Friday, February 7, 2014

Texas, Explained

My sister forwarded me this video by Bill Whittle --

It is funny, and has a kernel of truth to it (I did these sorts of things growing up, too, and could do them still if the urge ever really got hold of me), but it did set me into a bit of a melancholy state, because it is very easy to make observations like this and come to conclusions that I think are a bit off and too optimistic.

For some reason -- well, not for some reason, for the reasons you see in that video -- Texas has a reputation among outsiders as a rather libertarian place.  I can assure you that such appearances are totally deceiving.  Texas is not really very libertarian in spirit; the only reason you can do this sort of stuff is because for a large swath of the population, these kinds of activities are not really remarkable.  The only reason they are not 'regulated' I suspect is that to do so would be too much of a headache.  Whoever granted the permits would be flooded with paperwork every day, and since nobody cares anyway (at least in the areas where people do that kind of thing), there would be little point.

But if, say, you were to go to a public school in Texas, you would probably see a police car in the parking lot.  And you would probably find an officer somewhere in the building.  He would have his own office, because he's permanently stationed there.  This has become a commonplace.  At one time, if there was a fight between students, the teachers or administrators of the school would deal with it internally.  Now they just have the cop haul them off.  The cop is usually a friendly guy, and the students are usually friendly with him; it doesn't exactly feel 'oppressive.'  But his purpose there is what it is.  You act right, and don't get into fights (or fight back, even) or you go to jail.

If you looked around, you would likely see surveillance cameras.  Everywhere.  Depending on the city, you might find metal detectors at the entrances, and if you did, likely the kids' backpacks would be see-through -- obviously, to make it difficult to carry around contraband.

If I had to distill Texas' political leanings down to a sentence, I would call it a strange mix of authoritarianism and don't-give-an-expletive.  Basically, our political system is 'don't make the wrong people mad.'  But maybe that's every political system.  I know a man who grew up here and later moved to Louisiana, and swears that he will never, ever move back because Texas is 'Communist.'  I kid you not, and coming from a man with actual experience, and not exactly a sentiment easy to square with 'libertarian.'  And in an odd sort of way, I understand what he means.  People observe the string of Republican governors and presidential candidates coming out of our state, the lack of an income tax and all of that, but they either don't know or forget that Texas was almost totally and completely dominated by the Democratic party for over a century.  It was very much a one-party state.  The Republican thing came about only very recently.  It will probably end.

You might call it an atmosphere of lackadaisical vindictiveness.  Not a lot of highly cerebral, elaborate political theory, here.  No.  Texans are a-okay with the state, so long as the state you are talking about is their own, and not California, or Massachusetts, or New York, or Washington D.C.  (Do not try to correct my political geography -- I said no elaborate theories.  Anyway, I'm only reporting, not opining.)  A friend from Ohio once quipped that it must be a state law that a picture of Texas be on every can of beer sold within the state.  It is as if people were worried you might get drunk and forget where you were.

Furthering the lackadaisicalness, there aren't many rules, not because anybody actually dislikes rules much, but because, as I said, nobody gives a flying expletive what anybody else is doing, so long as it is sufficiently Texan.  Until, that is, you break one of the actual rules, however small, at which point they'll absolutely want to see you fry for it, so help you God and may He have mercy on your tender soul, because they for darn sure won't.  I did say vindictive, and you can be sure they mean it.  If nobody can find an excuse to shoot you on the spot, you will go to jail, and if they can find a reason to put a needle in your arm, they will do it with glee.

Hence the torrid love affair with law enforcement in the state, and the cops and cameras in the schools, and the general okayness with actual Texas government.

If I could propose a sort of poetic image of the Texas attitude, it would be a statue of the goddess Lady Justice.  Except in the Texas version, being rather non-cerebral and irreflective, she would not be hoisting a scales, but maybe a cold longneck, in recognition of general lackadaisacalness.  That would be more fitting.  And maybe I'd also get rid of the sword and the toga, those not really being very Texan, either.  Maybe she could have her other hand resting on the grip of a .357 Mag, sitting in a holster on her hip.  (Aside -- .357 Mag must be the official Texas caliber, if there ever was one.  It would not surprise me that ownership of such were to be made a condition of residency, or at least voter registration, at some point in the future.  Be sure to pick one up if you decide to drop by.)  And she might be wearing something more appropriate, like maybe a nice frilly bustier, with maybe some lace or fringe or something.  But I suppose at that point, you've got everybody thinking "Hey, who's the hottie, and why is she blindfolded?", and probably about how much fun this might turn out to be, and not so much about justice anymore.  So that probably wouldn't work out. Oh well.  I suppose it was a useful mental exercise. 

