“TexasWorld”

Graphic by Barry Vacker, 2021.

Journeys Into the Future and the Past

Behold TexasWorld! A giant land of wonders and horrors awaits in the Lone Star State — rocket launches, border walls, cattle drives, massive telescopes, high fashion, electric cars, skyscraper metropolises, hipster gatherings, conspiracy cults, world-class art, fascist leaders, fossil fuel utopias, Rome-like football stadia, pre-scientific plagues of mass death, and even re-enactments of the Dark Ages. Though TexasWorld has been in development for many decades, it has moved forward and backward with lightning speed in the past few months. It’s all happening today, right now, at this very moment!

For the record, I was born, raised, and educated in Texas and have seen all the TexasWorld described in this essay. Given the plethora of recent events in Texas, I feel compelled to state what is really going down in the Lone Star State—good, bad, and very bad. That’s your trigger warning. Yeah, this is a long read, but Texas is a very big state, especially in its own mind. (Mine included!)

TexasWorld is the Disney Mirror of America

Deep in the heart of Texas, you can experience a variety of 21st Century yesteryears, such as WildWestWorld, MedievalWorld, RomanWorld, and ConspiracyWorld. You can live for the moment in HipsterWorld and FossilFuelWorld, or get a glimpse of a possible tomorrow in FutureWorld. Splattered all over pop culture and the political news, the Lone Star State embodies all the models of a split-trajectory America — celebrations of the future and retreats into the past, all bound up in a Disneyfied version of the 21st century.

Like Disney World, TexasWorld is a space for the regeneration and replication of the imaginary, a vast recycling plant for myths and deities, whose true believers are bent upon total domination. TexasWorld is where Dallas meets the Dark Ages and Mission Control meets MAGA. That’s why the Second Amendment bullets are sure to be flying, sooner more than later. But the bullets will be fired against who?

Graphic by Barry Vacker, 2021.

The above graphic illustrates the themed areas of TexasWorld and each one will be discussed in this essay. But, first, we must review the deepest trajectories that are fueling the various “worlds” of Texas.

Globalization, Futurism, and Reversal in TexasWorld

Let’s be very clear: what’s happening in TexasWorld is not the product of mere political disputes. That’s utterly naive. What’s happening is a philosophical collision of ideologies, the effects of which are hurtling the state in different directions in space and time. There are underlying existential conditions generating the “worlds” in Texas, represented in three powerful trajectories all colliding—globalization and futurism, both countered by reversals.

1) Globalizing Diversity in Texas

The most mythic part of the Lone Star State are the beautiful desert lands in Far West Texas, as celebrated in the epic 1955 Hollywood film, Giant (filmed in Marfa and featuring megastars James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson). This is the part of Texas romanticized for its cowboys, cattle drives, sprawling oil fields, and big skies stretching horizon to horizon.

Roadside art installation celebrating “Giant,” located west of Marfa on Hwy 90. Created by John Cerney, 2018. Installation also includes music and sound. Photo by Barry Vacker, 2020. Note: Paintings are much larger than they appear in these photos.

Of course, the lands in Far West Texas were stolen from Native Americans in the decades after the founding of the Republic of Texas in 1836. In fact, all of Texas was stolen from Indigenous Peoples by a government run by Christian colonizers and capitalist exploiters — a bloody and genocidal tradition stretching all the way back to Cortés and the Spanish conquest of the Aztec in Mexico in 1519. That’s a big fact that most Texans like to forget, especially those who live in WildWestWorld and MedievalWorld.

The population of the Lone Star State is not only booming, but is radically changing (graphic below). It’s 2021 and whites are only 40% of the total population in Texas and seem destined to decline as a percentage. On the 2018 Senate election map (graphic below on the right), the counties with the largest cities are blue — Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso. Broadly speaking, these cities are populated with more college-educated voters, a high-tech and an entrepreneurial workforce drawn from around the world, and a dynamic diversity seen in the arts, fashions, languages, and food cultures. At least since the 1980s, Austin, Dallas, and Houston have had vibrant and visible LGBTQ communities.

Graphic by Barry Vacker, 2020.

In the big cities of Texas, the populace looks more like what the human species looks like — people of different colors, cultures, and sexualities, organizing into a complex hybrid civilization that spans planet Earth. When these factors combine, it means that the big cities in Texas have more in common with California than with any state in the midwest or Deep South. Ironically, this very diversity is helping to trigger the reversals epitomized in WildWestWorld and MedievalWorld.

At one level, it is obvious that globalization and its diversifying effects are triggering many of the racist and regressive political upheavals in TexasWorld. But that does not explain everything.

We must dig deeper, into science, technology, and human existence, where key discoveries are driving the deep pattern of changes in pop consciousness and the Lone Star State. At the deepest levels, the reversals in Texas are not merely against diversity and globalization, but are part of a worldwide ideological and theological movement to counter two profound discoveries born of the futurist science and astronomy of recent decades. Texas scientists and doctors work on the forefront of these scientific discoveries, while the creationists in MedievalWorld remain in denial of these realities and more importantly, their vital relevance for a sane and sustainable society.

2) Futurist Science

These two profound scientific discoveries are undermining the dominant ideologies and theologies that have long controlled humanity with mythic tales of creationist origins and divine destinies. And that makes many very uncomfortable, especially in Texas!

