Wednesday, January 28

Rise of the New Vernacular

The years 2008 - 2010 saw Americans in large numbers ejected by the financial crisis from establishments that make up what's called mainstream society. This has happened before to one degree or another during severe economic downturns. But this time many Americans found very old paths or forged new ones for getting routine things done, paths that aren't part of the established systems, and didn't return to the establishments.  
I characterize this trend as the rise in the United States of what I term "the Vernacular" -- although as I explained years ago on this blog I didn't invent this use of the term, which is itself borrowed from architecture.

While it's hard to define a trend by making use of an unfamiliar term, I think it's important to distinguish the trend from the current American dialogue about "big government versus small government" -- a dialogue that forms much of the American Libertarian and Tea Party discourses and their debates with the two established political parties in the USA, and indeed much of the debate between the traditional American Left and Right.

The Vernacular isn't concerned with the size of government and it's not anti-government in an anarchist sense; it's not political. Nor is it anti-establishment although it develops and flourishes outside established orders. When I first wrote about the Vernacular for this blog, in the attempt to illustrate the concept at a glance I published photographs of weeds growing in cracks in paved-over surfaces -- highways and parking lots.

The Vernacular, a term originally borrowed from 'ad hoc' architecture (as distinct from planned architectural developments), refers to the Common Person working out his own ways of wending through the pervasive systems of state-directed society.  With architecture it's the Common Person putting up buildings that don't reflect government planned developments, or making use of planned urban spaces that weren't intended by the planners.

A famous example is homeless people using public park benches as beds, although the newer bench designs attempt to discourage this unplanned-for way of using the public benches.

While the Vernacular is traditionally associated with the poorest and least educated, the rise of the American Vernacular (and its non-American versions) in the closing years of the past decade is rooted in middle- and even the lower end of upper-income groups that are often college educated.

Another feature of the new Vernacular is its international character. This is made possible by globalized digital communication platforms -- cell phones and Internet. These can connect people around the world according to their needs rather than domestic political agendas and state planning.  And the fact that the 2008 financial crisis was a global phenomenon spurred people in far-flung parts of the world to take up Vernacular thinking and gave them common purpose with Americans in the same situations.  
An example of the globalized Vernacular in action is that an American with reasonably good credit can now raise a micro loan from an informal group of 'investors' in America or networked in several countries without having to go through the traditional banking establishment.

This fills a great need. The establishment banking system got to the point where it ignored the small borrower because processing small loans was considered too costly by the banks.  This forced the borrower to turn to high-interest credit cards or payday loan companies to raise a small loan.

The peer-to-peer way of banking, as it's been called, is revolutionizing how people with small funding needs can cheaply raise capital for very small business startups, etc. In this approach loan making is entirely circumventing the establishment. 

Another way to say this is that peer to peer banking opens up to everyone the micro loan concept, which previously had been limited to the world's poorest peoples.  And this kind of banking is being given a boost by the rise of Bitcoin, which also makes it possible to borrow very small amounts of money at a low interest rate. 

Peer to peer banking is just one aspect of the peer to peer way of doing things, which in essence cuts out the establishment's middlemen whether in finance, education, health care, and so on.

Is the New Vernacular a Political Movement?

The Vernacular as it exists today is too amorphous, too diffused, to be politicized.  So analogies are best found in fashion (and pop music) rather than political movements. For example the street attire of the poor or teenagers can eventually be noticed and reworked by high fashion designers, then again reworked by designers for mass retailers and mass produced.

The same process can happen with street music. What starts out as completely anti-establishment sounds gets picked up by a famous recording artist, then eventually reworked until it ends up as Muzak piped into shopping malls.

Fashion or music trends can be politicized to an extent, but only after they've gained wide acceptance in the society. 

In short, any attempt to politicize the new Vernacular would be trying to do things backward. And this is an evolutionary movement, not a revolutionary one -- or rather, by the time it's thought of as revolutionary, a new establishment has already evolved from it.

However, the evolution in this case is well underway; it's just that it's been happening largely under the radar of the mainstream media -- although ironically, the media do pick up news of innovations that arise from the Vernacular, such as Bitcoin, only without fitting them into a larger picture.

The larger picture is reminiscent of that great line in Jurassic Park:  Nature always finds a way.  When our establishments come to rule us, along comes some fool with a washboard and wazoo and starts making music.   



Piercello said...

A direct link to the older "vernacular" piece:

bdoran said...

That's not gonna work in America.

We're not going to be allowed to escape.

It's our turn in the 20th century barrel.

See-Ukraine if they can.

Ireland 1840s already baked in, save that pesky 2d Amendment.