Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Are You a Frivvle or a Jibber? And Who Cares?

Have you ever been told that we need to make English the official language of the United States? That bilingual nations are inherently problematic? Gather round, and listen to a story:

Once upon a time there were two monolingual populations, the Frivvles and the Jibbers, living within a single nation. These groups mostly ignored each other; the only real problem arose when a member of one monolingual culture (the Frivvles) wanted to interact with members of another monolingual culture (the Jibbers) but couldn't. In such a scenario, the solution seems very clear: any Frivvle that wants to interact with a Jibber will learn Jibberish, and any Jibber that wants to interact with a Frivvle will learn Frivvlesh. They should coexist peacefully, right?

Ah, I can hear you objecting--what if one culture is more powerful than the other? What if a vast majority of this society speak Frivvlesh, leaving speakers of Jibberish to cluster together and either A) interact only with other Jibbers or B) learn Frivvlesh? I'm not sure why either of those two alternatives would be a problem for a Frivvle, except that they might miss out on meeting a Jibber they would have loved because the Jibbers have ghettoized themselves and the Frivvle refuses to enter that space. I can see how such circumstances would be difficult for a Jibber, but I don't understand why it would be a significant problem. Jibbers in this scenario can choose to speak Jibberish, and live inside what would be, presumably, a much smaller social sphere, or they can choose to speak Frivvlesh and experience an expansion of opportunity. 

But what, you say, if lots of Jibbers move into the geographical boundaries of what had been a Frivvlesh-dominant society? Well, let's look at that scenario. Certainly Jibbers wouldn't consider the expansion of their social sphere a problem. But what about Frivvles? Wouldn't Frivvles consider that a problem? Well . . . perhaps. But it seems to me that the Frivvles in this scenario face the same set of choices as Jibbers in the above paragraph: they can either ghettoize themselves or they can learn Jibberish and experience an expansion of economic and social possibilities. Since the Frivvles haven't chosen this new set of circumstances, they might resent the changing set of circumstances and/or the Jibbers that caused it on a personal level, but I fail to see how the change is a problem for society--the larger body of Jibbers and Frivvles. 

Let's turn the tables. Say that Jibbers are the majority population and that Frivvles begin entering the country of Jibber. Frivvles who enter largely choose to continue speaking Frivvlesh. But because the country of Jibber is so much "greater" and "richer" than the land of Frivvle (And why else would Frivvles emigrate?), these Frivvles soon come to realize that speaking Jibberish would allow them to interact with "rich" and "great" Jibbers more consistently, and that this interaction would enrich them--economically, if not socially. Even if the Frivvles who entered Jibber never learn to speak Jibberish, they will be sure to teach their children Jibberish, right? So let's assume that this second generation--"Fribbles"--speak both Frivvlesh and Jibberish, to the everlasting delight of their parents the Frivvles, who are happy that Frivvlesh culture has been preserved and ecstatic that their darling little Fribbles will have access to the economic opportunities of Jibberish. End of Generation 1: the first generation Frivvles die, and the Fribbles are left. What about them? Well, these Fribbles enjoy their Frivvlesh heritage and celebrate it; they even like to hang out with new Frivvles who have just recently entered the country of Jibber. But they also want to their children to have the economic opportunities they had, so they cultivate ties to Jibberish culture. And, because their economic success (derived in no small part from speaking Jibberish) allows them to live a lifestyle that most Frivvles can't, they buy houses that are further and further from the Frivvle neighborhoods, which means that their children attend school with Jibber-majority populations. Their children eventually become . . . Jivvers. Sure, they remember the old Frivvle ways and preserve a few traditions, but their new primary language is Jibberish, most of their friends are Jibbers, and their children will probably be . . . Jibbers. Long live the great country of Jibber.