While living in Texas and attending college (up through a PhD), I had numerous conversations with coffeehouse creationists and conservatives about the above discoveries, chats usually accompanied by espressos or margaritas. The creationists and conservatives deploy massive Orwellian doublethink (believing the Bible, Darwin, and the NASA universe are all compatible) or flat-out denial, precisely because they know these discoveries empirically overturn their theological narratives. In fact, they are terrified by the scientific and empirical truths.

Deep inside, they know NASA and contemporary science should represent the end of their regimes, but they and their televangelists maintain cultural power. That’s because almost no one in mainstream media and politics challenges their underlying existential worldview. Of course, religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, as are atheism and religious non-belief. One can practice religious freedom, but that does not mean religion is free from critique. The First Amendment also mandates a separation between church and state, which is conveniently ignored in Texas and elsewhere in America.

Hollywood to Hubble to Religious Non-Belief

This vast universe has been on display in Hollywood sci-fi films for decades, from Star Trek to Star Wars, 2001, and Interstellar (starring the most famous hipster in Texas, Matthew McConaughey). This majestic universe is also celebrated in the Hubble Space Telescope images that circulate all over pop culture and social media. In fact, the rise of religious non-belief correlates with the Apollo moon landing, the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, and the proliferation of social media: 24% of Americans and 18% of Texans now ascribe to having no religious belief.

That should be no surprise: can pre-scientific creation myths really offer a valid explanation for our origins and destiny within the NASA universe? No.

3) Reversal: Backward Against the Unbearable

If every action has an equal, opposite reaction, is it really any wonder that we live in a world where evidence-free ideologies run amok under the guise of “freedom”? Cosmic truths are somehow big and scary and must be negated and reversed. That all humans share the same DNA and are made of the same cosmos can only mean that everyone — and I mean everyone! — has the same rights under the law, regardless of class, gender, ethnicity, ability, or sexual identity.

This new understanding of the universe (and our place in it) is unbearable for the Christian power brokers who pull the political levers of the Lone Star State. It demands a more equal tomorrow for everyone in Texas — directly counter to their visions of divine domination. The vast and ancient universe also dwarfs their delusions of eternal cosmic significance, thus the true believers must turn the clock backward toward the wild west and medieval times, with vigilantes and wannabe theocrats dominating TexasWorld (when they are not shopping or watching football). Let’s be clear, the evangelicals, creationists, and fundamentalists want Texas ruled under the Bible. They want a Texas to be theocracy, fascist and medieval style.

Given the above, let’s embark on a brainy road trip through TexasWorld—good and horrible, amazing and deeply profound.

Photo by the Fort Worth Stockyards Historical District, 2021.

WildWestWorld

Texans love their mythology and WildWestWorld is perhaps the most famous mythic yesteryear of 21st century Texas. Nothing illustrates this more than the Stockyards in Fort Worth — the city which promotes itself as “Where the West Begins.” Of course, there were real cowboys riding herd across the prairies in the 1800s, but that cowboy has entered the realm of the mythic imaginary. What’s left is the faux “cattle drive” performed at the Stockyards.

As if it was in Disneyland, the Stockyards is a simulacrum (a copy of an original that is no longer present, needed, or still existing) of an old West town, where a bunch of Hollywood-attired cowboys and cowgirls on horses “drive” a few longhorns for kids and their parents. It’s all slow-moving and no real stampedes happen, though there is the occasional unruly longhorn. The faux cattle drive is mostly a Disney-like performance to make a few tourist dollars, while making sure the “cowboys” and “cowgirls” (and traditionalists) remain worthy and relevant in the shadow of the city’s two world-class art museums — the Kimball Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

The Wild West and cattle drive mythology runs through the veins of many Texans, especially the big truck patriots in big cities or small towns — tailgating anyone who gets in their way to the gas station for fuel, convenience store for beer, or gun store for ammo.

Second Amendment Fascists: Shooting Who?

There are proud patriots all over the Lone State State, and they love their guns. They brag about their Second Amendment rights, and they are spot-on correct, for the right to bear arms is clearly stated in the Bill of Rights (“assault weapons” is an issue beyond the scope of this essay). Gun patriots often proselytize about self-defense, limited government, and their personal “freedoms.” That’s fine, I get the argument. Like the faux cattle drives, these patriots are simulacra, copies of a no-longer existing original.

That’s why you never see these patriotic freedom lovers using their Second Amendment rights to limit “big government” in the form of police brutality against Black people, the drug war’s assault on the Bill of Rights, or the total surveillance state of Homeland Security. In fact, the WildWest Texans rarely seem to mind big government or limits to freedom when deployed to build border walls, oppress people of color, harass school teachers, and control the bodies of women. They favor intrusive “big government” whenever they want to bully and marginalize humans unlike themselves.

Many of the WildWest Texans and gun patriots imagine themselves as rough-and-tough cowgirls and cowboys, ready to maintain “law and order” in Texas. Look at Governor Greg Abbott, often seen in press conferences wearing a shirt with a “lone star” badge sewn on it, like he is some kind of badass sheriff from the old west. Lulz.

Of course, the patriot vision of “law and order” is always laws that protect patriots, but do not bind or constrain patriots. Meanwhile, they want laws that bind and contrain their non-patriot enemies, while not protecting the enemies. That’s why their laws are always limiting the freedoms and rights of others. In other words: “freedom for me, but not for thee.” That’s right out of the fascist playbook. When the governor is wearing badges to convey police authority, then you know fascism is right before our eyes.

