A Country Boy will Survive!

Image result for picture of Democratic debate Feb 19 2020

Watching last night’s Democratic debate was like watching a free-for-all cage match at WrestleMania, or gladiators fighting to the death in the Roman Coliseum. I almost felt sorry for Mayor Bloomberg. He had no idea he was going to be attacked like a piñata at a Latino birthday party! I thought of an interesting cartoon to illustrate the mugging Bloomberg received last night.

Van Jones has a great sense of humor, a day ago he said, “- Bloomberg went in as the Titanic, billion-dollar machine Titanic. Titanic meet iceberg” Actually, there were several icebergs he encountered.[1]  

Yet, not one of Bloomberg’s adversaries bothered to criticize the mayor about a comment he was quoted saying dating back to November 17th, 2016, which is the real subject of this article’s focus.  

  • If you think about it, the agrarian society lasted 3,000 years, and we can teach processes. I can teach anybody – even people in this room, so no offense intended – to be a farmer. It’s a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, you add water, up comes corn. You can learn that. Then you had 300 years of the industrial society. You put the piece of metal on the lathe, you turn the crank in direction of arrow and you can have a job. And we created a lot of jobs. At one point, 98% of the world worked in agriculture. Today it’s 2% of the United States.
  • Now comes the information economy and the information economy is fundamentally different because it’s built around replacing people with technology, and the skill sets that you have to learn are how to think and analyze. And that is a whole degree level different. You have to have a different skill set. You have to have a lot more gray- matter. It’s not clear the teachers can teach or the students can learn. And so the challenge of society is to find jobs for these people. …

Now in defense of Bloomberg’s remarks, the video dramatizes a real problem that pertains to today’s political climate. It’s called selective editing. Anybody can take what another person says and twist it out of context. This inevitably happens when famous people will say something, only to have the listener or somebody who has an axe to grind to twist the remark into something that original speaker never intended to say.

Unfortunately, nowadays, in our “holier than thou” society, the self-righteous zeitgeist is preventing people from really listening to one another. I could give you many examples, but you probably already know this to be true—to some degree.

In Bloomberg’s case, the video shrewdly left out the first sentence of his comment, where he was referring to life in an agrarian society that lasted 3,000 years, but not to farmers today. The Sanders campaign, like many Republicans (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) I know, used the same misleading tactic to tar and feather Bloomberg. Perhaps the Bloomberg campaign made a valid point about the way the viral video has been edited.

But after reading this defense, does Bloomberg really think that historically, farming is a skill that requires less raw intelligence? I wondered further: Would many college professors agree that being a farmer is a job fit for people of less intellectual acumen?

Think like a contrarian.

Ask yourself a simple question.

What if academic hubris is one of the reasons so many young people owe so much money for attending colleges? What if we trained more of our young people to develop a practical skill that can get them in a union, so they can utilize a trade-skill?

  • Numerous studies show that recent college graduates end up in jobs that didn’t require a college degree are five times as likely to still be in such a position five years later, compared with those who put their diploma to use right away. Fast forward to ten years later: “three-quarters of graduates who took jobs early on that didn’t demand a degree will be in the same spot. And these graduates earn around $10,000 a year less than their counterparts who started early in jobs that required a college degree.”[2]
  • Student debt are easily among the saddest stories you will hear. In 2019, those who owe some of the $1.41 trillion in student loan debt happen to be college dropouts. They took out loans to go to school, hoping for a better life. But without college degrees, many don’t find good jobs to help pay back these loans. It not only ruins their lives, it’s terrible for the nation’s budget. [3]

Loans financed by the federal government, ultimately leaving taxpayers on the hook. I personally knew a woman who took out a student loan of about $100,000 to become a chiropractor, only to discover after the first year she changed her mind. She still got stuck paying the unpaid debt.

And who is responsible? One can point to the banks and the high interest rates they charge. Should the colleges and universities also be responsible for tantalizing the concept of a college education?

What if colleges are not meant for everybody—except the most gifted students? What a concept.

As a rabbi, I tend to read the news with an interest for presenting a Judaic theological perspective.  I heard a song on the radio that speaks about this problem. Hank William’s song Country Boy will Survive struck me as being especially poignant—especially when you think about the number of college graduates who cannot find jobs, who end up owing

The preacher man says it’s the end of time
And the Mississippi River, she’s a-goin’ dry
The interest is up and the stock market’s down
And you only get mugged if you go downtown

I live back in the woods you see
My woman and the kids and the dogs and me
I got a shotgun a rifle and a four-wheel drive
And a country boy can survive

Country folks can survive

I can plow a field all day long
I can catch catfish from dusk till dawn (Yeah)
We make our own whiskey and our own smoke too
Ain’t too many things these old boys can’t do

We grow good ole tomatoes and homemade wine
And a country boy can survive

Country folks can survive

Farmers remind us that honest work is something that is praiseworthy. Rabbinic tradition teaches us: “A father is obligated to teach his son a craft. Some say, he must also teach him how to swim. R. Judah said, “Anyone who fails to teach his son a skill is as though he has taught him to steal.”[4]

The Mishnah’s remark is very insightful and ought to be emblazoned on the walls of every university. Our children would be all the wiser for it.


[1] https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2020/02/19/van_jones_michael_bloomberg_the_billion-dollar_titanic_that_met_iceberg_elizabeth_warren.html

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/25/why-your-first-job-out-of-college-really-really-matters.html

[3] https://www.investopedia.com/student-loan-debt-2019-statistics-and-outlook-4772007

[4] Kiddushin Mishnah 1:7.

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