“The Western States nervous under the beginning change.
Texas and Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas, New Mexico,
Arizona, California. A single family moved from the land.
Pa borrowed money from the bank, and now the bank wants
the land. The land company--that's the bank when it has land
--wants tractors, not families on the land. Is a tractor bad? Is
the power that turns the long furrows wrong? If this tractor
were ours it would be good--not mine, but ours. If our tractor
turned the long furrows of our land, it would be good.
Not my land, but ours. We could love that tractor then as
we have loved this land when it was ours. But the tractor
does two things--it turns the land and turns us off the land.
There is little difference between this tractor and a tank.
The people are driven, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think
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 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 anlarge 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 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."
The Western States are nervous under the begining
change. Need is the stimulus to concept, concept to action.
A half-million people moving over the country; a million
more restive, ready to move; ten million more feeling the
And tractors turning the multiple furrows in the vacant land.”
I would recommend Gordon's book as an objective overview of the astonishing growth in economic and quality of life terms from 1870-1970. It's not as thoroughly researched as I expected it to be, and the prose is somewhat clunky, but it's a good lesson in the history of technology that we take for granted nonetheless.
Steinbeck's tale of the banks/landowners displacing poor, rural farming families is also extremely pertinent in light of this post. Car dealers extract value from the fleeing, unnecessariat farmers in "Grapes", while insurance companies/debtors prisons extract value from the unnecessariat rural poor chronicled in this post. The promised land of "Grapes" (California) continues to be successful today, with the coasts accreting a large portion of the nation's wealth. It's also just a beautifully written and thoroughly considered (to the point of seeming spontaneous) piece of art.
I am waiting for the next paradigm shifting technology with bated breath.
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