What else might distorted Second Amendment rights be used for? My guess is that they will be turned against the rest of us, if and when the MAGA and medievalist takeover happens. The warnings are clear: numerous “patriots” posing with weapons in photos and Christmas cards, while firing guns in YouTube videos, brandishing weapons at rallies and protests, and posting literal and veiled threats. Believe them in their gestures, they will shoot the non-patriots to show their love for a fascist WildWest Texas and Christian-ruled America.

Their deadly goals and intentions are on display right before our eyes. They are showing us they are ready to kill fellow citizens. Believe them! After all, most evangelicals and WildWest Texans are champions of capital punishment. But, they will do next to nothing to prevent mass shootings in Texas schools. They want a populace terrorized and living in fear. Again, right out of the fascist playbook.

Don’t be surprised when the Second Amendment is turned against the First Amendment? It’s coming. They are already going after school books, banning them from the library. Expect more radical measures, as previewed in the violent insurrection and attempted coup on January 6, 2021.

The violent insurrection and attempted coup was the trial run for a fascist takeover. Since none of the ringleaders have been penalized at all, it’s likely another violent insurrection and coup is in the works, though with more organization and firepower from the renegade police and military loyal to Trump and MAGA. It’s incredibly naïve to think the military and police are not populated with throngs of Trump worshippers and MAGA supporters, all united in their Biblical vision of ruling RomanWorld, MedievalWorld, and ConspiracyWorld.

RomanWorld

Want to know what Rome would look like in the 21st century? Look no further than Dallas and Austin (or any high school under the Friday Night Lights shining every fall), where chest-thumping Texans cheer on footballers in giant spectacles of tribal bonding and gladiatorial conquest. And don’t forget the booze! In Dallas and Austin, the football stadia get larger and more luxurious, despite near-complete managerial incompetence from Jerry Jones, owner of the Cowboys, and a lousy succession of head football coaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

Dallas Cowboys Stadium. Photos by Barry Vacker, 2009.

When you head into Dallas, you won’t see any real cowboys, but you will see a lot of pickup trucks driven by wannabe macho men who see themselves as urban cowboys, riding herd on the concrete prairies of the suburban sprawl. The Dallas Cowboys are simulacra for real cowboys, who once were prevalent in this part of the world, and yet became part of American mythology as the Industrial Revolution and consumer society took hold. Of course, there are still many urban and suburban dudes wearing big cowboy hats, big belt buckles and big boots, driving big trucks, but they are not real cowboys. As they say in Texas: “All hat, no cattle.”

The real cowgirls and cowboys are on working ranches in Texas. One of my uncles was a true cowboy, an actual farmer and rancher. In my youth, he saddled me up on his horses and let me drive his tractor. He was a hard-working, straight-talking Texan and I am proud to have known him.

Completed in 2009, Cowboys Stadium (now branded as “AT&T Stadium”) is a monumental steel-and-glass cavern, a sleek and futuristic Roman coliseum. As in Ancient Rome, the wealthy and nouveau riche get to view the games from the exclusive luxury suites, while the less rich fill the stadium seats and cheer and boo to express their tribal love and hate. Want to see the power of myth, media, and mass entertainment in 21st Century Rome? Consider the following.

The Dallas Cowboys football team is worth $5.5 billion, making it the most valuable sports franchise in the world. Jones purchased the Cowboys for $140 million in 1989, which is the equivalent of $295 million in 2021. The Cowboys promptly won three Super Bowls by 1996, primarily because Jimmy Johnson (the first coach that Jones hired) built a powerhouse team.

Since then, the Cowboys have won two playoff games and have not even sniffed a Super Bowl. Jerry Jones has been the owner and general manager the entire time. Yet, despite such a colossal failure, the Cowboys franchise has skyrocketed in value all the way to the top. How can continual failure still generate rewards in the billions of dollars? In the realm of simulated tribal conquest, no one must be competent at anything except making promises and entertaining the fans and followers. Just ask Jerry Jones, one of the emperors of RomanWorld, theme park of gladiatorial simulacra.

South Endzone Expansion. Darrell Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, 2021.

The University of Texas joins the Deep South

The University of Texas at Austin football stadium is another ground zero for RomanWorld, with the recently completed south end zone expansion — luxury suites, party bars, screens galore, and a giant longhorn carved into the lower seating area. The Texas footballers enter the field through the mouth of the longhorn. That is 21st century Rome, Texas style. The real longhorn named “Bevo” stands near the mouth-entrance. “Hook’em Horns.”

Even the University of Texas at Austin headed backwards by joining the Southeastern Conference (SEC), thus allying the state’s flagship university with the Deep South, collectively the most regressive red states of America. Make no mistake, joining the SEC was far less a business decision than a cultural decision by the ruling cabal of billionaire alums and bureaucratic power brokers, most of whom are cronies of Gov. Abbott, also an alum of UT-Austin and a big football fan. Of course, UT propaganda claimed it was for more money and better football (and most all Longhorn fans cheered). How does this happen at the University of Texas, the 10th highest-ranked public research university in America?

Here’s how. There is simply no way those rich donors and political power brokers let Texas join the liberal athletic conference on the West Coast (which the University of Texas almost did 10 years ago). No freaking way! With billions in donations and oil revenues on the line, UT President Jay Hartzell and the Board of Regents agreed. They know to salute the flag. But which flag is it, the Lone Star flag or the MAGA flag? You know the answer.

