has anybody seen Tom Joad?”

This was, of course, a reference to the populist hero of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1938, film 1940). At the end of that story, Joad is forced to become a fugitive, but just before he flees, he tells his mother reassuringly, “Maybe it’s like Casy says. A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody.”

He goes on to say, “Then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark — I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look — wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build — I’ll be there, too.”

But I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that Tony Schultz would mention Tom Joad, because that quote has particular resonance with what is happening right now.

The phrase “one big soul” derives from the IWW’s call for “one big union” — which goes back to 1911 — but the substitution of the word “soul” for “union” also evokes the concept of the hivemind which is at the heart of the holism vision.

Because of this dual meaning, the phrase provides an epitomal reflection of that crucial moment in the late 30’s when the holism vision was first crystalizing under the inspiration of the earliest hints of the multiculturalism vision.

The alliance between those two visions was disrupted in the late 40’s and the 1950’s, when the science-and-democracy partnership was at its peak of dominance. It reemerged in the Whole Earth Catalog days of the late 60’s and early 70’s, only to be weakened again as holism was pulled into the embrace of mainstream environmentalism. But now it is coming back round, stronger and more influential than ever.

So if Tom Joad is the original face of holism-touched-by-multiculturalism, then it would be only natural for Tony Schultz to expect to see him mysteriously appearing out of the darkness to attend a farmers’ protest — as natural as it is for Anonymous to evoke the memory of Mario Savio. That’s the way these things happen.


A listing of all my posts on the emerging counterculture can be found here.

A general overview of the areas of interest covered at this blog can be found here.

A chronological listing of all entries at this blog, with brief descriptions, can be found here.

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