I live in Texas. This constitutes a number of different conceptions of what, in general, the culture here is like. I’ve spoken to Canadians that were certain we still ride around on horses. We don’t; in fact, it is almost imperative you have your own vehicle because everything is so goddamn far away. You can drive all day and still be in Texas. Texans are proud. Every Texas student has to take a Texas History course in school, where you learn about the independence of Texas as its own Nation before joining the United States. There are great culture hubs that subvert the overall Texan mentality like Austin and Denton, but I don’t live there (anymore). I’m in Houston, an oil driven city. The reason Texas is primarily Republican is not necessarily due to religious affiliation though that plays a large part. I believe it stems first from oil being a main product of the state. I didn’t understand this fully until gas prices dropped a few years ago and I felt happy until I realized that meant my dad was going to lose his job in IT because the company was losing money.
I studied philosophy first at Sam Houston State University. In the two years that I spent studying philosophy there between 2005 and the end of 2007, I didn’t meet a single other student majoring in philosophy. I was the only one. There were, allegedly, five of us. There was no formal department, only an office in the Psychology department headed by the oldest philosophy professor there, a Mad Logician named Frank Fair. I left and went to study philosophy at North Texas and found more of my tribe there, but it was clear even there that we were surrounded by a culture that wouldn’t or couldn’t assimilate us. I was told, from the very moment I announced my major, to study literally anything else. Philosophy holds no value in Texas culture, maybe American culture as a whole. But Texas, certainly from a Texan perspective, is the heartland of American culture and traditional American values. Here, the Protestant work ethic is strong and demanding. There was no work for philosophers because philosophy wasn’t viewed as work. I don’t think this is unique to Texas. American college is most commonly viewed not as a pursuit of higher education, but as an economic strategy. What will you study so that you can make the most money? Several friends of mine pursued petroleum engineering to that end.
But I must work to survive. And so now I am my own contradiction. I think, write, and speak about the misgivings of the protestant work ethic to minds, eyes, and ears that cannot understand what I mean. I tell them there’s no inherent value in labor and give examples of not only myself and others I work with who are overworked and underpaid and get told to work harder, or smarter, or get a better job. I can’t articulate to them that climbing the corporate ladder implies that someone has to be at the bottom rung and that no person should suffer based on their economic position — that your net income doesn’t dictate your net worth as a person. I listen to podcasts every day to try and learn more, engage different ideas, to write in order to better understand my ideas and emotions. I do this, while working six days a week, 50-60 hours a week. I exhibit every habit of the protestant work ethic. I cash in vacation days in order to have more money which means I work even more. I won’t find another job because, somehow, I love this job and my coworkers. It enables me to do other things I want to do, maybe out of a contempt; it forces me to make time to do what I want. It wasn’t enough that I was working 50-60 hour weeks so regularly it normalized, so I started waking up at 5AM to exercise and now I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been at 30 years old. I stay up later to write and read. I am consumed by work but despise its myth of “hard work paying off.” And yet I work.