Think I am exaggerating? Since I published this essay, they’ve already let Gov. Abbott conduct a Covid propaganda interview with Breitbart from mid-field in the hallowed football stadium. There are 70,000 Texans dead (88,000 as of April 10, 2022) from Covid and Abbott is defending his policies with the sanction of the state’s flagship university—that’s Rome in Texas! With the Breitbart interviewer wearing “burnt orange” and cowboy boots, the clear implication is UT is on-board with Abbott. Expect more MAGA spewing from the UT administration and supported by its power brokers.

Already the richest athletic program in the country, Texas could have just as easily joined the Pacific Athletic Conference (PAC 12) and struck a deal with Fox Sports or Disney-ESPN for the same money. (After all, the USC-Texas title game in 2006 still holds the record for the largest TV audience for a college football game in the 2000s). Such a move would make more cultural sense, given all the California and West Coast companies with skyscrapers and factories in Austin — Google, Facebook, Apple, Tesla, Amazon, and others. Austin and Silicon Valley share a massive high-tech pipeline. Are there any companies from the Deep South with skyscrapers in Austin? Or factories or warehouses employing thousands of workers? You know the answer.

Dallas skyline with a bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava in foreground. The bridge arch is 40 stories high. Photo: Dallas Morning News.

MedievalWorld

No place personifies the contradictions of TexasWorld more than “Big D.” Dallas is home to gleaming skyscrapers, Calatrava bridges, global corporations, world-class high fashion centers, the largest state fair in America, the Texas-Oklahoma college football game, the assassination site of President Kennedy (ground zero for ConspiracyWorld), and one vast skyglow metropolis of suburbs, highways, and endless shopping, dining, and entertainment. The variety of Mexican and Tex-Mex food is fantastic! Big D is also the mythic home for the Dallas Cowboys (whose stadium is in Arlington), and J.R. Ewing, the fictional oilman from the hit TV show Dallas.

Like the photo above, Dallas celebrates progress and futurism up front. But lurking behind the bright lights is a regressive medievalism, always turning the clock backward, always ready to unleash the purity brigades on a cultural crusade. The goal is a medieval fascist theocracy in Texas.

There’s nothing Dallas worships more than billionaires, celebrities, football players, and preachers from the megachurches, temples dedicated to creationism, prosperity gospel, and never-ending visions of moral apocalypse. Texas megachurches are both theological and technological, where medievalism meets media spectacle, powered by giant electronic screens and groovy electric guitars (played by would-be rockers yearning to get on the playlist of Christian radio stations).

The true believers have long wanted a theocracy in Texas, where Christianity merges with capitalism, prayers with prosperity, and scripture with shopping. The suburbs ringing Dallas are populated with would-be theocrats, now bent upon erasing racial history from classrooms and persecuting LGBTQ+ students. As of now, they are getting away with it. Expect more targets and more punitive laws and regulations.

Variations on this philosophy have long been embedded in powerful newspapers like the Dallas Morning News and the Belo Corporation, a Dallas-based media company that owned numerous radio and TV stations (before being purchased Gannett in 2015). The Dallas Morning News has long been an apologist for all things creationist and biblical, supposedly the “spiritual” and message needed to fend off the communists and win the Cold War.

“Megachurch,” photo from Peter Granser’s art-photography book about Texas, SIGNS (Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz 2008). I wrote the essay for the book.

Spiritual Capitalists

The Lone Star State has long had a culture of free-wheeling capitalism that makes possible Whole Foods, Dell Computers, and celeb entrepreneurs like Kendra Scott and Mark Cuban. So, it’s no surprise that Texas’s ministers and pastors function as spiritual entrepreneurs in the marketplace of miracles, fueled by belief that an unseen Creator has their backs and has ordained them to rule and get rich. And the top preachers do get very rich, just like any successful capitalist. Rule and get rich, that’s the goal.

When NASA and astronomy have revealed a vast and ancient universe stretching back 13.75 billion years, it’s hard to feel like the center of anything. So, creationists turn their gaze inward, to their sacred texts spread across digital screens large and small, once more immersed in a world where they can still believe the Creator has a special plan and divine destiny — just for them!

In a universe of two trillion galaxies, is there any worldview more narcissistic than creationism? No wonder the creationists believe they are the center of all truth, all value, and all purpose. No wonder they self-righteously believe they don’t need facts or vaccines. After all, they rely on peer-reviewed tweets and viral videos to confirm their sacred texts and evidence-free ideologies.

Faux Freedom Fighters

Empowered by faux spirituality and cosmic narcissism, Texas medievalists crusade in their big trucks and monster SUVs, ready to run over the rights of anyone not on-board with their Christian Dominionist ideology. This is the MedievalWorld of big city suburbia, where the rows of McMansions function like mini-castles for wannabe royalty, the Karens and Kevins, the would-be aristocrats and theocrats yearning to rule and get rich. Suburban Texas and small-town Texas are packed with faux freedom fighters, tribes of anti-science creationists and anti-vaxxers not caring how many Texans die from Covid, yet eager to team up with WildWest vigilantes to place bounties on Texas women seeking to exercise their reproductive rights.

Medievalists in Texas have been working for decades to get creationism taught in science classrooms across the state. For them, “freedom” means the right to believe and act on anything, with no evidence and no responsibility. They perform and act out an infantile, narcissistic, militant, and fact-free concept of “freedom” that presents a real health danger to others.

