Journey into the Vernacular
I embarked on my journey about a decade ago when I could no longer deny a call to live a simpler lifestyle. I dabbled in this simplified life by donating a lot of my clothes, scores of music albums, boxes of books, and other things I did not – and do not – need.
I also turned to relationships. I focused on developing those relationships that truly mattered to me. And I allowed others that were complicated or unrewarding to run their natural course. I guess you could say that I dove headfirst into a minimalist lifestyle.
A few years later, this minimalist thinking steered me toward changing my diet. I learned about nutrition, things like how to get the vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and nutrients I need from whole, natural foods. Together with my phenomenal wife, I reduced my intake of many processed foods, and fully eliminated meat and dairy from my diet.
As though these changes weren’t enough, at this same time, I turned away from school psychology and toward regional planning. Looking back, I think this career change was mostly due to my interactions with kids.
Scores of “maladjusted” and “at-risk” kids shared with me how they were afraid to go outside in their own neighborhoods for fear of being assaulted; how their “caregivers” abused or neglected them; how the only food nearby came from fast-food joints and convenience stores; how public parks and playgrounds were scary, drug-ridden spaces, rather than places for people to congregate and rejuvenate. I remember thinking, these aren’t individual problems, they’re systemic and call for systemic approaches. I think this is why I turned to planning.
With fewer possessions, more meaningful relationships, a plant-based diet, and a new course of study, though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was developing a vernacular lifestyle.
This is also when I discovered the brilliant work of philosopher and social critic, Ivan Illich. I had dabbled with his popular DeSchooling Society from my school psychology days. But when in urban planning school, I found his deeply insightful Energy and Equity. Using pointed arguments, Illich showed me why increasing society’s use of artificial energy reduces people’s equitable access to this energy—that in a high-energy culture like ours, there will always be clear winner and losers.
Yet it wasn’t until I read Shadow Work and Illich’s illustrations of vernacular lifestyles that I saw how to apply his thinking to my life. Here, Illich presents us with a past that was much more self-directed, free, and expressive of our desires and needs as human animals. He is careful not to romanticize the past, and instead shows how we modern peoples have lost the ability to care for ourselves and close others. We’ve submitted our natural intelligence to professionals in the service industry, as well as the distracting technologies that run the empire.
To Illich, to me, and to many others, the vernacular offers a path toward creating a just, equitable, environmentally conscious society. It’s all about privileging the homemade, the off-market, the non-commodity, the authentic relationship, the culture of doing rather than having.
All of this is to say that I hope you find this humble site at least mildly useful. I also hope that it sparks your own unique ideas about creating communities that support everyone’s inherent agency, creativity, and dignity.Follow SethLaJ307