“When a condition or a problem becomes too great, humans have the protection of not thinking about it. But it goes inward and minces up with a lot of other things already there and what comes out is discontent and uneasiness, guilt and a compulsion to get something–anything–before it is all gone.” ― John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
Sometimes I wonder about strange coincidences. In an email exchange with Marc (Hardscrabble Farmer) in the Fall, he mentioned he had begun reading Steinbeck’s Winter of Our Discontent and planned to write an article about it. Coincidentally, I had just bought a used copy of the same novel at Hooked on Books in Wildwood. I didn’t plan on buying it, but I’ve read most of Steinbeck’s brilliant novels and felt compelled by the title and our national state of discontent to select it from among the thousands of books in the store.
Marc had posted his Steinbeck-esque article in December, but I didn’t read it until I had finished the novel. Marc’s perspective on the value of money and his diametrically opposite path from Ethan Hawley, the discontented anti-hero of Steinbeck’s final novel, was enlightening and thought provoking. I’m sure it impacted my consciousness as I wrote this article.
Steinbeck’s title was taken from Shakespeare to reflect the unhappiness of Ethan Hawley at the outset of the novel. The quote, “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York”, is the first line of Shakespeare’s Richard III, written in 1594. Shakespeare was using the summer/winter weather as a metaphor for the fortunes of the English House of York and its rivalry with the Plantagenets for the English throne. The ‘sun of York’ was a comment on the ‘son of York’ Edward IV, a harbinger of better times ahead. This theme of discontent was true in 1594, in 1961 when Steinbeck published his final novel, and is true today, as discontent blows across the land like a deadly polar vortex. At this point, it is difficult to see better times ahead.
The reason Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize winning novel still resonates today is because humans do not change. The human condition, our frailties, foibles, moral shortcomings, greed, avarice, narcissism, ability to forgive and seek redemption has remained constant through the ages. Steinbeck wrote the novel to address the moral degeneration of American culture during the 1950s and 1960s. The game show scandals, nativism and plagiarism of the 1950’s was representative of the decay.
Twenty-two years before, in 1939, Steinbeck addressed man’s inhumanity to man and the greed of evil men creating the suffering of the common man during the Great Depression in his classic novel Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck’s characters have biblical aspects, as the battle between good and evil is always a subplot. If Steinbeck thought American culture had degenerated in 1961, I wonder what he would think today.
The definition of discontent is dissatisfaction with the prevailing social or political situation. If ever a word defined the current state of our world, it would be discontent. And it so happens, we are also in the depths of a bleak tumultuous winter season. The social and political discontent is reflected in the epic struggle between far-left treasonous Deep State operatives and the deplorables supporting Trump’s battle to retain the presidency.
An open coup has been in progress for two years as the Obama/Clinton surveillance state cronies, fully supported by the left-wing fake news propaganda outlets, attempt to remove a democratically elected president. This is truly a dark moment in our history and could mark a turning point in the demise of our Republic.
“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” ― John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
Steinbeck’s story about the moral decline of Ethan Hawley was a parable about the human condition set in the 1950s, but applicable throughout human history, and as relevant today as it was then. Ethan was a war hero whose integrity and honesty were the noble standards he lived by every day. His father recklessly lost the family fortune and he was left as a lowly grocery store clerk working for a foreigner.
It is a story of how easy it is for a good man to be corrupted through societal expectations, the opinions of prominent people, and the disapproval of family for their status in the community. The love of money is the root of all evil, as presented by Steinbeck. Ethan Hawley’s fall from grace was self-imposed as he allowed his darker nature to control his actions in order to regain his once prominent station in the community. The opinions of others considering him a failure led to his fall from grace.
