Texas, Pt. 3
Today is November 28th. I wrote Texas, Pt. 2 on June 27th — just barely over five months ago. Five months ago I came to Texas for a month, and five months later I’m still here. I have picked up on particular quality of Texas that resonates with me.
I have never liked being told what to do, and I’ve noticed that Texans also don’t like being told what to do. This might be part of why I like Texas so much. To some, this may not sound like a great trait.
I will confess that at times I am almost unreasonably resistant to being told what to do. Even in contexts in which it is perfectly appropriate for someone to tell me what to do, like a boss or teacher at work or school, I feel a gentle pang of resistance to sensation of autonomy compromised. That is not to say that I would ever actually make a fuss of such a situation, as I know and understand that it not only reasonable, but also my duty to do as I am told under those circumstances. But I am certainly primed to be on alert for any potential infringement upon personal freedom. And I would say that, in general, Texans are too.
One who hasn’t been to Texas might assume this makes for a rather dysfunctional society. A population primed to resist authority sounds like a recipe for anarchy. Remarkably though, the reality on the ground is anything but that. Texas is a very nice place filled with kind, generous, and conscientious people. How can this be?
It turns out a style of governance can adopt to a population resist to being governed. The governing style of Texas is less intrusive, but also thereby more trusted. Note the furor over attempts to require masks, but broad compliance with the suggestion that they ought to be worn. I was surprised, but shouldn’t have been, to observe a couple months that mask wearing was more prevalent in Dallas than Los Angeles.
Texas has more relaxed rules but more of a community-oriented society, while California has amongst the toughest rules but almost no buy-in from their population (see: beach closures, “people are not willing to be governed”). I should note that I think people should where masks to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and it makes me sad that masks became a political issue. I do think people would have been more amenable to complying if they had been asked, and not told.
The difference between asking and telling is at the crux of the difference in the character of governance of Texas versus the coasts. In a democratic society, the spirit of government ought to be to inquire as to the will of the people and legislate accordingly. I know that this is simplistic and the real world is complex.
Rights must be protected, and majorities, or mobs, should not have their way, unfettered. Elements of socially traditional thinking clash with independence-minded ideals creating some of the greatest political contradictions in Texan society today. When framed as efforts to protect religious liberties and ways of life, they seem the products of freedom-minded thinking. But to the extent that the rights of others are compromised and restricted, they seem to anything but. I am optimistic though.
Taking a step back, the tone and spirit of governance matters. Texas is going through some change, without a doubt. But unlike California and New York, which seem to be run by mini-dictators masquerading as celebrities, Texas is governed by an increasingly diverse and politically balanced set of people who may disagree on many issues, but all love Texas and want it to be better. Above all, they all continue to embody the Texan spirit, as captured in the slogan: “Come and take it.”