Keep in mind that the book first came out in 1941 when you read the following lines:
In time of peace in the modern world, if one is thoughtful and careful, it is rather more difficult to be killed or maimed in the outland places of the globe than it is in the streets of our great cities ...It was just before World War II snagged the US also. Since then, as Steve Pinker has documented, life has never been so peaceful. The number who die in the US every year from gunshots and automobile accidents is vastly greater than the number who died on that fateful 9/11. One would, therefore, think that people will worry about the death and violence in their own backyards, so to speak. Yet, we don't worry about our streets and our homes! In a post a couple of days ago, I, yet again, expressed my disappointment that people do not seem to be want to spend time and effort on more pressing questions and complained about the supremacy of entertainment in our lives. But then this human behavior is not anything new. Steinbeck writes in the context of fishing and fishermen:
Hitler marched into Denmark and into Norway, France had fallen, the Maginot Line was lost--we didn't know it, but we knew the daily catch of every boat within four hundred miles. It was simply a directional thing; a man has only so much. ...There is only so much that we can be bothered about. As many students have often commented, while they fully understand that the issues and ideas that I bring to their attention are urgent and important, well, they are maxed out. It is not that they are ignorant nor are they apathetic; according to them, there isn't room for anything else in their lives.
This was not a matter of ignorance on their part, but of intensity. All the directionalism of thought and emotion that man was capable of went into sardine-fishing; there wasn't room for anything else.
Of course, if everybody went about doing their own thing, then the world could be a better place. However, the question is whether all our thought and emotion that we are capable of is dharma. Or, as Spike Lee put it, "do the right thing." But, we don't always do the right thing.
All the energy and emotion into fishing led to the collapse of the fishing industry in Stenibeck's own backyard. That intensity and emotion hit even harder, resulting in this a few months ago, in early spring:
Federal regulators on Wednesday approved an early closure of commercial sardine fishing off Oregon, Washington and California to prevent overfishing.
The decision was aimed at saving the West Coast sardine fishery from the kind of collapse that led to the demise of Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name set in Monterey, Calif.
“We have been seeing the impacts of a collapsing sardine population on sea lions and seabirds for years now,” said Ben Enticknap, Pacific campaign manager and senior scientist with Oceana.“Sardine are also prey for recreationally and commercially important species like Chinook salmon and albacore tuna, so the effects of a lack of sardine could have much wider impacts.”The virtue of selfishness and self-interest, which is the cornerstone in an economic system that has a global appeal, comes with its downside as well because doing the right thing is not about self-interest. Dharma requires us to make room in our lives for more than the singular directionalism to which we direct all our energy and emotion. Not even the Saint of Sardines can convince a few more people and a few more students about all these, right?