Commons Sense

I saw an episode of the Beverly Hillbillies last night that aired 60 years ago. In it, the aptly-named banker, Drysdale and his blue-stocking Vassar-alumna spinster secretary Miss Hathaway attempt to convince Granny not to upset the neighbors and ruin property values by plowing up their huge front yard to put in a mess of vegetables.

Hathaway takes the whole family out for a drive about an hour away into the Valley to display the vast fields and long shots of migrant workers laboring in them.

Hindsight is a peculiar thing. All too clear, now, that the audience is looking at harsh, brutal working conditions far worse than Granny rousting everyone out of bed at 4 am to do their plowing with a finicky mule only Elly May can control. Easy from our perspective to imagine the clouds of pesticides and minimal NPK sacks of dusty chemical fertilizer from the 1960’s.

What I did not realize about the times (I was in elementary school, ok?) was the attitude clearly displayed by Miss Hathaway’s enthused encomiums about these vast, ugly, chemical-laced industrial farming operations. “Each of these farmers feeds 28 people!” she gushes with broad, sweeping expansive gestures suitable to any stage.

I did not know then that the main issue was not merely the millionaires’ distaste for putting in their own day’s work of manual labor. Nor having to smell manure, getting sweaty and having dirty, calloused hands, becoming declasse from grubbing in the soil like peons.

All that is there, but it is not so simple. The icing on that lardy cake of pure pride the bigness of the numbers – of the abstractions. The banking class can happily ignore the suffering of the underpaid laborers so long as they are not required to touch soil.

Not to mention the fact that you have to support a car and gasoline and spend your time and money to drive around to obtain these inferior-tasting, visually-impressive veggies. All that is clean and puts distance between you the Moneyed One and Them the dirt-grubbers.

They never notice the absence of flavor and nutrients in the industrial produce because for them, there is some deeply soul-satisfying mystical, magical power in the taste of dry statistics.

Bigger! More! 28 families per one farm!

The notion that one can own a piece of land, free and clear and have to go nowhere in a hurry. That one can step outside one’s front door, and pull up sustenance grown by your own labor, without the kind aid of Dow Chemicals helpfully poisoning your food, rich in flavor and minerals from your own and your livestock’s composted dung – Ahhgg! Anathema! Avert!

What then would happen to the bankers? To the Economy? To the whole structure of rich-people suctioning up mortgage interest to line their millionaire-pockets?

And lowering property values! What an outrage! To prevent Us from imagining Our Royal selves as being to the Manor born, with our goat and sheep cropped grassy lawns spreading before our Mansions, and all the muck and manure shipped out to Asia to make Us more Money! Our land Increases in Value without our Laboring for it – the Money System MUST be Preserved!

Oog. It never was known to me, this vampire’s appetite for Abstraction Extractions. The parasitic blood-slurping and satisfying crunch of eating Big Numbers.

And all in aid of the Gasoline-Fueled addiction to Speed. 60 mph. No, 80 mph! Faster! Jets! NASCAR! Whee!

To have your own bit of land and the liberty to do with it as you will? To have a reasonable balance between labor and leisure to gain a self-sufficient source of food? To put down roots and grow trees, to hand on to your own kin the fruits of your love and labor?

You know: the American Dream?

Gone up in smoke, gasoline fumes and the smell of burning rubber.
And interest payments to the banksters.

That’s the way it was, 60 years ago. Jed and all his kin could have spent their entire 35 million dollars fighting in court for the right to grow their own veggies on their own front yard and lost.

Not because their fortune derived from the madness of addiction to petrol. Because their neighbors were lost in an even more potent dream of My Status Superior to Thee. And the municipal judicial systems of today are still trapped in that sticky, nasty Abstraction.

O, Liberty! Whither hast thou gone?

Wasn’t it Thomas Paine who wrote something called Common Sense? I think it is time for someone to write a tract or two called “Commons Sense.”

lathechuck's picture

... not just "look the the dumb hillbillies" comedy. It was the urban people who usually turned out to be the idiots. At least, that's the way I remember it. I hope it's true.

By the way, in the movie "Matawan", there's a great line. When some country folk stroll out of the woods to warn striking coal miners that "they can hunt rabbits, but the pigs around here belong to us", one of the new miners asks "hillbillies?" The local guy says, "No, foot-hill billies; if they'd been real hillbillies, there would have been trouble." Or something like that.