I ask you, readers, why does anyone who is creative and interested in philosophical discourse or cultural progressiveness move to Texas or stay here? Texas is good for business, we know, and some may want to come back at me with an argument about the wild-west libertarian idea of the individual or freedom of expression. This could in theory be a good environment for artists, but for the most part Texas’ brand of libertarianism is antisocial and generally paranoid, and art is inherently social.
Last week the old-school leftist rag Mother Jones ran a piece about a recent study exploring the theory of “loose” verses “tight” states, with tight meaning “have many strongly enforced rules and little tolerance for deviance,” and loose meaning “have few strongly enforced rules and greater tolerance for deviance.” So, essentially social conservatism verses liberalism. Religiosity, police presence, booze, prison sentences, porn consumption—all kinds of measures and variables were analyzed.
Texas was the sixth tightest state in the U.S, grouped with places like Mississippi and Alabama. The researchers grounded this argument with: “…tighter societies generally have had to deal with ‘a greater number of ecological and historical threats.’” Also: “Citizens of of ‘tight’ states tend to prize order and structure in their lives. Citizens of ‘loose’ states tend to be more ‘open,’ wanting to try new things and have new experiences.”
This linked to another Mother Jones story about a cluster of studies on how the brains of conservatives are fundamentally different from the brains of liberals, i.e. politics is personality. This touches on the above idea about dealing with threats and the hard-wired fear response and the amygdala. From studies out of Brown University and Penn State, the consensus is that “people who have a more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative, and less tolerant…” .
Also, intriguingly, the longer you entertain or harbor a political view, the more your brain doubles down on that stance. In other words, the more you practice a certain way of living and thinking, the more you actually embody it. (I am not, for the record, a biological determinist. But today I am a pessimist and I do believe in slippery slopes.) Conservatives are also reportedly happier than us neurotic liberals.
Studies also point out that like-minded people tend to cluster, and then breed more of the same kind of people. A Time Magazine story about the “personalities” of places illustrates a trend: instead of regions becoming more varied as the country’s population grows, increasingly people are picking up and moving to the places where they fit in more comfortably socially and politically. Reading between the lines, Texas is becoming more conservative rather than less, which is exactly the opposite of what I’ve wanted to believe over the last ten years.
When I try to view my city or state through the eyes of a newcomer, I can imagine the claustrophobic confusion. It must feel like the nation’s libertarian bloodline meets its social conservative bloodline right here on the Trinity River, and neither of these impulses is good for creativity, because they’re intellectually barren. My husband is from London; he’s been here since 2004 and he’s still in shock.
If you’re from here, you’ve picked up all the unspoken codes and secret mores and weird invisible rules for how to get along here even if you’re not religious or right-wing. I’m in a position to laugh when a relative announces at Thanksgiving: “I’d rather kill my daughter than have her marry an atheist.” But it’s mostly a stink I can’t smell anymore because I’ve lived with it for so long.
But when I look at the current social and political climate and the information coming in from the various studies, I have two terrible recurring thoughts. The first one is: Why would anyone who is truly creative stay in this city or this state if they could live elsewhere?
The answer I think for the most part is that artists (musicians, writers) stay here because it’s cheap, and “easy to live here,” as long as you don’t get pulled over by the cops. Also, you can band together and make it “us against them” and feel (at least temporarily) purposeful about your scene.
I’m obsessed with place, and I do often talk to local artists about their relationship to Texas, but I’d love to hear more from native and non-native Texas-based artists about why they choose to live and work here.
My second terrible thought is: Why am I here? I moved back to Texas from much more liberal places, but I didn’t have to. Am I here because it’s cheap and easy? Or am I here because at heart I’m a terrible secret conservative, or am I here because I’m a dummy hoping against all odds to witness or even help usher in some change?
I don’t know anymore. According to this geographic personality test I belong in the District of Columbia.
also by Christina Rees
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