‘Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling
‘Calling for me to come home.’
Will Lamartine Thompson
Driving down from Maryland to Florida, we stopped for breakfast in a small South Carolina town. At 8:00am, it appeared almost deserted. But we found a café in a converted Main Street shop. Its door was so covered with yellow ribbons — recalling the local people who had served in various misbegotten wars — you could barely see through the glass.
‘Hello…welcome. C’mon in’, said a portly man at a table.
‘Hi’, said another bunch at a different table.
We looked around; they were talking to us.
The café was tiny. Maybe that made everyone in it look obese. Or maybe they really were obese. But they were friendly.
‘Where are y’all comin’ from’, they wanted to know.
While we were exchanging basic information, we noticed that two of the men in the restaurant were wearing pistols. ‘Open carry’, they call it. On the walls were several Bible inscriptions and hats for sale that advertised only ‘Jeremiah 20-11’. Music played old Christian classics.
‘Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling…’
They served ‘One Nation Coffee’.
‘I’m sorry’, said the waitress, ‘but we’re all out of grits’.
Were these people the ‘Christian Nationalists’ we’ve been hearing about…the people who threaten to take over the country? Were they the ‘White Supremacists’ President Biden says are a danger to our democracy?
We don’t know. They seemed nice enough to us. But every revolution needs its enemies — its loyalists, its bourgeois elements, its counterrevolutionaries. In the campaign to reset the US into an emission-free paradise, these Trump voters will have to do!
And here…we won’t exactly change the subject, but we will come at it from a different direction.
Just and true
Ver-nac-ular is an underappreciated word. It’s usually only used to describe how people talk. They use the local ‘vernacular’, rather than an ‘official’ or ‘academic’ way of speaking. People speak differently in South Carolina, for example, than they do in New Hampshire. They have different ideas, too.
There’s also ‘vernacular architecture’ to describe the way people build their houses. They develop local styles and techniques that are suitable to the area. The Swiss chalet, for example, is adapted to heavy snowfall. The adobe houses of the southwest moderate the extreme temperatures of day and night. And the Irish cottage, with its thatched roof, stays warm through long periods of humidity and cold, but it would be miserable in the ‘low country’ near Savannah.
‘Common law’ is a vernacular system of law. It doesn’t depend on anyone to figure out what the law is…or to write out a law code. It is merely what has evolved, with the help of courts, lawyers, and juries made up of ‘12 men, good and stout’. It’s what we accept as just and true.
The full body of ‘vernacular law’ develops over time as cases are decided…and then is used by future courts to guide them to just decisions. It is a kind of ‘law’ that comes from the bottom up, rather than handed down from the top.
No committee designs ‘the vernacular’. Nobody enforces it. Nobody improves it. It’s just what happens — when it is allowed to happen.
There’s not even a good word to describe the opposite of vernacular. ‘Standard’ could be used. Or ‘accepted’ or ‘designed’.
There being no sleek word for it, we’ll invent a clumsy one: anti-vernacular.
Crime and punishment
Imagine you are sitting down with someone in a bar and letting him tell you what he’s been doing. That’s the vernacular. Anti-vernacular would be reading his resume. He will use different words in person than on his resume. Shorter words. Words with whose meaning is not obscure.
‘I’m seeking employment that will allow me to utilise my educational attainments in order to reach my full potential’, it’ll say on the resume.
‘I want a job that I can do’, he will say in private.
The vernacular is just the result of people going about their business and making their individual decisions. They develop styles, customs, and rules. They invent. They experiment. They innovate.
And they say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
Nobody requires them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. But they do.
People don’t murder each other either. And not only because it’s against the law. Most people agree, it’s not a good thing to do. The taboo against murder is so strong that murderers are often overcome by guilt. That was the theme of Dostoevsky’s famous book, Crime and Punishment. It’s not the police that the killer comes to fear; it is himself.
But there are always some people who want to tell other people what to do. And the vernacular gets in their way. They want to put things down in black and white…to make them clear…to codify the rules…and make people obey them. They want to design things for other people as if they were doing it for themselves. What they do for themselves must be good. So why not make everyone do it?
Some people even invented a new language — Esperanto; they thought it would make the world a better place.
Like almost all public policy programs to improve the natural, vernacular world, Esperanto seemed like a good idea. Instead of many different languages — each with its own rules, words, grammar, and so forth — there would be just one. This was a way to standardise, simplify, and control.
Based on Indo-European tongues and similar in style to Portuguese or Spanish, it was meant to be easy to learn and easy to use. It was more logical than a natural language. And it could easily be adapted by those in charge to boost their political and social agenda.
For example, many people in the 21st century object to an old ‘rule’ of many Indo-European languages: masculine takes precedence. What it means is that when you use a singular, gender-neutral word as a subject, such as ‘everyone’, you follow up by referring to ‘him’ in the third person masculine singular, as in:
‘Everyone knows that HE is a fool.’
In English, the world improvers have solved the ‘problem’ by changing the HE to a nonsensical, awkward THEY, which sounds ridiculous. Some people even insist that they be referred to in the third person as ‘they’, as in, ‘They went for a walk’.
Likewise, when Jefferson wrote that ‘all men are created equal’, he didn’t need to add ‘and women too’. Because ‘men’ includes ‘women’.
In natural, vernacular languages, people say what they want…and the language evolves along with the society it serves. But in an anti-vernacular language, such as Esperanto, a small group can determine the rules for everyone. After all, it’s meant to be controlled by the authorities, whoever they are.
Every revolutionary period brings forth its language improvers. During the French Revolution, the old titles — Monsieur, Mon Pere, Monseigneur, Monsieur Le Comte — were replaced by the great leveller, Citoyen. Likewise, in the Bolshevik Revolution, ‘comrade’ was prescribed for everyone, no matter his sex, rank, or social status.
But while you can get away with a lot of anti-vernacular meddling, with little lasting damage, there are some areas where imposing a new order becomes deadly.
Economics, for example. People depend on ‘the economy’ to live. As we will see on Monday, you change the rules…and people die.
For The Daily Reckoning Australia