I was reading an article describing a supposed 12 nations that make up America, and it told me in so many roundabout words that I was an extremely violent person.  Or at least, the people group which I belong to was, or some other such sociodemographical nonsense, or at least that my group was perceived to be that way by his group, no doubt a part of Puritanical Yankeedom, which apparently abhors violence right up until the point that it has to do it, like when witches need burning, or the time when King Charles needed his head cut off, which I figure is just like everybody else.  I suppose when you do things all together as opposed to individually, it's different.  Somehow.

Anyway, I immediately took offence.  But then I got to thinking...

...about the time that kid in my PE class shot that other kid in the face with a .410...

...and the time that kid in my English class got stabbed to death in a knife fight, right down the street from a good friend of mine's house...

...and that friend of my dad's, who spent three days in jail for beating the living daylights out of an off-duty cop with a length of lead pipe.  (The 'lenient sentence' was because he had been 'provoked,' and by 'provoked,' what I really mean is attacked, with self-same length of pipe, and he shouldn't have gone to jail at all.  Did I mention that Texans love cops?)...

...and that friend of the above man, who blew a guy to Kingdom Come with a 12-gauge shotgun, that had been holding up his wife with a 9mm in their garage...

...and that other guy my dad used to eat breakfast with most mornings before work, who killed two guys who tried to rob him as he was opening up his check-cashing business down the street from my dad's office, and still had a cast on his leg at the time from the gunfight he had been in a few weeks before...

...and that guy from Pasadena, where I live now, who, well, you can read the link...

...and that security guard at the plant where I work, who was a recently returned Afghanistan war vet, who was strangled to death by his civilian neighbor in a fight, after he had stabbed said neighbor 12 times (seriously, do you really need another story than that one?  A vet in the prime of life just happens to have a neighbor who can overpower and kill him bare-handed, after being stabbed multiple times and severely wounded!?  He wasn't exactly the biggest guy in the world, but still...)...

...and I got to thinking, "If I really thought about it, I could probably go on like this, for at least 45 minutes."

And then I remembered being in college, with those sort of casual acquaintances you meet in class and such, and after you've known eachother for a semester or so, you'd start relating interesting stories from your past, and after they'd had their turn, I'd start talking about some story like the above, and they would look at me like I'd just descended from an alien spacecraft or sprouted a second head out of my neck, right before their eyes, and the rest of the relationship would be dominated by long, awkward silences, and things like "yeah, you know, I've really got to go..."  And that's when I realized that the author of the article might have been more right than I had first thought.

(Though to be fair, those other college students were also mostly from Texas, it's just that they were the sort of 'yuppy' Texans from the neighborhoods sprouting up in suburbs on the north sides of towns, who are able to get into the good schools, and at this point tend to dominate them.  Which is to say, not very representative, and certainly not normal.  I'll have more to say about them later.  Did you know that Texas' two largest universities, the University of Texas in Austin and Texas A&M in College Station have some of the highest rates of attendance by National Merit finalists, batting way above their national standings?  It's because, no matter how smart they are, Texans generally just won't leave, even if it might be good for them, no matter what.  So, Harvard and Stanford and such just don't get many of them.  [And if you bothered to read that link, I can assure you, Ed Funkhouser is completely full of it.  Whatever A&M does to recruit students, it really doesn't matter.  The 'Steers and Queers' Texas effect swamps whatever he is up to, I can assure you.])

I identify my own 'nation' as being more 'Greater Appalachia,' just looking at the descriptions, since I do not use 'sir' and 'ma’am' and Mr. and Mrs. the way the 'Deep South' does (and I can verify that -- that is exactly how people from southern Louisiana talk.  But I don't.) -- though I don't generally 'identify' with actually being Appalachian, if you see what I mean.  I just recognize my habits when I see 'em.  But as I got to thinking about it more, I'm quite sure that there is quite a lot of upside to Texas being a lively mixture of the two most violent cultures America has to offer.  For one, it appears to solve a longstanding mystery which I had up to now been unable to crack -- gangsterism.

