The Oral Tradition


Giambattista Vico identified two kinds of arrogance that prevent true understanding, the conceit of nations and the conceit of scholars.  Both are at work in the racist sign.  Every nation thinks it was first and that everything useful and civilized was invented by it.  Scholars also take their particular brand of thinking to be the starting point of all knowledge.  Yet, no matter how many founding myths and symbols a nation constructs (Vico found that most begin with an eagle), it most likely stood upon another civilization’s shoulders.

Similarly, when considering the scholar’s written language, it is puny compared to the hundreds of thousands of lost, oral languages that have developed and faded away, unrecorded over time.  The oral tradition is a treasure trove of wisdom.  It is not certain that there is any evolution in language.  In fact images are often a more powerful and effective form of expression.  I mean to say that english does not happen to be the best or only way to express our reality.  I read recently that, “verbal expression is how we articulate our existence.”  How we speak shapes our reality and our being in the world.  As Marshall McLuhan said, “we shape the tools and then the tools shape us.”

So, it makes sense that hatred towards the other manifests itself in a battle over language.  A whole worldview or way of being is given within each language.  The metaphors unique to each language color a very different existence.  This difference is threatening.

I think at root there is an existential longing for home.  Everyone desires to feel at home in the world and at one time or another has most likely felt like a stranger.  People claim to have found the first nation or to be the first thinkers because they long to make the unknown familiar, to make it homey.  Benign longing turns dangerous when fear takes over, a fear of the other and of difference.  It is strange that the desire to be at home and to belong can turn so ugly.  Langston Hughes wrote, “misery is when you heard on the radio that you live in a slum but you always thought it was home.”  Maybe the route towards happiness is to make every place your home, as Richard Kearney says, “to find your home in every haunt.”  In other words, to never allow anyone to rob you of the joy of feeling at home in the world.

I am happy to see your post.  Most people just want to love and be loved, to smile and have someone smile back.  Every soul has a place in this world and a right to make it home.

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