After all, 88,000 Texans are dead from Covid (as of April 10, 2022), their freedoms cancelled in jam-packed ICUs. More than 1,000,000 Americans have had their freedoms cancelled by Covid. The death totals are still climbing. MedievalWorld includes a cult of death and no matter how incompetent his Covid policies, Governor Abbott will be re-elected over Beto O’Rourke in November 2022. Imagine that, a governor whose idiotic anti-science policies enabled the deaths of 88,000 Texans will still be re-elected. Complete madness. That’s MedievalWorld!

With true, fact-based, empirically grounded freedom, we realize that our freedoms and rights cannot be used to harm or endanger others. It’s the same reason we do not drive at night without our car headlights on—for fear of crashing and killing others. It’s simple, with freedom comes responsibility. That means an empirical responsibility to not harm others, not violate their equal rights, and not intentionally risk their lives through our actions. It means to live with our headlights on.

In TexasWorld, concepts like “freedom” and “democracy” are staged and simulated, precisely as they are increasingly under attack by anti-science medievalists — constantly posing as freedom fighters while they install an all-too-real theocracy as manifest destiny for the Lone Star State. Everywhere you look in Texas and America, the anti-mask and anti-vaxx tribes act out all the signs and symbols of “freedom,” but it’s a faux freedom, a performative and evidence-free concept of freedom. That’s why they do not care if their freedom enables the death of someone else.

The Texas Rangers Can’t Handle This Crime

All the fascism and faux freedom in Texas is the direct result of creationist, alt-fact, and anti-science worldviews, where evidence and logic are routinely discounted and outright abandoned. From church pew to state capitol to social media, empirical reality is made to disappear—the screens and sacred texts don’t map reality, they generate an imaginary reality to which the world must conform. It is as if reality is being murdered right before our eyes. As media philosopher Jean Baudrillard explained, it’s the perfect crime.” Deep in the heart of Texas, Gov. Abbott and his cults are getting away with it, with the governor now banning companies from mandating vaccines for a safe work environment. It’s an cognitive crash, an intellectual free fall and there is no bottom in sight.

Not even the legendary Texas Rangers can handle this crime. It’s too big, even for Texas! The medievalists are careening Texas down an evidence-free highway with no headlights. More crashes are to be expected and are already happening. Witness the collapse of the power-grid in February 2021.

Pro-Cruelty

As clearly shown by their utter lack of concern over the mass death caused by Covid, the medievalists are absolutely not pro-life. They’re more akin to a pro-cruelty movement—a ruthlessly cruel cult more suited to the Dark Ages. The anti-abortion legislation is a full-on assault on women’s rights to reproductive freedom and control of their own bodies, the very rights eliminated in a theocracy—a real life “Handmaid’s Tale” in Texas.

If the medievalists can get away with it, they will do it. Hell, they are doing it!

On October 6, 2021, US District Judge Robert Pitman (in Austin) issued a federal court order blocking the enforcement of “S.B. 8,” the Texas law empowering the vigilantes and bounty hunters. Judge Pitman’s 113-page opinion systematically destroys the arguments for S.B.8 by deploying a combo of actual medical science, detailed and evidence-based logical reasoning, and a thorough review of established constitutional law protecting the reproductive rights of women.

Naturally, the State of Texas immediately appealed and got its wish from the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, located in New Orleans, Louisiana, yet another regressive red state. Bottom line, this case will likely end up in the Supreme Court, where the choice will be this: Are women in Texas and America to be supported by medical science, evidence-based reasoning, and constitutional law or dominated by bogus medical “science,” fallacy-ridden beliefs, and pre-scientific sacred texts?

Note, May 10, 2022: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s patriarchal, misogynous, and anti-science opinion overturning Roe v. Wade answers the above question. America is now a fascist theocracy. Welcome to Medieval World.

The Border Wall and the Last Free Election in Texas

Guided by bogus revisionist histories, many of the medievalists are also racists and militant nativists, which is why they are busy building the Border Wall, gerrymandering voting districts, and enacting voter suppression laws — desperate moves to maintain their fascist White Christian Supremacy. Hench the endless cries for the Border Wall, their 21st century Alamo, a medievalist line in the sand, a last-ditch defense against diversity and globalization.

Given the gerrymandering and voter suppression, Texas may have had its last free and fair election in 2020. After all, Republicans are already threatening election officials who do not support the belief that the election was stolen. This is so they can be replaced with MAGA-QAnon lackeys to make sure Republicans “win” all the key elections. Democracy is in deep trouble in Texas. Unless current cultural trends are halted and reversed, democracy won’t survive.

In fact, the only real political question might be which side will the military support: fascist theocracy or democracy? Seriously. That’s a real concern.

After all, Elon Musk has sided with fascist theocracy when he says is voting for the MAGA-led Republican Party. Other billionaires, like Peter Thiel, spend millions to support MAGA candidates. Musk, if anything, is clever and opportunistic and he sees which way the winds are blowing in Texas and America. What the hell, Musk is most likely a fascist, in the guise of a futurist. It’s no wonder he moved Tesla to Texas.

