You, Tityrus, ‘neath a broad beech-canopy Reclining, on the slender oat rehearse
(Roman Redneck Poem)
One of the most reliably reactionary segments of the human population has always been the redneck. In both the West and East, the country boy has been known for his religiosity, patriotism, and virtue. Despite the evidence of the intense religious devotion of bourgeois during particular periods of human history, the country boy has always been the most ready member of society to support the altar and throne—or, later, communion table and Oval Office. It may be true that “peasant” does come from “pagan,” but this only shows that the country boys and girls were the last to give up their old roots due to a fundamentally conservative instinct. From the Arcadian and pastoral poems of classical Greece and Roman to the poems of William Wordsworth and the songs of Alan Jackson, when we have thought of the best of ourselves, we have often thought of rednecks. Perhaps one of the most memorable images in our tradition is the story of the good, strong, frugal, old country couple, Baucis and Philemon, depicted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses who are rewarded for the hospitality toward Jove and Mercury by being given a palace to live in and eventually turning into two intertwining trees.
“So when the gods from heaven met the humble household gods, and stooping down, passed the low doorway, the old man pulled out a bench, and requested them to rest their limbs, while over the bench Baucis threw a rough blanket. Then she raked over the warm ashes in the hearth, and brought yesterday’s fire to life, feeding it with leaves and dried bark, nursing the flames with her aged breath. She pulled down finely divided twigs and dry stems from the roof, and, breaking them further, pushed them under a small bronze pot. Next she stripped the leaves from vegetables that her husband had gathered from his well-watered garden. He used a two-pronged stick to lift down a wretched-looking chine of meat, hanging from a blackened beam, and, cutting a meagre piece from the carefully saved chine, put what had been cut, to seethe, in boiling water.”
(Classical Redneck Hospitality)
However, with the emergence of the bourgeoisie—many of whom drawn from the greediest, most duplicitous, and selfish peasants (that’s how capitalism works), the redneck has taken a tumble in Western consciousness. The bourgeois turned toward his peasant ancestors with disgust, for what was virtuous to the peasant—Catholic piety, generosity, meditative simplicity, tribal loyalty—is now an obstacle to progress and financial success. Whereas the bourgeois is neurotically industrious, the peasant is lazy (like the lazy Southerner or lazy Mexican or Italian). If the bourgeois, even if he is Catholic, likes his religion clean and Calvinist, the peasant likes Latin, incense, statues, and bare foot pilgrimages. In America, since the Southern rednecks lost the civil war, they have always been the punching bags for triumphant Northern bourgeoisie. However, all the bad things about peasants in America or abroad are only vices because they are excesses of virtue. Even though too many sociologists have suggested that the redneck has hated black folks so that he can at least feel better than someone, this does not seem to be the case. The redneck’s racism stems from his competitive tribalism, which, especially in America after the Civil War, put him at odds with the freed blacks in the South. The redneck’s superstition as well has come from an intense piety. His ignorance and revulsion toward modernity, progress, and technology has come from a cautious distrust of a technocratic, revolutionary system that has done nothing but enslave the redneck and feed on his blood.
Now, of course, there is the peasant from The Seven Samurai: greedy, calculating, sycophantic, and craftily self-abasing. But even in the classic movie, the peasants are infinitely superior to the samurai gangstas who rob them, and, in fact, many of the peasants turn out to be more noble than villainous. These shifty-eyed country boys, whom William Faulkner depicts as the Snopes family in his short stories and Marcel Pagnol as the Soubeyrans in his movies, still remained loyal to their own blood kin, and acted for their good of their great grandchildren. Yes, among rednecks, there had always been incest, rape, divorce, and misery as in the situation of Jim Trueblood in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. However, the country boy—good, bad, or indifferent—worked within a moral and theological system in which there were rules.
When I was cutting horsetails
The autumn moon appeared
Shining through the trees
On Mount Sonahara.
(Japanese Redneck poem)
Like Croesus and the Lydians in Herodotus’ Histories, all that was needed to destroy the redneck was to give him whatever he wanted. While some members of the black community and especially the Indians indigenous to the New World have been able to avoid “totalization” in the Deleuzian sense, the white redneck has only been too ready to sign up. Once he was given a six figure paycheck by Dow Chemical, an iPhone, and a 2015 Toyota Tundra lease, the redneck was lost. No longer did he have to ask God for a good harvest or catch or hunt. Family became a whole lot less interesting than a Playstation 4. Like the young boy at the pool of water he turned in on himself in one long selfie.
Peasants had been turned into proletarians before; this was kind of what happened during the industrial revolution. It happened during European immigration to America. But, most important to discussion, it happened during the migration of black folks to northern American cities during the early twentieth century. The destruction of the black community in America by proletarianization oddly prefigures what would happen to the country boy in the 21st century. Just as the black community in America has been destroyed by becoming workers in the American city, so too have whites become alienated precisely because of their own prosperity in a way that Marx could not have possibly imagined. Yes it’s true the McMansions springing up all over the American South inhabited by white share cropper turned oil worker or real estate agent are much better than the South Chicago projects circa 1976, but the result is the same: a gaggle of individuals selfishly feeding and entertaining themselves at the expense of their own families and eventually losing their humanity and their souls.
The New Age, therapeutic “emerging Church” and public education have ensured that the country boy cares a lot more about Clemson football than he does about getting to heaven. If he goes to Church, he is told how good he is and how much God wants to make him rich, and how it was OK to leave his family for another woman—he most certainly is not told to repent and sacrifice his desires. Oddly, while he is less explicitly religious, the country boy is just as superstitious or enthusiastic in the David Hume sense, decorating his car with the tigers, lions, and leprechauns his ancestors forsook for the communion of saints and cheering more enthusiastically during Iron Man 4 or the Falcons game than his grandparents ever did at a Pentecostal meeting.
Yes, the redneck is still racist—especially to his “cheek and jowl” black neighbor, but at the same time, as W.J.T. Mitchell writes about Americans in general in What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images, the redneck also worships black people. Like the most successful redneck politician in twentieth century American history, William Jefferson Clinton, the redneck has got a new religion. This is the greatest promise from the left that has lured at least some rednecks back into the Democratic Party: you can do what you want as long as you tolerate other people doing what they want (this is actually really easy to do), and if you get really excited about people you look differently from you. The same goes for the increased redneck tolerance of homosexuals. A friend of mind, who is an atheist and strongly advocates for sexual liberation, made a shockingly brilliant statement about the country boy. I asked him why the country boy was more and more OK with homosexuality but still will not give up his guns or his truck. My friend responded that the truck and guns give the country boy pleasure, and tolerating homosexuals doesn’t take away from his good time.
“As I told you, if men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will never have seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead. The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by my Son.” Our Lady of Akita, October 13 1973.
The only hope for the redneck is a zombie apocalypse or an Our Lady of Akita, fire from the sky, divine chastisement. Very quickly, credit card debt, the LSU baseball game, and Call of Duty would cease to be important. Divorce would not just be an emotional catastrophe; it would mean that the redneck might not get dinner hunted, prepared and consumed without being killed. Very quickly, only really good and really evil men would be the only ones who would be driving big ol’ country boy trucks (that’s kind of the way it should be). Humbled before God, the redneck would have to reach deep into his bones and pull out the virtues that had enabled his ancestors to live and thrive and be good country people. But for the time being, barring no fire from the sky, the redneck, who has been turned into a hungry, hungry hippo or Hobbesian Pac Man, is only on the path to self-destruction and as the poet says, will “make perforce an universal prey, / And last eat up himself.”