“Men don’t get knocked out, or I mean they can fight back against big things. What kills them is erosion; they get nudged into failure.” ― John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
He sacrificed his self-respect, life long friendships, and the lives of two men, in order to climb the social ladder and regain the wealth and influence his father had squandered. Ethan’s ego and sense of self worth led him down a path paved with evil intentions. He had his boss deported, provided the means for his best friend to commit suicide, planned to rob a bank, and eventually came to the realization his own disregard for morality had been passed on to his son, who saw no problem with cheating to get what he wanted in life.
Ethan knew right from wrong. He was well read. He had killed Germans fighting for his country. He willfully chose to manipulate, lie and scheme in order to achieve his materialistic ambitions. The difference between Ethan and the materialistic, delusional, dishonest masses inhabiting our country today, is his sense of guilt impelled him to take his own life. But the unwavering love of his daughter convinced him to soldier on and redeem himself.
Our society is now infinitely more materialistic, narcissistic, and greedy than it was in the 1950s. Moral degeneration has reached new lows, unthinkable during the relatively innocent 1950s. But the common theme is human failings, foibles, and fallacies. Whatever a culture values you get more of. Our culture values achievement, wealth and power, at any cost.
Achieving success through hard work, intellectual accomplishment, or a superior product is antiquated and passé. Success is achieved through regulatory capture, bribing politicians, financial engineering schemes, monopolization of markets, and the power of propaganda. As Ethan cynically expounded, strength and success, even if achieved through criminal means, is all that matters in the end. The victors write the history books.
“To most of the world success is never bad. I remember how, when Hitler moved unchecked and triumphant, many honorable men sought and found virtues in him. And Mussolini made the trains run on time, and Vichy collaborated for the good of France, and whatever else Stalin was, he was strong. Strength and success—they are above morality, above criticism. It seems, then, that it is not what you do, but how you do it and what you call it. Is there a check in men, deep in them, that stops or punishes? There doesn’t seem to be. The only punishment is for failure. In effect no crime is committed unless a criminal is caught.” ― John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
A modern-day parable of moral degeneration presented itself to me shortly after finishing the Steinbeck novel. I happened to stumble across a documentary about the Fyre Festival fraud on Netflix. The protagonist of this illustration of discontent and delusion was Billy McFarland. He is representative of the modern-day Ethan Hawley, except with no redeeming qualities or conscience.
He conned investors, entertainers, super models, the media, employees, and gullible millennials. His ultimate purpose was no different than Ethan Hawley’s, to be wealthy and admired by his peers. His outrageously criminal exploits were detailed in the documentary as he lied, falsified, and conducted a ponzi scheme until it all blew up in a shocking display of hubristic folly. The story is a reflection of our shallow, narcissistic, gullible, low IQ society.
What leaps off the screen is how businesses are created out of thin air delivering no value to society. It’s all smoke, mirrors, and superficial virtue signaling designed to lure intellectual lightweights to pretend they are a mover and shaker in their social media driven world. The entire festival was designed to promote some ridiculous music booking app. These frivolous social media-based companies are built upon false narratives, self-absorbed millennials, easy money, and celebrity worship. They have zero value.
After watching how easily young people could be lured into handing over tens of thousands of dollars to this shyster because he paid some super models to do a bikini video and tweet falsehoods about the fake festival, you realize how they can believe socialism can work. Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortez is a perfect role model for these dullards and sycophants. Young people appear incapable of thinking for themselves, critically assessing situations, or going against the crowd. They want to be told what to believe and what to do.
Of course, this sickness is not confined to only young people. Our entire society is permeated with greed, narcissism and lemming-like behavior. Keeping up with the Kardashians has replaced keeping up with the Joneses. Ethan Hawley’s desire for status and respect among his peers in small town America during the 1950s is no different than the social climbing happening in our high-tech social media crazed world of today. Human nature does not change.
The Netflix documentary brought a term to my attention I had not heard before – “influencers”. The shallowness and trivial nature of our culture is captured perfectly by the essence of the importance of “influencers” to marketing products and events. The Fyre Festival was promoted on Instagram by “social media influencers” including socialite and model Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and model Emily Ratajkowski, who did not disclose they had been paid to do so.