Power Grid Collapse

Another kind of MedievalWorld was prototyped by the monumental collapse of the Texas electrical grid, operated by complete managerial incompetents. Imagine a high-tech state with massive energy resources, yet millions were left shivering during a major winter freeze. Estimates suggest somehere between 250–700 Texans died because of the power failure. Since then, far too little has been done to upgrade the grid. No surprise, alt-fact worldviews permeate the state capitol and much of Texas.

This was not a once-a-century storm, but rather a once-every-thirty-years storm (a similar freeze hit Texas in the early 1990s). Meanwhile, medievalist aristocrats like Ted Cruz flew down to Cancun to avoid the effects of his own policies, planning to sip frozen margaritas and watch the frozen carnage on his mobile phone.

ConspiracyWorld

As most people know, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in broad daylight on a street in downtown Dallas. For Baby Boomers, November 22, 1963, is a date burnt into their memories. Dealey Plaza, the Grassy Knoll, and the Texas School Book Depository are ground zero for ConspiracyWorld.

The key image of the Zapruder film: the fatal headshot of President John F. Kennedy. Film and frames in the public domain.

Located in the Texas School Book Depository, the Sixth Floor Museum is the most popular tourist site in Dallas. Visitors get to experience a very well-done narrative of the JFK assassination. Outside, various “do your own research” conspiracy theorists hand out fliers and monographs of their latest take on who killed Kennedy. In JFK Assassination Site (below) we see two men in Dealey Plaza plotting the trajectory of the “single bullet theory” with a single finger to the back of the head. The X marks the spot of the fatal headshot, while the fence is behind the Grassy Knoll, long believed to be the location of the second shooter.

“JFK Assassination Site,” Peter Granser, SIGNS.
“Sign 06,” Peter Granser, SIGNS.

For me, the Zapruder film strongly suggests there were two shooters in Dealey Plaza and, thus, a conspiracy. However, in contrast to Oliver Stone’s 1991 agitprop film JFK and all the other theories, I think it was a small conspiracy, likely just three to four people, and no one in power knew who did it — which makes it all the more terrifying. (For my full take, click here.)

When I was growing up in Texas, theists and conspiracists always believed an “evil enemy” was coming to take away their bibles and take over their big state. The enemies included the communists, the Iluminati, the Trilateral Commission, government turncoats in DC, super-liberal profs at the University of Texas, and the scary atheists in America, led by Austin-based Madalyn Murray-O’Hair (who was one of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case that outlawed school prayer).

A true Texas lady who grew up on a farm, my mom was not much of a conspiracy believer. When I went to UT-Austin for grad school, she was very proud, yet worried that I would become an atheist or a punk rocker! I was never a punk, for my musical tastes were more along the lines of New Wave: Devo, Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, and Flock of Seagulls (LOL). However, I did read some Jean-Paul Sartre, among others. Hmmm …

The names of the “enemies” have changed over the years, but it’s always the same scenario—a secret enemy is plotting against Texas and America. Over the decades, labyrinthine conspiracy theories have morphed into massive creation myths, not unlike those in the theologies of the world. Hence: QAnon, Pizzagate, voter fraud conspiracies, and all the others. Conspiracy theories function like creation myths, in that powerful, secret, unseen forces are shaping the world, and this mythos gives meaning and purpose to the true believers, the cultists for whom the cosmic and cultural universes would be utterly chaotic. Fox News thrives on this religion.

Since Hollywood and the History Channel have celebrated and replicated these theories for decades, should we be surprised that huge portions of Texans and their elected leaders now believe, act, and legislate according to conspiracy theories? Creationist cults and conspiracy lunatics currently run the Texas government.

HipsterWorld

You would think with all the music talent supposedly in Austin, someone could have come up with a cool new song to replace “The Eyes of Texas” (the school song with origins in early-1900s minstrel shows) and re-unite the students and alumni. After all, Austin is home to SXSW, Austin City limits, and Matthew McConaughey, the sexy movie star who wrote the best-selling pop philosophy book of the 21st century — Greenlights, which reached #1 on the Amazon and New York Times best seller lists. [Full disclosure: Chapter 1 (two pages) of McConaughey’s book is very clever and is included in my new text anthology, Media Environments (4th ed.), Cognella Academic Press 2022.]

Of course, McConaughey is Texas’s most famous hipster, who co-teaches a film course at the University, and hangs out in Austin cafes and is considering a run for governor (as of this publication date). No longer a “weird” city, Austin has evolved into just another suburban sprawl packed with SUVs and plenty of Teslas for the high-tech hipsters in love with Elon Musk. Like many tech hot spots, Austin has its cult of Musk worshippers, those who think Elon will save humanity with electric cars and fantasies of colonizing Mars, forgetting that Musk tweeted out idiotic statements about Covid or that he has yet to denounce the Texas abortion law — preferring not to alienate Gov. Abbott and Texas power brokers. No surprise, for Musk recently announced he is moving the Tesla headquarters from California to Texas.

For the record, I do not mean to imply HipsterWorld is a bad thing. Best symbolized by the SXSW festivals, HipsterWorld is simply the gathering sites (festivals, neighborhoods, art galleries, and bars and clubs) for those who embrace cultural, ethnic, and sexual diversity in life and generally want to stay away from suburbia and small towns. Five of the top fifteen most populous American cities are in the Lone Star State (six of the fastest-growing US cities are in Texas), with liberal hipster areas in or next to the urban centers, all surrounded by the sprawling suburbs and highways. Hipster scenes can also be found in the exurbs of the big cities.

