John Steinbeck, Michael Moore, and the Burgeoning Role of Planetary Patriotism

My father, John Steinbeck, was a man who held human history in great
reverence, and in particular the biographies of those people who had
risked their lives, their fortunes, and their worldly honor to defend
the rights and prerogatives of those who were powerless to defend
themselves. Under his guidance I read Herodotus and Thucydides before I
got around to Wind in the Willows.

My father valued patriotism above all other social obligations, but
he had his own particular interpretation of just how true patriotism was
meant to function. His definition was directly geared to a
socio-political axiom of his own invention, and I knew it by heart by
the time I was seven years old. He said, "If the solution to a problem
of absolute disagreement extends to a call for bloodshed, then neither
party has demonstrated the intelligence to formulate the question
properly." He also liked to affirm that only poets and composers should
be made ambassadors. According to Steinbeck, most political placemen
have neither the wit, nor compassion for such a profound responsibility
that so desperately requires both.

With this in mind, the Steinbeck Award points to examples of American
patriots who have made an indelible impact on our culture, and even
influenced the core sense of ourselves on a worldwide plane. And they
have all come to us with two rare qualities in common that are quite
unique for human beings. First, they are all artists, poets, composers,
writers, singers, playwrights, and so forth, and secondly, none of the
award recipients to date has ever drawn blood over a bad review. On the
contrary, as true patriots they have been willing, and morally well
braced to endure, not only rank and file criticism, but also broad
disdain, public ridicule, numerous slanders of every hue, and in some
cases even physical violence. From my father's point of view, without a
thought for self, a true patriot stands up against the stones of
condemnation, and speaks for those who are given no real voice in the
halls of justice, or the halls of government. By doing so these people
will naturally become the enemies of the political status quo. J. Edgar
Hoover hated my father with an abiding passion, and believed he was a
full-blown Red communist, which, if you knew my father, would be found
ridiculous on the face of it. But since J. Edgar had nothing he could
pin on Steinbeck, he used his power to encourage the IRS to audit my
father's taxes every single year of his life, just to be politically
annoying. I'm quite sure that previous Steinbeck Award recipients like
Studs Terkel, Arthur Miller, and Joan Baez would have blood-chilling
tales to tell in that same regard, but they never faltered, in fact they
all won handsomely against the forces arrayed against them, and they
are now part of our proud public idiom of intellectual independence like
Mark Twain, Louis Armstrong, and Woody Guthrie. So if this recipient of
the Steinbeck Award, Michael Moore is half the man we believe him to
be, then he has by now received at least as many written death threats
as Steinbeck, Miller, and Terkel combined. My father believed, like
Pericles, that a man's genius could be easily judged by the number of
unenlightened fools set in phalanx against his ideas.

Be that as it may, John Steinbeck was the first person I ever heard
use the phrases 'ecological balance', or 'conservation of organic
energy'. He had watched us walk on the moon, and yet remain childishly
embroiled in a pitiful and pointless series of military conflicts from
which there would emerge no winners. And with this knowledge that
everything had changed technologically speaking, he still witnessed
voices of sanity and social equilibrium being politically smothered on a
global scale. In that vein, he once sent me a letter in Viet Nam in
which he stated that he had completely modified his perception of
patriotism. Where the concept had once easily applied to one's county,
state, country, or empire, it was obvious that the idea of patriotic
principles now had to be applied to the whole world at large. Culture
and language aside, the planet was now so chemically and financially
interlinked, that the failure of one, meant the fall of many. He closed
his letter by quoting Socrates. "Do not call me an Athenian. I am a
citizen of the world."

In this particular instance, and without question, Mr. Michael Moore
aptly fulfills every required parameter designed to guide the choice of
award recipients. When once asked what his role was as a writer,
Steinbeck said it was to reconnect people with a sense of their own
innate humanity. This sentiment has been the guiding principle in all
choices made for the Steinbeck Award, and Mr. Moore has carried the
banner higher than the world ever expected. We are profoundly proud of
him, and also proud that he accepts the honor as it was intended.

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