“The people very indolent and wicked and depending mostly upon game and their herds. All very friendly and free to give information.”
A. W. Moore, Journal of a Tour in Texas (1846).
A. W. Moore was a Mississippi planter who made a tour of Texas in 1846, scouting land with an eye to moving west. He wrote this line just north of here, in the sand hills of Robertson County, very near to the place where Aunt Jemima would later be buried. The people he describes were poor whites of the class that folks back east called crackers or tackeys, and they here displayed their usual lack of ambition, enterprise and good order.
The tackeys back east were also known for thier dour and sullen taciturnity, but in 1846 the Texas tackeys were amiable and talkative because these wide-open spaces were an Elysium of easy living. The uplands would not be fenced for another forty years and the winters were mild, so a man with simple tastes could loaf and hunt and yarn and spit and drink and fight just as he pleased. His sensible plan was to spend as little time as possible on the business end of a hoe, a plow, an ax, or a damn whipsaw.
And he sure as hell wasn’t hiring out for wages.
I presume it was this bohemian philosophy that cause Moore to call the Texas tackeys wicked, for he had not had time to judge their moral code. He was himself a successful man, a man of bourgeois values who prized ambition, enterprise and good order, and who was therefore scandalized by indolent men untouched by these afflictions.
It is well to remember that we have this word scandal from the Greek skandalon, which means a “snare” or “stumbling block.” A man who is scandalized is shocked, but he is often shocked because he is also tempted.
* * * * *
What Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about Henry David Thoreau, he could just as well have written about a Texas tackey.
“He chose to be rich by making his wants few, and supplying them himself.”*
And a Texas tackey would have nodded in agreement if he had heard (as was not likely) what Thoreau said about the curious conceits of the successful bourgeoise.
“They make their pride in making their dinner cost much; I make my pride in making my dinner cost little.”**
* * * * *
Of course, the old Texan’s Elysium of easy living could not last because more people moved in and more fences went up and the game died off and the children began to clamor for dinners that cost more than a little. Thus, in a couple of generations these poor whites began to feel poor and found themselves welded, dawn to dusk, to the handles of their hoes.
Here is how they were described a hundred years after A. W. Moore passed this way:
“There are many farmers in the sand south of town who rarely earn as much as two hundred and fifty dollars a year in cash. And, in the machine age, it is more difficult for a man to ‘live at home’ and exist in the same century as his neighbors than it was a hundred years ago . . .”***
We all know what it means to be cursed by the need to “exist in the same century as our neighbors”—or are you denying your children cell phones and automobiles and vacations and college educations? (but I repeat myself).
Consumerism made it impossible for a Texas tackey to raise a family on a patch of corn and cotton and a gun. But his Elysium was also destroyed by increasingly fierce competition, a second curse of the machine age. The easy living of those early Texas tackeys was possible because there wasn’t much competition for game, or rangeland, or fuel; and to the Texas tackey it was precisely this absence of competition that allowed him to live like a free-born man, and not like a farm animal or slave.
We, meanwhile, are taught that it would be unmanly to ask for shelter from competition, and that only cowards and weaklings shrink from a global labor market in which everyone on the planet is locked in ruthless and borderless competition. For that is what a “borderless world” means in the last analysis. It means a world of unbuffered competition, in which there are no shelters of any sort, and there certainly is no Elysium
It means a world in which we are all farm animals and the living is hard.
“Wintertime, and the livin’ ain’t easy
You are jumpin’, ’cause your job’s on the line
Oh, your boss’s rich, and you must work late this evenin,’
But hush, you big baby, don’t you cry.”