Paul Harvey: The Farmer (and the Superbowl Ad)

BEST COMMERCIAL. If you missed this last PM watch. “I need a farmer”. Paul Harvey was talking about the Family Farm and the family men who head them. Harvey, dead five years now, was aware enough, perhaps to know that he was giving more of a paean to a fading dream, than an accurate description.  What was not said was “I need a Farmer, not a peasant, slave, serf on the one hand, nor a behemoth Big Agra-Government mamzer on the other!”

In the ten thousand years of human agriculture the exception has been the Family Farm and its Farmer Family. The default situation has been an ignorant impoverished dirt-poor peasant, serf or peonage-laborer.   The peasant family that lived at the whim of the landlord was the norm.

From the cradles of the agricultural revolution, in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, the Andes, the Valley of Mexico, the Yellow River Valley of China and the Mississippi Valley, the history of farming has been very much the history of Empires and Emperor-Gods. Pharaoh reigned supreme over the Nile. Its annual flood was channelized and rationalized. The farmers were serfs. In Mesopotamia, the organization required for irrigation schemes capable of controlling water, engineering its distribution, and defending its subsequent food surplus depended upon powerful polities. The Andean villages with their terraces were by necessity limited in population. They were thus vulnerable to any ambitious centralizing alliance of tribes. These terraces in the Alto Plano were dependent upon trade networks to bring most necessities and luxuries up from both Amazonia on the east and the Pacific coast on the west. He who controlled the roads, ruled. The individual villagers were serfs, bound to their plots, unaffected by the regular change of landlords, whether Incan or Spanish.

The Aztec Emperor owned the lives, lands and fruit of the production of his subjects. Chinese agriculture was dependent upon aqua engineering and thus evolved into technocratic tyrannies.

The existence of free yeoman farmers has been the exception. They seem to appear only as Iron Age technology advances into virgin territory. New lands were opened to iron-plowing methods. And lands previously farmed using the Neolithic or Bronze Age technology packages were out-produced and out-reproduced by the incoming peoples. The Bronze or Stone Age natives either vanished or co-opted the new agricultural package of new crops, new domesticated animals and new farming techniques. As this Iron Age package moved westward through Europe it established a population of yeoman farmers. Having cleared previously virgin land, or the land of a more primitive agriculture, these Iron Age “Celts” and others were highly individualistic self-employed warrior-farmers. Their organization level was local. Trading towns held scheduled fairs where surpluses could be sold and goods from afar could be bought. But these towns depended on their hinterlands and not the reverse.

The golden age of Individualists farming their own property became a European Folk memory. As the frontier moved west, behind it followed predatory tribes from the Steppes. They conquered the farm families, and reduced them to a peasantry. These raiders ultimately became the so-called nobility of Europe.

The Iberian conquest of South and Central America, from the view of the peasants merely resulted in a change of landlords.  North America’s Atlantic Coast however was still under local tribal control. There was no pre-established feudal system that could be co-opted as the Iberians did in Peru and Mexico.

The advance into the Eastern Seaboard resembled that remote period in Europe when Iron Age culture moved westward, and allowed individual families in loose cooperation to displace previous Bronze or Stone Age cultures.

But in the blink of historical time the frontier was gone. Following the farmer-pioneers came a different kind of raider. Not the horse-mounted warriors of the Steppes, but the entire panoply of trades that had developed in the thousand years of European agricultural stasis. I do not mean a technological stasis, but a territorial one. Once the Iron Age had penetrated to the final arable niche, there was no more virgin land in which to spread. But in Towns, tradesmen continued to develop specialty technologies and were able to make a living because of the underlying food surplus derived from the more productive agriculture.

The Kings, Princes, Priests, Bishops, Dukes of Europe were like riders upon a horse; the horse being the descendents of the original Iron Age pioneer families. These folk, now reduced to peonage still cherished their memories of a Golden Age of independent farming communities.

The opening of the Atlantic coast of North America reignited the long stalled westward advance of Iron Age agriculture. In a blink, however, the farms were accompanied by the full package of western European culture. The economic system of the Trading Towns that had evolved over centuries arrived fully formed. The farming family moved westward. In their wake followed the businessmen. Business was good. But in their wake came more and more powerful and illiberal governments. Governments brought the potential to oppress the family farmer though manipulation of monetary policy, and trade policies that favored the powerful urban industrial areas. And farmers moved west.

The Farmer, this oration by Paul Harvey should be heard not as an ad for Dodge Ram Trucks, but as a paean for a passing trend. The Department of Agriculture and mega-corporations have used each other to organize and “rationalize” the agricultural “sector”. We have few if any family farms left. There are hobbyists, yes. But these are folks who have other streams of income, and whose livelihood is not based upon creating a surplus of food.

Suburbanites who fancy themselves rural individualists drive Dodge Aries Ram Trucks. They may bring home a bale of hay for the pet llama or a “find” from the Antiques Fair. But they are not, you can be sure, bearing the annual harvest of a family to town to sell and to purchase and haul back the townie items that they cannot produce for themselves.

Good commercial: in that it brought Paul Harvey’s Farmer’s Eulogy to the SuperBaal audience. Effective: in it played to the Yuppie’s conceit of being a rural man of the soil.  Disingenuous: think Viagra commercial, with the masculine, pickup truck driving horse-trailer pulling weekend-cowboy stuck in a muddy dirt road. “This is the age of knowing how to get things done.” He takes the horses out of the trailer and hitches them to the front of his pickup truck and drags the whole rig out of the mud. Then shizzam, he is tooling along a paved road towards a “rural” suburban McMansion puff-house and we see the bedroom light winking on in expectation of his manly tool.

On the Ninth Day God created the Madison Ave Manipulator of Mental Imagery.

Happy SuperBaal Sunday! And Monday.  Ravens came our roaring and squeaked out a win.  Barely.

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