I’m not going to stand in front of you and claim that the McCartys are paragons of thought and wisdom. On the other hand, even though I was writing them with all the trappings of stereotype “stupid rednecks” for the purposes of the Muriel’s Revenge arc, I wanted to give at least a little sense that what you’re seeing represents their behavior under extraordinary circumstances.
Nobody’s stupid all the time, any more than they’re smart all the time, but there were two really nasty factors working against the McCartys’ capabilities for good decisions from the start of their arrival.
1: Muriel, a very charismatic leader figure (who you figure has dominated everyone, Eustace included, for a good portion of their lives)
2: Because of her need for immediate action, they set out through the desert ill-prepared, and came to the Z Ranch hungry, thirsty, and very, very tired.
These are insidious factors that throughout human history have led otherwise perfectly normal, reasonable people down dark roads, or just to terrible decisions. I know I get really irritable after missing a couple of meals, and any business paperwork I deal with is best not processed after an all-night bender. I have less personal experience with cults of personality (thankfully), but there’s ample evidence out there of what folks are capable of when someone they trust tells them it’s the right thing to do. Think of Jonestown. Or Nazi Germany.
Without Muriel driving them on, it’s doubtful the McCartys even end up at the ranch the way they did. It’s also entirely possible that the violence doesn’t escalate if Muriel isn’t there to urge it on… Cousin Bob seemed to have quite the mean streak, but the rest?
In fact I had the idea of Muriel as sort of the Queen Bee of a “hive mind”, to the point where near the end of Episode 7 her temporary removal from the picture leads to a lull where the surviving McCartys surrender on Eustace’s sensible advice that they listen to the men with the guns. All it takes is Muriel’s reappearance for that to go right to hell and everything to be stirred up again, and it’s not until that final rifle shot through her head that the fight goes out of all her kin.
I went so far as to have Frank make a bit of a shout out since I knew there were Warhammer 40,000 fans among the readers. An alien army called the Tyranids operated as a hive mind, and there was a special rule called “Shoot The Big Ones” where if you killed off one of the bigger leader types the rank-and-file bugs near them might stop fighting. So that was Frank’s advice to Oscar… shoot the big one and it’s all over.
Human beings aren’t hive insects, but in some circumstances we do fall into a mob mentality which isn’t all that far off. But once that mob breaks up, once the instigator(s) lose their hold, the survivors are left wondering what happened, and why they did the things they did in the grip of the moment.
Will the McCartys wake up after their nap and return to jobs as natural philosophers and rocket scientists? No. But if they don’t end up dead or in jail, I’m sure they can go back to farming, and considering how many of them there were and how healthy they seem, it doesn’t seem like they were too bad at that.
“Feed men, then ask of them virtue” may have been put forth as the hypothetical slogan on the banners raised against Christ, but whatever your default state of IQ and education, I do believe reason at least comes best after a good meal and a good night’s sleep.