Every man is going to be something. Be a Southern gentleman.

Career Decisions – What the Southern Agrarians Warned Us About

Amazon seems to be the poster child for the direction that business is heading – innovative, efficient, and ridiculously profitable. The entrepreneur magazines paint it as the model others should be following, and for the employment-minded, the kind of place that every highly-motivated Gen-Xer should strive for.

Amazon is also exactly what the Southern Agrarians warned us about – a heartless, soulless corporate monster that chews up those who work there and then spits them out when it has extracted everything it needs. The gullible workers have become mere cogs in an industrial machine. The New York Times provides a very unflattering look inside this beast:

At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.”

The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses.

Many of the newcomers filing in on Mondays may not be there in a few years.

Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover.

[I]t is conducting a little-known experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable.

He lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. “You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,” he said. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

Even many Amazonians who have worked on Wall Street and at start-ups say the workloads at the new South Lake Union campus can be extreme: marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends.

Is this what modern-day America calls “progress”? The Southern Agrarians certainly would not agree. Here is how Wikipedia sums up the Southern Agrarian movement:

The Southern Agrarians bemoaned the increasing loss of Southern identity and culture to industrialization. They believed that the traditional agrarian roots of the United States, which had reigned since the nation’s founding in the 18th century, were important to its nature. Their manifesto was a critique of the rapid industrialization and urbanization during the first few decades of the 20th century in the southern United States. It posited an alternative based on a return to the more traditionally rural and local culture, and agrarian American values. The group opposed the changes in the US that were leading it to become more urban, national/international, and industrial.

The Southern Agrarians certainly were not advocating that everyone be a farmer. A society needs doctors and lawyers and artists and shopkeepers and factory workers and yes, it even needs some of those cubical inhabitants. No matter what career path one chooses though, it must be one that recognizes an individual’s self-worth.

A Southern gentleman understands that we only have one chance at life. A career should be rewarding in a spiritual way rather than being just a rush to accumulate as much money as possible as quickly as possible. A career should be morally satisfying and should leave one at the end of the day feeling a sense of accomplishment rather than relief that another day has ended. The Southern agrarians understood that a healthy society needs a sense of perspective that values those who till the soil, build things, fix things, create things, and solve things.

A career decision that doesn’t place proper emphasis on your spiritual needs is one that will lead to despair and emptiness, no matter how many digits are on your bank account record. Choose wisely.

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  1. Timothy Huckaby's Gravatar Timothy Huckaby
    August 19, 2015    

    Great article! It is something I needed to hear today.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee's Gravatar Stephen Clay McGehee
      August 19, 2015    

      Thank you, sir. When I read that article in the NYT, I knew that I had to write a blog post about it. I’ve been there before, and am so glad that I chose the path of the Southern Agrarians. Perhaps that will be a post for another day.

  2. August 22, 2015    

    An excellent and timely post.

    At some point, all of us need to re-evaluate what constitutes ‘progress’.

    In the last several decades, ‘progress’ has been defined by those whose agenda requires a shifting of thought, emotion and action away from the individual and toward the organization – always an ever-growing organization.

    We’ve virtually worshiped the government, the company, the not-for profit or any other organization whose determination to achieve its corporate goals has over-powered everything else. The ‘results’, the ‘vote tally’, the ‘segment dominance’, the ‘bottom line’ are now almost ‘Holy Grails’.

    How will Amazon grow more ‘muscular’? By demanding more and more – and more – from its ‘citizens’ than its competitors. How will any company, organization, university – or what have you – surge to the front in this rat race? By demanding more and more – and more – than its competitors.

    And with these demands come the inevitable strictures and requirements, the social and business straight-jackets, that, supposedly, make possible this never-ending progress.

    Unfortunately all these requirements suffer two drawbacks: they have no natural bounds as do all agricultural pursuits and they come from decisions made by those who ‘want’ rather than from those who ‘do’.

    Rain, flood, drought, hail, pests, even simple lack of days suitable for growing, lend a realness to agricultural achievement that’s lacking in our current mechanical, electronic, socially-driven society. There are no natural restraints. Unfortunately, given the ego and avarice of many, there are often no restraints at all.

    Further, the need for ‘talkers’ to also be ‘walkers’, a natural outcome of tending your own soil, is completely missing in a system in which some group with a flimsy but convincing story can get thousands of others to contribute millions of dollars to set up the newest corporate or political structure.

    Absent the restraint provided by nature, the ‘soil’ of that structure, whatever shape it takes, will be tended by what are, in reality, ‘drones’ usually looking for the highest pay they can peck out of their artificial turf.

    Given the nature of Man, I think it’s unlikely we’ll ever reach a point where there are not those who wish to create a system in which their wants are provided by the efforts of others. That’s the reason I believe that the ego-driven, dollar-hungry, seemingly mindless, certainly soul-less ‘leaders’ of this government/business society are not the ones to be found fault with.

    Do they deserve fault? Certainly. But faulting does nothing to improve the situation. What we need is to improve the resistance of the everyday person.

    Disapprove of your company’s tactics? Find yourself in tears after meetings? Ashamed that there’s no time for your own family? Unable to help a needful person because you ‘just can’t find the time’?

    Leave. Don’t put up with it. And encourage others to do so. Sounds insane, but it’s not only your health, but the health of your community, nation and people that’s at stake. Believe it or not, you’re going to be fine. With faith in your God, you’ll be blessed.

    Post’s such as this one are excellent wake-up calls. Mr. McGehee deserves credit for bringing this sad story to our attention.

    Now, we need to follow through one by one by one. One’s not many, but God started with only Adam and seemed to be pleased with what he’d wrought.

    Natural restraint can be re-introduced if each of us with our beliefs, integrity and personal standards become that restraint

    • Stephen Clay McGehee's Gravatar Stephen Clay McGehee
      August 22, 2015    

      Thank you, sir!

      For those who are not already familiar with Mr. Kelly, he is the author of The Passing of Tulee Main. Take a look at his web site for more information.

A Southern gentleman never turns his back on his rich Southern heritage. What motives others may impose on the Confederate flag in their mind is their problem - not ours. Don't let anyone steal your heritage.

The Civil Right – Traditional Southern culture and civility, and the social/political system that results from it.