Like Austin, the big cities of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and Forth Worth all have hipster scenes in and around the skyscraper areas — these scenes feature the fabulous diversity of foods, fashions, arts, bands, and peoples of Texas. Dallas’s “Deep Ellum” is iconic of these scenes, where swarms of artists, entrepreneurs, and college-educated workers live in the lofts and converted warehouses.

Of course, HipsterWorld has its 24/7 narcissists and weekend hedonists, wedded to their own “authentic” version of consumer society and instant pleasure. Hipster neighborhoods are also populated with Joe Rogan fanboys, the “do your own research” pseudo-intellectual bro. You know this dude — the self-help, cross-fit, gym junky, whiskey expert, Bulletproof coffee drinker, barstool sports guru, multi-level conspiracy theorist, late-night club scene player, and legend in their own mind, with coiffed beards and tats galore.

Left: Portion of “15 untitled works in concrete, 1980–1984,” Donald Judd; photo by Barry Vacker, 2010. Right: Photo of author in a Judd cube, 2010.

Meanwhile, out in Far West Texas is Marfa, the small-town art mecca revered by the LA, NYC, and Euro art elite. Hipsters and art tourists flock to Marfa’s Chinati Foundation to view the minimalist installations of Donald Judd, the crashed cars of John Chamberlain, the glowing florescent tubes of Dan Flavin, and the minimalist rooms of Roni Horn and Robert Irwin. The hip art tourists wander the main street in Marfa, shopping in the hip stores, dining at the hip restaurants, and checking out the hip galleries. It’s all big business for Marfa and simultaneously mocked by the Prada Marfa installation.

Selfie at Prada Marfa, 2021.

As someone who owns land near Marfa, I enjoy the merger of high modernism and ranch culture, along with vast desert landscapes and starry nights. The desert views and night skies are spectacular, beautiful, and humbling, always reminding me that I am a tiny creature living on a rock orbiting a flaming ball of hydrogen in a vast universe. But those starry skies are threatened by FossilFuelWorld.

FossilFuelWorld

This world is self-explanatory. All the metropolises in Texas are designed and built to serve car culture — massive highway systems linking sprawling suburbs, populated with multi-vehicle families driving SUVs, BMWs, Jaguars, Jeeps, Cadillacs, F-150s, and everything in between. Even HipsterWorld is powered by cars, though you will see more Teslas and Mini-Coopers there. Houston is the capital of fossil fuels in America, with numerous oil and gas companies operating around the world. In nearby Beaumont is the second largest refinery in the world. There are 30 other refineries in Texas. Off the coast are the oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and in Far West Texas are fracking fields spanning tens of thousands of square miles. In 2020, Texas accounted for 43% of America’s crude oil production and 26% of its natural gas. The refineries process 5.9 million barrels of oil per day — that’s per day!

Nothing illustrates the enormity of Texas fossil fuel production, and its impact on land and skies, than the fracking fields of Far West Texas. In the image below (in FutureWorld), the bright yellow and green colors mark the glow from rigs extracting oil and gas — massive lights illuminating the work areas and flares burning atop the wells. Having driven through the area more than once, day and night, I can tell you that the once beautiful desert land is being pillaged, plundered, and polluted, with trash and industrial junk all over the place. The skyglow is obscene and starting to rise above the mountains north of my land near Marfa, nearly 100 miles away.

FutureWorld

Nevertheless, a deeply hopeful and futuristic project is underway in the “Big Bend” area of Far West Texas and northern Mexico. No, it is not Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space company launching penis-shaped rockets to the nearby edge of outer space and hoping to jump-start space capitalism. (Is it not symbolic that penis-shaped projectiles are launching into space from a state ruled by anti-abortion medievalists?)

Sign in Van Horn, Texas, home to Blue Origin’s Texas headquarters. Photo by Barry Vacker, 2021.

The Regressive Space Future

Under the guise of the new space age futurism, space-boy billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos offer the same old manifest destiny vision of colonization and conquest. Elon is the narcissistic leader of what amounts to a space cult, far removed from anything enlightening for the human species. Firing rockets from the Texas Gulf Coast, SpaceX’s and Musk’s vision of terraforming Mars into a suburban copy of Earth is not progress, it’s regressive. Bezos’s Blue Origin seems like just an extension of Amazon into space, under the guise of “space commerce.”

As shown by the Pentagon’s “Space Force,” this space future will be a far cry from Star Trek or NASA’s once-enlightened program of exploration and scientific discovery. Expect Star Wars for real — tribal space wars fought over strip-mining the moon, exploitation of resources, and theological conquest. Just wait till MedievalWorld gets a foothold on Mars or the moon. As on Earth, as in space, the bloodbaths will commence. The first person to die in a space war has already been born, perhaps to a medieval family in a Texas suburb or small town. No doubt there will be baptisms on the moon once it is colonized and they melt the lunar ice caps. After all, Apollo 11 Buzz Aldrin performed a “Holy Communion” on the moon.

Starglow Futurism

The truly futuristic and profound projects in Texas involve the McDonald Observatory and the creation of the largest “International Dark Sky Reserve” on Planet Earth, which spans approximately 15,000 square miles in Texas and Mexico. That’s almost the collective size of Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The goal is to protect the Milky Way from light pollution, which is steadily growing in the area’s small towns and exploding in the fracking fields to the northeast. The International Dark-Sky Association recently certified the Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve, officially making it the first international dark sky reserve and the largest dark sky area on Planet Earth(by far). Now that is something for which Texans should be very proud. But most will never even know about it.