“In business and in politics a man must carve and maul his way through men to get to be King of the Mountain. Once there, he can be great and kind–but he must get there first.” ― John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
Rather than make up our own minds about what we like, what we wear, where we eat, or what entertainment we enjoy, we need to be influenced into our decisions by famous people who are famous for being famous. These “influencers” generate their influential power through the number of social media followers they have accumulated by posting pictures of themselves in their underwear, leaked sex tapes, nude selfies, or generally being attractive.
Most of them are low IQ mouth breathers who can’t do basic math or write a comprehensible paragraph. But those 36DD breasts and pouty lips classify them as a grade A influencer. I can’t decide whether these narcissistic icons are more pathetic or the feeble-minded wretches who are actually influenced by these vacuous bimbos. Moral degeneration of society seems to have reached a new low.
Billy McFarland used any means necessary to maul his way to the top. He figured if he pulled off this spectacular social media extravaganza, his new music app demand would skyrocket and he would become a superstar music business mogul like Jay-Z. As his lies and debt continued to pile up, he double downed and used his dynamic personality to convince naïve rich women into “investing” millions into his doomed to failure venture.
Ultimately, thousands of suckers landed on a Caribbean island expecting luxurious accommodations and dozens of A list entertainers, but experienced mass confusion, flimsy tent accommodations with soaked mattresses, little to no food, and a canceled concert as unpaid bands pulled out. The disaster was reported in real time through the same social media that promoted this festival farce.
“In poverty she is envious. In riches she may be a snob. Money does not change the sickness, only the symptoms” ― John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
In the case of Billy McFarland we know the consequences of his actions. Lawsuits totaling $100 million were filed against him. He was charged with the Federal crime of wire fraud and convicted. He is currently serving six years in a Federal prison and was ordered to forfeit $26 million. Based on the warped personality I witnessed in the documentary, he will resume scamming people the second he walks out of that prison, and more suckers will eagerly hand him their money. You can’t cure stupid.
The future of fictional character Ethan Hawley is left to your imagination. He had been a moral upstanding citizen who faced a crisis of conscience and fell prey to the darker side of his nature. His boss had been deported and his best friend was dead. At the end of the novel he was left with ill-gotten wealth, a loving wife, a son who felt no guilt in cheating, and a daughter who saved his life.
I want to believe Ethan spent the rest of his life redeeming himself through his actions by doing good for the town, helping his friends achieve success, teaching his son right from wrong, using his wealth to benefit humanity, and proving to his daughter his life was worth saving. Ethan’s struggle is the existential crisis we all face as human beings. The love of money is the root of all evil. Whether we are poor, middle class or rich, when our priorities become warped by greed, narcissism, envy, or worldly desires, it only leads to discontent.
We see the discontent revealed by the billionaire crowd who rig markets to pillage more of the nation’s wealth. We see it among corrupt politicians being bought off by crooked corporate CEOs. We see it when media pundits broadcast fake news to push their agenda. We see it exhibited by the blatant coup attempt against a duly elected president by arrogant treasonous men who consider themselves above the law. We see it play out in office politics all over America. We see it with cheating on our taxes or lying to our spouses. We see our youth plagiarizing and cheating on tests. It seems we are a society of scammers, liars, and dishonest discontents.
Steinbeck was not one for happy endings. He pondered morality and the human condition and found it wanting. A battle between the good and evil is fought within the conscience of every human being. An inner dialogue takes place regarding every moral decision we make. The continuation of a civilized society is dependent upon more human beings choosing the path of good versus the path of evil.
We can be the most technologically advanced civilization in history, but if we allow moral degeneration to dominate our culture, our civilization will be doomed. It feels as if our society is leaning towards the dark side and this realization is leading to an epic showdown between good and evil. We are truly experiencing a winter of discontent. The winner of this battle will determine the future course of our country.
“We can shoot rockets into space but we can’t cure anger or discontent.” ― John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent