Good Ol’ Boys

By Bob Litton

I’ve recently been refreshing my memory by reading a little bit of ancient history. All kinds of visions can come out of musing over ancient history to those who are susceptible…as I am.

One fact I picked up was that the Chinese for centuries looked upon soldiers as being  on the bottom rung of the social ladder together with thieves and beggars. While most peoples had only three social classes, the Chinese had five: scholars, farmers, artisans, merchants and soldiers. Note how humanistic yet utilitarian their sense of social values was. Of course, in actual fact the warlords were frequently on top of things, from the material standpoint at any rate.

In the West, soldiers, while seldom considered to be the first in the nation — the obvious exceptions being Sparta and Rome — were nevertheless usually accorded at least second place. Plato, for instance, dreamed of a perfect society ruled by the Guardians (philosophers), protected by the Soldiers and supported by the Common People.

All this got me to thinking how we might classify people in the United States, especially in Texas. That’s how I came up with the categories of Good Ol’ Boys, Ostriches and Pollyannas. You will please forgive me if my nomenclature is not very original; I considered it important to stick to the old-fashioned names for things rather than confuse matters by inventing fancy new ones.

For those of you who don’t know or who may have forgotten, a “good ol’ boy” is one of the established figures of a community, very often the great-great-grandson of an early settler of the area.  He and his kin will own much of the property and be involved in most of the essential enterprises either directly or in some hidden fashion. He may or may not be on any of the local governing bodies, but he and the other “good ol’ boys” still dictate what decisions are made by those bodies.  He knows what’s going on in secret councils because he’s there, although he might find it expedient to deny as much. If a new entrepreneur comes into town offering something the “good ol’ boy’ either doesn’t like or doesn’t understand, he’ll try to cut the new man out by passing the word along via the other “good ol’ boys” that the fellow is to find financing hard to come by and other means of community support unavailable.

Next comes the “ostrich”. He hasn’t been around as long as the “good ol’ boy”. Maybe he’s just the great-grandson of a settler. Still, he doesn’t threaten the “good ol’ boy’s” authority and is useful for being on the front line where the dirty work gets done. Although the “ostrich” might be one of the politicians, that doesn’t mean he’s one of the decision-makers. He knows what goes on in the secret councils only because the “good ol’ boy” tells him. Sometimes edicts from the secret councils of the “good ol’ boys” are positive decisions in terms of the community. And sometimes they will have a negative effect on the community but foster the fortunes of the “good ol’ boys”. The “ostrich” realizes when either situation is the case, but he nevertheless supports the negative decision just as enthusiastically as the positive. That’s why he’s called an “ostrich”.

Last comes “Pollyanna”. Although the title is feminine, a true “Pollyanna” can be of either gender. “Pollyannas” simply don’t know what’s going on, not even enough to stick their heads in the sand. They can be dangerous for that very reason. That’s why “good ol’ boys” stay away from them as much as possible and watch their tongues whenever an encounter cannot be avoided. “Pollyannas” are not necessarily newcomers. Their lineage in a community might actually be longer than a “good ol’ boy’s”. They are simply naïve. Even when a bit of skullduggery is explained to them point by point they have a hard time seeing where the villainy lies. On the other hand, they quickly jump at superficial faults which they have learned to recognize by rote…like dirty language.

All three terms — “good ol’ boys”, “ostriches” and “Pollyanna’s” — have been around for a long time. However, I believe this is the first time they have been brought together in a sociological essay. Odd.




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