That’s because light pollution has erased the night skies from human consciousness in the metropolis, resulting in networks of light bubbles in which humans are the center of the universe and “nature” and the “starry skies” are somewhere “out there,” seemingly irrelevant to life in the cities and towns.

Light pollution from fracking fields. Image courtesy of McDonald Observatory, 2020.
Graphic courtesy of McDonald Observatory.

The Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve will protect the dark skies for the area’s massive national and state parks, home to birds and animals found nowhere else. It will also protect the dark skies for McDonald Observatory, the famed astronomical research site owned and operated by The University of Texas at Austin. The McDonald Observatory is home to the Hobby-Eberle Telescope (the fourth largest optical telescope in the world), several other powerful telescopes, and cutting-edge astronomical research — from finding exoplanets to studying black holes to measuring the expansion rate of the universe. How freaking cool is that and it’s all happening in Far West Texas!

Left: Selfie at the Hobby-Eberle Telescope, 2020. Right: Sign showing the international science institutes that partner with the University of Texas at the McDonald Observatory, photo by Barry Vacker, 2020. These kinds of partnerships are the radical futurism that should shape tomorrow.

The telescopes at McDonald Observatory are a testament to the power of reason, science, and creativity — the power of a brainy and curious species to discover its true place in the cosmos, its true origins and destiny as specks of self-aware stardust. This is the very best that Texas science has to offer the world — with the most mind-blowing astronomical observations in the big state on a tiny planet in a vast universe.

I still get chills every time I visit the Observatory and attend one of the legendary “Star Parties,” where I’ve seen the Whirlpool Galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy, exploding star clusters, binary star systems, various nebulae, magnificent views of Saturn and Jupiter, and many other mind-blowing cosmic phenomena. Imagine seeing the tilted spiral of Andromeda, with photons from 1 trillion stars traversing the cosmic voids at the speed of light for 2 million years, light leaving that galaxy long before any human walked on Earth!

The Dark Sky Reserve brings together nature and science, ecology and cosmology, and peaceful cooperation along a contentious border — all quietly pointing toward a new philosophy for the human species. This transborder project gives me hope for our species precisely because it directs and positions humanity’s gaze away from itself. Changing the direction of the gaze changes our philosophy of existence. The Dark Sky Reserve allows humanity to see itself in terms of its true origins and place in the universe, thus providing an existential stance and universal narrative that are missing from the nationalistic and narcissistic worldviews that dominate our current culture. This version of the future is the best TexasWorld has to offer.

Vanishing point on Hwy 54, between Van Horn, Texas and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Photo by Barry Vacker, 2021.

Split-Trajectory Texas: Hope and Despair

It’s clear that both Texas and America are on split trajectories, ultimately irreconcilable and destined for different destinations in space and time. Futurism and reversal, side-by-side, with the medievalists leading the crusading descent into theocracy, racism, and fascism. The evidence is clear for anyone to see. There is reason for both hope and despair.

The forward-thinking Texans and non-religious Texans (now 18% of the population) need to speak up and take action, or the future will be a replication of the worst of our past. Unless checked, MAGA will come for NASA and the McDonald Observatory, using their semi-automatics to shatter the beautiful mirrors of the telescopes. If that seems impossible, then what the hell is January 6 supposed to mean? If MAGA will come for the Capitol, then they will come for NASA, sooner or later. The sacred texts must reign supreme in a 10,000 year-old universe.

If there is to be a sane, sustainable, and just and equitable future for Texans and the human species, then new secular philosophies must emerge. Consumerism, entertainment, and Roman-style football are nowhere near enough. Voting out the medievalists is a start, but that seems unlikely anytime soon. So, action must be taken on the artistic, cultural, and intellectual fronts (which I have done in many publications, essays in Medium, and recent art projects). As described above, these awe-inspiring scientific discoveries and existential truths must be the foundation for a planetary civilization and secular society that provides a common bond and sense of a shared destiny for our species. Believe it not, parts of TexasWorld are on the forefront of such long-term possibilities.

For that to continue, though, FutureWorld must eventually prevail over the blatant and violent threats posed by MedievalWorld, WildWestWorld, and ConspiracyWorld. Hipsters and techies, pay attention. Elon and electric cars ain’t gonna save you when the MAGA-medievalist bullets start flying. Atheists and non-believers, you better organize and make your voices heard loud and clear, or you’ll be running for cover, too. As they come for women’s bodies today, they will come for everyone’s brains tomorrow. Count on it. Hell, they’re already doing it. And it’s mostly working.

The road to FutureWorld is still open and MedievalWorld has not won yet, but vanishing points are on the horizon.

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Much thanks to my friend Michelle Vardeman Martin, a proud Texan, UT-Austin alum, and an academic editor who polished this essay. I added a few small passages and any typos are my fault. Thanks also to Andrew Laska, my friend in Dallas who keeps me up-to-date on the medievalist political and cultural shenanigans in Big D.

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Theorist of big spaces and dark skies. Writer and mixed-media artist. Existentialist w/o the angst. PhD: Univ of Texas at Austin.

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Barry Vacker

Barry Vacker

Theorist of big spaces and dark skies. Writer and mixed-media artist. Existentialist w/o the angst. PhD: Univ of Texas at Austin.

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