Practically speaking, Texas has none to speak of, which has long struck me as odd, because I do not get the impression that Texans are any less prone to beating the bejeezus out of people and the like than anyone else around.  At least, there isn't the kind of gangsterism like you see depicted of in places like New York or Las Vegas, or what have you, where they are actually organized black-market criminal enterprises.  In Texas, 'gangs' are pissant little things, composed mostly of poorly 'parented' (read -- 'disciplined') young men, who are too weak and proud to handle the butt-kickings the rest of us had to endure in school on our own.  By 'mostly,' I mean approximately 98-99%, with the remainder being soul-less, conscienceless, totally animal killers, who would probably be that way, gang or no-gang or however they were parented.  They form 'gangs,' rather than swallow their pride and stand on their own two feet like men, or not, as the case may be, but to at least run away or take it on your own, the way everybody else learns to.  And they're really not hard to deal with in real life, when you realize that that's what they are, overgrown infants, just be friendly and don't expect too much.  The non-killers, anyway.  The killers are best just avoided.  You can know 'em just looking at them.

Fortunately, the killers usually wind up dead or in jail pretty young, rarely living to see 30, and the rest tend to disperse after they get out of school and become normal, if somewhat disgruntled and sociopathic peasants that go in to making up the underclass.  They are associated with drugs, and crime, but only inasmuch as they might happen to be morally degenerate lowlifes.  They are generally users, rather than dealers, though, and their crime tends to be opportunistic and disorganized.  Dealers in Texas, at least the ones that I have known, are loners, and usually fall into one of two categories -- losers who barely scrape by, and generally friendly people who are fairly professional.  Neither of them tends to be particularly violent, at least not much more than anybody else.  There generally aren't 'territories' as depicted in New York and such, as far as I know.  Mostly it is 'free-lance,' come and go as you please.  The kiddy-gangs have 'territories,' but again that is more a matter of their delicate prides than anything else, not 'business' related, and doesn't much concern adults who aren't involved in such activities.

The only place 'gangsterism' can sort of take root, to the degree that it even does, is in the Mexican neighborhoods.  And I think this is telling.  The reason that territories don't take hold in Texas, as they seem to in other places, I think, is because they can't.  To have 'territories,' they must be able to embed themselves in the community, which is to say, the community must deal with them as members rather than outsiders, and 'gang business' as part of routine, in order for that kind of thing to work.  Otherwise, it is too difficult; you can't operate 'below the table' when there isn't any table.  And in Texas, you just don't act that way -- if you try, you usually fry, as I have said.  There is no better way to attract the wrath of a thousand avenging angels descending down upon your sorry head, than to break a law, or cross the wrong person, in Texas.  Basically, the reason it seems to me that the Mexican community in Texas has trouble with this stuff, (and the Mexicans in Mexico, for that matter) it that they tend to be 'too nice,' by which I mean, 'understanding and sympathetic.'  Unsurprisingly, non-Mexicans tend to have a reputation among the Mexicans as being 'cold.'

One result of this 'niceness,' is that the gangsters have breathing room (of course, there are many others, which don't always turn out so bad...).  I have a friend who keeps a house just across the border, who tells me stories of people on this side going back to their homes in Mexico to find them occupied by members of the cartels and such, who inform them that they'll be needing to rent the house out, because of it's location, for business, or what have you.  And, generally, the owners, not wanting to get shot or whatnot, find themselves going along, you know, to get along, and take the money and find someplace else to stay.

I simply cannot imagine this kind of thing happening in Texas.  There are few more effective ways I can think of to meet your Maker in extremely short order than to be caught in a house you're not supposed to be in by its owner.  There is no engaging with, or treating with, or talking to, in any possible shape or form, unless such engaging and treating is considered to be strictly limited to shooting, and talking to consists of succinct notifications of imminent bodily harm.  This is something that is just not done.  Okay, well, it is, but one makes quite certain one is not caught doing it, and one quite often winds up either killing or dying if he is not absolutely careful on this point.  He certainly is not given the option of paying rent.

This kind of thinking goes for pretty much any such behavior.  You can't cut deals with people hellbent on not 'getting to know you,' who give not a brass farthing where you spend eternity or when you begin spending it, that being between you and God, and nobody else.  Texans, again, being generally non-cerebral, seem to sort of instinctively understand that their dealings with strangers are strictly limited to temporal concerns, such as the most expedient route for removing your sorry hide to a place it might actually have some sense to being when at present it isn't.  If shooting may be productively incorporated, or even wedged in on some useful pretence, well so much the better.  Exceptions and considerations and external concerns don't really figure in.

You just can't gangsterize Texas, I don't think.  At least not respectably.  The mentality is all wrong.  And have you ever heard of a riot in Texas?  I haven't, and we have several large cities.  There's been ample opportunity.  I'm not saying it never happened, I just don't know of one.  Or really much of any of significance in the South.  Again, the mentality doesn't seem to be there.  One just doesn't flout the rules lightly.

