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On Why We're Not Aggies

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--The first in what will likely, given the subject matter, become a periodically recurring feature.--

Sometimes you read something written by someone far smarter and more eloquent than you could ever hope to be that so completely distills your feelings on a certain issue that it doesn’t matter that the intended meaning of what that person wrote had nothing whatsoever to do with what it means to you.  I had just such a moment recently.

While reading The Nine, a solid if unspectacular book about the inner workings of the Supreme Court that I wish David Halberstam had written rather than Jeffrey Toobin, I came across a quote from a famous 1943 Supreme Court decision that I had briefly studied but never actually read, West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, which held that public schools could not force students to say the pledge of allegiance against their will.  The majority opinion, written by Justice Robert H. Jackson, one of the most eloquent Supreme Court justices in American history, is as stirring a defense of individual freedom as I have ever read.  The quote I came across, as written by Justice Jackson:

To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.

Substitute "school spirit" for "patriotism" and this, my friends, is why we are not Aggies.  To make school spirit and the deification of traditions compulsory routine is to simultaneously believe that the institutions they represent are not worthy of voluntary and spontaneous celebration by, as Jackson put it, "free minds." And if there’s one thing Aggies love, it’s compulsory conformity to rules and traditions at the expense of individual freedom of expression, which, rather than being celebrated, is usually punished by push-ups.

Now, Aggies will probably tell you that there’s nothing compulsory about it.  That there’s something about "The Spirit of Aggieland" that inspires those who enter its mystical mist into doing the exact same thing as every single other person on campus.  I’ll believe that, as long as you define that certain "something" as "fear of ostracization and alienation for failing to conform."  And no matter how "free" you are to not go to the football games or Yell Practice, to say the Privileged Words, or to walk on the grass, that means nothing if you are excoriated and shunned for doing it.  Aggies I’ve known like to mention that they get something like 98% of the student body attending each football game.  But what’s telling is that they don’t focus on how impressive that 98% is, but rather they dwell negatively on those 2% who choose to do something else with their Saturday afternoons, as if the University would be a far better place if attendance at a football game were compulsory rather than voluntary.

I don’t mean to make this into something bigger than it is, nor do I mean to denigrate Texas A&M as an institution of learning. It’s a fine University with fine institutions that would undoubtedly appeal to "free minds" if Aggies would just allow students to come to that conclusion themselves rather than making that conclusion compulsory in effect, beginning with "Fish Camp" indoctrination that begins before they even start school. I am merely saying that this, my friends, is why I am proud to be Longhorn rather than an Aggie.  All are welcome.  Come as you are.  And Hook 'Em.