Friday, August 28, 2009

The Tom Joad Test

Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. -Tom Joad

Early in The Grapes of Wrath, Joad -- recently paroled after serving four years in prison for killing a man who stabbed him in a fight -- becomes re-acquainted with Jim Casy, a fallen Oklahoma Pentecostal preacher who has embraced a populist version of Emerson's "oversoul" concept: "Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of."

Thus was planted the seed that would sprout into Joad's famous soliloquy, which included the pledge that "Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there."

So here, stated briefly, is the question that serves as the shibboleth/sibbolet dividing line in the "Tom Joad Test":

When you see a cop -- or, more likely, several of them -- beating up on a prone individual, do you instinctively sympathize with the assailant(s) or the victim?

If it's the former, you're an authoritarian, irrespective of your partisan attachments or professed political philosophy.

If it's the latter, you're an instinctive libertarian, whether or not you are consistently guided by that impulse in your political decisions.

It may later be demonstrated that the figure on the receiving end of the beating had committed some horrible crime. However, such a disclosure wouldn't invalidate the results of the Tom Joad Test, because that test reveals a subject's default assumptions about the relationship between the individual and the state.

Do you assume that the state is entitled to the benefit of the doubt whenever its agents inflict violence on somebody, or do you believe that the individual -- any individual -- is innocent of wrongdoing until his guilt has been proven?

-from William N. Grigg: The Plague of Punitive Populism

Edit: The above video is no longer available. The message at YouTube reads: This video contains content from Sony Music Entertainment. It is no longer available in your country. The irony is really too much. I've posted two other versions below. Oh, and FUCK YOU SONY MUSIC MOTHER FUCKING STATIST PIGS!!!! Support Freedom! End copyright!

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