I recently had breakfast and invested my Saturday morning with a Redneck. It was not his idea. My truck needed repair and I wanted a sure fix. A sure fix that did not cost me a bundle of anxiety and an empty pocket book. (Pocket Book is a funny term). I’ll call my Redneck friend Jim Bob for the sake of this discussion. Anyway, Jim Bob does not charge for his time or for any parts he can find around his shed – his expectation was that I would hang around, drink some coffee, and participate in the lie telling contest. A Redneck and a cup of coffee will draw more Rednecks as sure as an Iowa egg farm draws salmonella. I listened to the morning banter and reflected on what ‘being intelligent’ means.
Time Magazine had a recent cover story titled, “Inside The Minds of Animals.” They offered some clues about judging or determining intelligence. I don’t mean to compare Rednecks with monkeys but we have to start somewhere to get in the mind of the Redneck. Time reported that one particular monkey, after a lifetime of training, ‘… can build thoughts and sentences, even conjugate… ” I listened to the Rednecks banter and heard nouns and verbs, but I also heard terms like torque, revolutions-per-minute, and wheel bearings. The classic Redneck conversation begins with someone introducing a problem, followed by a round-table discussion.
The language of the Redneck is simple. Allegories are seldom considered while metaphor and simile are often engaged. Topics weave together in a tapestry of universal harmony. The language always centers on problem solving. Simple solutions are admired while complex ideas are dissed.
One of the Rednecks, I’ll call him Billy, began a new topic by introducing a problem our NASA Astronauts were having while in space. The Space Shuttle had been sent up to retrieve a malfunctioning satellite. A Space Walk was required and a special satellite docking mechanism had been attached to the Astronaut’s Space Suit. Billy did not know the exact cost of the docking mechanism but he speculated that it must be ‘… around a billion dollars.’ Everyone nodded that this sounded reasonable. With affirmation of accurate cost estimates, Billy continued. The space docking was difficult and it took the Astronaut about two hours to get the satellite hooked up – then another hour to maneuver the satellite into the Space Shuttle cargo bay. As I looked around the round table I could see the wheels spinning in the heads of the Rednecks. Billy had introduced a great problem for a lively morning discussion. Billy took a sip of his coffee and then sighed a heavy sigh of satisfaction. His mission was accomplished – he brought the best problem to the table. There seemed a long pause, time for thinking, reflecting, attempting to imagine the role of the Astronaut. Then Tommy Lee spoke with animated excitement, “If they had called me I would have told them to take a good rope up there, tie it around the dang satellite, and haul it in. That would cost about fifty bucks for a new rope, and nothing if you took the rope in the back of my shed.” Another pause while the idea was assimilated. After a few moments all heads were nodding approval. Then the discussion turned to the best type of rope and which rope knots would best be applied. Jim Bob produced three different ropes from the back of his shed – all were tested with different knotting techniques. An old tractor out back simulated the satellite. The morning coffee discussion ended with the satisfaction of having solved the problem of errant satellites. The most obvious conclusion was that the gov’ment don’t know nothing about satellite retrieval. Each of the participating Rednecks walked away with the satisfaction of knowing that they had once again outsmarted the bureaucrats. The NASA Scientists are deemed “Educated Idiots.”
Projecting this thought affirms the idea that scientists generally over complicate simple problems. Snow in the northern latitude winter is clear evidence that the scientists were wrong about Global Warming. Stories about ‘welfare-ites’ gouging the dumb gov’ment bureaucrats resonates as reasonable truth. Dropping really big bombs on Baghdad seems a reasonable solution to any problem with the localized insurgents.
The recent humor of Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, and others relegate the Redneck to the intelligence strata somewhere between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. The comedy works because there is a thread of truth in every punch line. The modern Tea Party movement in America seems to affirm the comedians. There is a long standing elite class that abhors the idea of talking to a Redneck while simultaneously depending on the Redneck to achieve manufacturing results. The elite class recognizes the need for a Redneck in the factory to solve the immediate problems of daily production. Food, shelter, and basic health care are provided in order to achieve manufacturing results.
None of this is new or unique to modern America. For as long as there has been written history man has always had a noble class and a working class. Noblesse Oblige is a French term meaning:
the moral obligation of those of high birth, powerful social position, etc., to act with honor, kindliness, generosity, etc.
The redneck is the epitome of the working class of people. It appears that the Redneck can assimilate and understand any problem – but solutions are always in terms of the immediately available resources. Problems such as space satellites, foreign policy, foreign wars, health care for the masses, Global Warming, and even proper diet and exercise have limited solutions. When the Redneck visits his family physician and is told to lose weight by changing his diet he thinks in terms of the current contents of his refrigerator and the money he has in his pocket. The Redneck not only seems to accept these limiting parameters of problem resolution but will buck at the introduction of more complex ideas. Any good Redneck will be offended if someone suggests he cannot solve his problems with the resources immediately available.
In the simple-solution world of the Redneck the logic of the Corporate leader makes sense. The Redneck is convinced to vote Republican because the Corporations offer a job – which means food and shelter for the Redneck family. As with the satellite, once the idea of the rope is accepted the Redneck will exert all of his energy in determining the best way to use the rope. Once the idea of having a job is accepted – the Redneck will exert all of his energy in being a productive employee. And more, the Redneck will defend his job, and often his employer, to the depths of hell.
