Letter From thenLower Rightnby John Shelton ReednLife in the Rust BeltnLast August marked the 50th anniversarynof the first field trials of the Rustncotton picker, an occasion little notednoutside the pages of Forbes, where Insaw it. Somebody should have made anbigger deal about it. For better or fornworse, that machine has transformednthe South in my lifetime, and maybenyours, too.nOh, sure, you don’t want to givenMr. Rust (whoever he was) as muchncredit or blame as, say, Eli Whitney,nwhose invention got us into cottonnmonoculture in the first place. Southernnagriculture might have diversifiednin any case, driving tenant farmers andnsharecroppers off the land. And, inntime, industrialization would probablynhave lured them off, with or withoutnmechanized agriculture.nBesides, it’s not obvious to somenpeople I know that Mr. Rust did us anynfavors. Are we in the South better offnnow that only 5 percent of us arenfarmers than we would be if half of usnwere, like 50 years ago?nWell, there’s no question that we’rencollectively better off in economicnterms. Getting out of cotton agriculturenhas done good things for thenSouth’s per capita income: 50 yearsnago it was about the same as Venezuela’sntoday. The good people of onenDeep South town even put up a statuenof a boll weevil, in gratitude for thatnbug’s suggestion that they find somenother way to make a living. A blessingnin disguise, they felt.nBut a lot of individual Southernersnsuffered to make the average Southernernbetter off. The collapse of cottonntenancy wasn’t painless, and wenshouldn’t forget that. Moreover, mynagrarian friends would say. Southernersnof all people ought to recognizenthat man doesn’t live by bread alone.nHave we sold our cultural birthrightnfor a mess of economic pottage?nMaybe so. But let me tell a story.nLast fall I was driving north fromnSumter, South Carolina, headed backnto Chapel Hill on a pretty two-lanenhighway. It was about 8:00 on a beautiful,ncrisp morning, with (believe it ornnot) Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphonynon the car radio. I was feeling good,nsoaking up the rural scenery, andnwatching for the notorious South Carolinanspeedtraps when, behold, I camenupon a cotton field, to the right of thenroad, where the crop was being harvested.nA solitary black man in a camouflagenjacket and a cowboy hat wasnperched high above what I now assumento have been a Rust cottonnpicker. As I said, it was 8:00 in thenmorning, but he had already coverednhalf of the field.nWas this sad? Did I miss the rank ofncotton pickers, men, women, andnchildren, inching their way across thenfield, dragging their long pickingnsacks? Did I miss their sweet singing,nevidence of their vibrant folk culture?nDid I regret the passing of the ordered,ntraditional society that guaranteednthem their humble living?nNot a chance.nAnybody inclined to nostalgia onnthat score needs to read James Agee’snLet Us Now Praise Famous Men onnLncotton agriculture as experienced fromnthe bottom. Better yet: pick some. Innever picked cotton myself, but as anteenager I did work hurley tobacco onensummer for dinner and four dollars anday and—well, I’m still resting upnfrom the experience.nStill, there is the question of whatnthose folks are doing these days insteadnof picking cotton. Some of them, asnyou may have noticed, have left SouthnCarolina to seek opportunity in thenNorth, where some have found it, butnmany have not. The answer for others,nthough, was evident just across thenroad from that cotton field, on my leftnas I drove by: a one-story brick buildingnwith a sign identifying it as anfactory producing bearings (I think itnwas). In the parking lot were a couplendozen cars, vans, and pickup trucks:nPontiac, Chevrolet, Dodge (not anVolvo in sight).nThis is the kind of rural industrializationnthat has been coming—slowly,npainfully slowly — to much of thenSouth. It’s not the sort of whiz-bang.nGreat Topics, Great Issues!nCatch up on the CHRONICLESnyou’ve missed by orderingnfrom the following collectionnof recent back issues.nTitlenn Manufacturing Opinions Stephen R. L. Clark on the “right” to an opinion;nIrving L. Horowitz on academic publishing; and Thomas Molnar on thenfailure of higher education. $2.50 .nD Attic Grace—The Classical Mind in America E. Christian Kopff onnLatin invasions of English; Admiral James B. Stockdale on Epictetus innuniform; and Peter Laurie on Ezra Pound’s “Language of Eternity.” $2.50 .n• Midland America Russell Kirk reflects on the grandfather with the teargasnfountain pen; Jane Greer gives a Midwestern perspective; and IrvingnLouis Horowitz on media metaphysics and mid-term results. $2.50 .n• Idols of the Marketplace Thomas Fleming on the business of business;nWilliam R. Hawkins on economic ideology and the conservative dilemma;nand VukanKuic on political art and artful politics. $2.50 .nn The Soul’s Dark Cottage Thomas Molnar in search of the sacred; StephennR. L. Clark on “Olaf Stapledon: Philosopher and Fabulist”; Thomas P.nMcDonnell on “David Jones: The Last Liturgical Poet.” $2.50nn Sexual Politicking Thomas Fleming on old Adam, new Eve; George Gildernon dames, defense, and democracy: Carol McMillan on mothers and others.n$2.50n• A House Divided Admiral JamesStockdaleonPOW ethics; RussellKirknon the perils of ideology. $2.50nD Singers of Tales: or How to Rescue Storytelling From Sex andnBureaucrats V. S. Naipaul on being a writer; Frederick Tirner on rescuingnstory from history; and Thomas Fleming on thrice-told tales. $2.50n* Postage and handhng included in issue price. Total amount duenName_ _ Address.nQty. Amt.nCity_ .State. -Zip_nChronicles • 934 North Main Street • Rockford, IL • 61103 CBI587nJnnnJUNE 1987/41n