(Might also have to do with 'individualism,' riots tending to be collective affairs associated with group identities.  I'm really not sure.  But again, the mentality is all wrong.  I just can't imagine Texans doing that.  Doesn't make sense.  But I shouldn't give the impression that the atmosphere in Texas is extremely violent.  It isn't.  It's as friendly as anywhere else, as far as I can tell, it's just that different things tend to happen here than elsewhere.)

So what makes Texas, well, Texas?  What went into bringing about this strange state of affairs, and has perpetuated it all these years?  Probably a lot, but if I had to guess the lynchpin of it all is, again, the public schools.  Education in a Texas public school environment, at least up until recently (and again, I'll be returning to this point shortly) consists primarily of a sort of Holy Trinity of subject material -- fighting, football, and Alamo Worship, which generally goes by the more formalized name of Texas History.  Yes, there are other actual subjects taught, at least in terms of going through the motions, you know, so parents are okay with it, but on the whole, anything else the kids happen to pick up is usually incidental.

In general, it is not required to excel at any of these subjects (or really, probably any subject), but participation is practically mandatory.  So, it seems to be the experience that counts.  Using this regimen, our public schools (again, until recently) seem to have a remarkable way of chewing through whatever children happen to show up on school-day and faithfully and reliably churning out Texans regardless of circumstance.  Whatever your background, and however you raise 'em at home, if you send 'em to public school, they will come out Texans, with all that entails, whether that suits you or not.  That, I can assure you.  We change 'em all over in one generation, tops.

I've seen on the Internet some theories that 'civilization' comes about through a sort of process of natural selection.  After many, many years of imposed 'law and order,' whatever 'uncivilized genes' are present will slowly be weeded out as they poke their heads up and run up against the long-arm-of-the-law lawnmower, so to speak, until one day whatever is left over is compatible with a civilized way of living.  Well, I don't really know one way or another whether I really believe this, but I can say for certain, if it turns out to be true, that Texas was probably the most civilizing force that was ever known in the history of the world.

I mean, just think about it.  I really can't imagine a more civilizing regimen of selection, than pretty well turning kids loose in a survival of the fittest regimen, with barely any sort of civilizing instruction to sort of suppress the expression of uncivilized traits (unless they get it at home, of course), and then blasting to smithereens and jailing anybody who doesn't happen to make the cut once they're old enough for open-season to commence.  Texas must surely be on the fastest track to civilization there ever was!  And who knows, maybe one day we'll make it!  Sure would be a shame in some ways, though...

(I hope nobody is actually taking this stuff too seriously at this point.  If you're from Texas, and you're kind of grinning with pride, or if you're not from Texas, and you're thinking "and here I had thought I was living in a first-world country for all these years" and laughing a little because it's not really true but kind of funny, then that's about what I was going for.  If you're horrified, well, lighten up...)

As I was saying, in some ways, sadly, we seem to be already getting there.  Civilized, I mean.  There's already getting to be a pretty large slice of Texas that doesn't have these kinds of experiences anymore, like those college students I had mentioned, from the 'good' suburbs.  And as I had said, the schools, they are a-changing, and I expect their effect to weaken and weaken.

There has been an enormous influx of out-of-state people, not to mention out of country people, and they have tended to want other things of their schools, and different ways of living.  They have formed cultural exclaves, especially in North Dallas and North and West Houston, where things are, more or less, like everywhere else in North America.  They send their kids to the best schools, and tend not to shoot at criminals.  Or to shoot at much of anything, because they don't care too much for that kind of stuff, or have bonfires, or many of the other essential things that go into being Texan.

Between the legalistic, bureaucratic rot that infects all public institutions, and the cultural dilution pouring in in response to the hot Texas economy, I expect that Texas will not last much more than two generations.  At least, not in a form that someone like Bill Whittle would like to make a video about. Too many people won't want it to be that way anymore, and visiting Texas will maybe be about like visiting Iowa or Kansas.

Oh well.


CGHill said...

I spent just enough time at UT-Austin to become at least some percentage Texan. (It helped that my mother's folks -- and there were a lot of them -- were right there to instruct me in the Ways of the Lone Star.) I regret none of it, of course.

Scott said...

Yes, actually Okies and Arkies and Coon-asses really aren't all that much different, anyway. Neither is most of the South. And, for that matter, probably a percentage of the whole rest of the country, except that in most of those places they are more of a minority.

But putting things that way wouldn't have made for a very good post :)