Let's say that this doesn't happen. That Frivvles are so stubborn and so numerous and so successful that they overwhelm the Jibbers. So what? Unless there is something inherently wrong with Frivvles and Frivvlesh language/culture, who cares? Individual Jibbers will go on being Jibbers, and their children will probably be Jivvers, but this is not a curse--it's just a slow shift in cultural norms, the sort of thing that happens within Jibber culture, within Frivvle culture, all the time anyways. Take Frivvles--are they really the "same" people today that they were in 1950? Has Frivvlesh culture been preserved unchanged for 50 years? Probably not. Has Jibberish culture remained the same for 50 years? Probably not. But unless there's something inherently wrong with the nature of that change, who cares? Unless there's something inherently wrong with eating Jibberish foods, who cares if a few Jibberish restaurants pop up in Frivvlesh neighborhoods? Unless there's something inherently wrong with Frivvlesh music, who cares if a car playing Frivvlesh music rolls through a Jibber neighborhood? Let's say that a vast overseas people, the Riddicules, are supposed to become super powerful and wealthy over the next century. Wouldn't you want your child to learn Riddiculesh so that s/he would be able to interact with these powerful, wealthy people and become powerful and wealthy him/herself? Of course--unless there's something inherently wrong with Riddicules. 

Culture and language just isn't that important. Sure, you're attached to your language and culture, and I'm attached to my language and culture, but there isn't a right or wrong answer here; my culture isn't better just because I'm attached to it, and your language isn't better just because you speak it. The only thing that matters is the gospel. If the Frivvlesh language and culture somehow prevented me from living the gospel, I'd be dead set against its introduction into Jibber. If, on the other hand, a (peaceful) flood of Jibberish immigrants seemed likely to undermine my Frivvle daughter's socioeconomic prospects, I might oppose that invasion out of selfish grounds, but not because Jibberish language or culture is bad. So if I'm opposed to Jibberish in my Frivvle nation, or Frivvlesh in my Jibber nation, it's because I'm either selfish or, gulp, racist: someone who thinks that another linguistic or cultural group is inherently wrong/inferior. 

Why does this matter? The need to preserve American language and culture is the number one argument used to opposed comprehensive immigration reform, and in November the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a tremendously important statement indicating that it supports the principles of the Utah Compact on comprehensive immigration reform. The press release suggests that the Church supports some sort of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants (UPDATE) with children who are United States citizens: "We oppose policies that unnecessarily separate families." The Church-supported Compact also states that "Immigrants are integrated into communities across Utah. We must adopt a humane approach to this reality, reflecting our unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion. The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors. Utah should always be a place that welcomes people of goodwill."

Immigration policy, church leaders suggest, should be made in the context of Christ's parable of the Good Samaritan: "The Savior taught that the meaning of 'neighbor' includes all of God's children, in all places, at all times." In other words, we ought to see immigration reform and legislation as an opportunity to reach out to and bless those of our neighbors who are suffering, and Church members should be able to respond articulately when others raise objections to comprehensive immigration reform; it's part of being a good neighbor.


Jo Jo said...

I didn't know that about the church, very interesting. I'm only concerned about policy, or lack there of, which can affect us. The more the merrier!

Anonymous said...

Always interesting- don't rock the boat, don't steady the ark.


Silence DoGood

Anonymous said...

It seems somewhat contradictory that the church would support a policy that while it may keep families together, seems to support the illegal, therefore lawbreaking, immigration into the
u.s, which contradicts one of the Articles of Faith.

Publius Sakharov

Anonymous said...

Upon investigating further the documents quoted partially above it would behoove future readers to investigate them as well.

Anonymous said...

Further I highly, highly disagree with your last statement that, in effect church members should support comprhensive immigration reform as part of being a good neighbor. National immigration reform entails a lot of things, many of which are not so good. I would also add that my first comment was meant to question the clearness of the piece in regards to the way in which it portrayed the stance of the church. The way it is written here does not do justice to the full statement. As always,

Publius Sakharov

Anonymous said...

One last word. Culture and language matter. Wasn't it part of the reason that Lehi sent his sons back to get the plates? To preserve the language of their fathers? Many more examples come to mind ancient and modern, biblical and secular. When cultures and languages condone activites, lifestyles, or attitudes that violate what is right, peaceful, legal, etc. those cultures seem to matter very much with the legal code of a nation. Alan Bloom points to the 1960's and the "counter-culture" movement as a beginning point of the degradation of values that had built and strengthened our country (including the value and structure of the family).