Labor Unions are good examples of the dedication of the working class Redneck. There was a time when employees thought of themselves as working for the Labor Union. I remember when Jimmy Hoffa was on trial for corruption – one evening network newscast interviewed a female Teamster. She said, “I make eight dollars an hour and Jimmy Hoffa takes one dollar. I don’t care about that dollar because Jimmy got me seven dollars to take home.” There is certainly some logic in her position.
There is a particular quote in the Time Magazine article, referring to animals, which I think applies to the opinion of Corporate and Republican Leadership toward the Redneck class of people. Check this out (page 34 , August 16, 2010):
Humans have a fraught relationship with beasts. They are our companions and our chattel, our family members and our laborers, our household pets and our household pests. We love them and cage them, admire them and abuse them. And, of course, we cook and eat them.
Our dodge – a not unreasonable one – has always been that animals are ours to do with as we please simply because they don’t suffer the way we do. They don’t think, non in any meaningful way. The don’t worry. They have no sense of the future of their own mortality. They may pair-bond, but they don’t love. For all we know, they may not even be conscious. “The reason animals do not speak as we do is not that they lack the organs,” Rene’ Decartes one said, ‘but that they have no thoughts.” For many people, the Bible offers the most powerful argument of all. Human beings were granted ‘dominion over the beasts of the field,” and there the discussion can more or less stop.
Who in our modern social structure has “dominion over the beast of the field?” Replace ‘beasts’ or ‘animal’ with ‘redneck.’ Replace ‘human’ with “Corporate Leader.” “They don’t think in any meaningful way” seems to be justification for denying the basic needs of humanity. But what about Noblesse Oblige? Well, what is honor? What is generosity?
Rednecks are people. Rednecks have terrific problem solving abilities. Rednecks have honor. Rednecks are generous. But do these qualities separate them from other primates? Rednecks serve their masters well – but so do dogs. The difference is that Rednecks unconsciously choose to be subordinate.
The culture of the Redneck defines the individual. Rednecks live in a closed society. They are almost tribal in nature. Their ‘tribe’ includes anyone who actively denies formal education. Education as job training is acceptable. A person who drives a delivery truck has a job, but a person with their CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) has a career. Carpentry, welding, plumbing, and electrical wiring are noble education pursuits. But education for the sake of education is deemed an abhorrent waste of time. Again, if there is no identified sense of immediate return then the solution is deemed unworthy.
Time, page 39: Crows and other corvids excel at tool use, a function of both clever brain wiring and the birds’ complex social structure.
While Rednecks excel at tool use, and have complex social structures, they seem indignant toward any new ideas. The Redneck laughs as hard as anyone at Jeff Foxworthy’s jokes. He accepts his lot in life for what it is. Distinguishing self from others is an important trait of intelligence. Again from Time Magazine, page 41:
It’s easy enough to study the brain and behavior of an animal, but subtler cognitive abilities are harder to map. One of the most important skills human children must learn is something called the theory of mind: the idea that not all knowledge is universal knowledge. A toddler who watches a babysitter hide a toy in a room will assume that anyone who walks in afterward knows where the toy is too. It’s not until about age 3 that kids realize that just because they know something, it doesn’t mean somebody else knows it also.
The theory of mind is central to communications and self-awareness, and it’s the rare animal that exhibits it, thought some do. Dogs understand innately what pointing means: that someone has information to share and that your attention is being drawn to it so that you can learn too. That seems simple, but only because we’re born with the ability and, by the way, have fingers with which to do the pointing.
Great apes, despite their impressive intellect and five-fingered hands, do not seem to come factory-loaded for pointing. But they may just lack the opportunity to practice it. A baby ape rarely lets go of its mother, clinging to her abdomen as she knuckle-walks from place to place. But Kanzi (the chimp in a study), who was raised in captivity, was often carried in human arms, and that left his hands free for communication.
“By the time Kanzi was 9 months old he was already pointing at things… “
Can we assume that the culture of the Redneck has not allowed an appreciation of education, of complex problem solving? Perhaps. Can we assume that the Redneck inability to understand the Bible as allegory results from a fundamental lack of understanding of allegory? Can we assume that the Redneck denies science because he does not grasp fundamental concepts of mathematics? Is there are connection between the lack of sophisticated Biblical understanding and the denial of science? Probably. With limited education about history, literature, and the humanities the Redneck cannot grasp the intention of Biblical interpretation. The Redneck becomes like the great ape who has not learned to point. The Redneck is like the toddler who believes that everyone who understands the world as he does is intelligent – and anyone who disagrees clearly does not possess common sense.
Am I being an elitist – seeking the Redneck to fix my truck and then dissecting his intellect? Did I use the Redneck as I have accused the Corporate leaders? Again from Time Magazine, page 41:
The gold standard for demonstrating an understanding of the self-other distinction is the mirror test: whether an animal can see its reflection and recognize what it is.
The question for humanity is this: Can we see ourselves for who we are? Are we able to see ourselves honestly? The two classes of people who do not see themselves honestly are the Nobles and the Rednecks. Each of these classes of people assume their lot in life – they assume they are where they are supposed to be. Neither the Noble nor the Redneck sees themselves as equal to the other. It seems that humanity is not much different than a pack of wolves – where the dominant male leads and others instinctively follow.