A “Dutch Uncle” for America

Last week on the Archdruid Report, JMG had a line that really hit hard:

“the US embraced a foreign policy so astonishingly stupid that I’m honestly not sure the English language has adequate resources to describe,”

This made me laugh heartily, but also made me think seriously about what sort of term in the English language could be used to describe such a situation or person.  My ultimate response was to put forth the Sicilian term stunad, which, as alluded to later, isn’t something that translates well unless you are under a full head of steam (and, in honor of Father’s Day, still makes me chuckle a bit, regarding some now-funny interactions with my dad in the kitchen):

Typically, the cry of ‘Stunad!’ is delivered (after a particularly egregious lack of judgement) with a stern but light palm of the hand to the back of a young man’s head with an exasperated father saying, “Have I taught you *nothing*?!!”

Another JMG commenter (Chloe) piped in later, “I suggest “glaikit” in addition? It’s a Scots word expressing sheer gormlessness. It’s not that they don’t understand, but that they aren’t paying enough attention to even realise [sic] there’s something they should be understanding.”

That word might even best “stunad,” for the current description of our current policies and leaders; alas, it might be unpronounceable to some of us.  The critical thing is that a lot of cultures have such a word in the first place – a no-nonsense, simple word that sums up in a few syllables the utter stupidity and ignorance that are causing (or about to cause) massive pain and/or problems.

Some may be puzzled by the slight fixation on words and vocabulary, but the way words are used can have a lot of bearing on how we handle things.  Our own culture seems to have drifted a bit; our “problems” are now “challenges” (and the list of politically correct phrases seems to grow larger every day).   Saint George (Carlin) [on post-traumatic stress disorder], said, “In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves.”  A quick online search will give you the full bit (in video or text), but in typical Saint George fashion, it cuts to the heart of the matter.  The upshot?  We need to start talking in simple words of one and two syllables about our current situation.

The phrase to introduce now, on a related track, is one that my father taught me ages ago as well – the “Dutch Uncle.”   If you are stunad, or glaikit, it is the Dutch Uncle (or Aunt) who is going to be telling you this, and telling you exactly why (in sometimes ego-crushing detail).  It seems to be a really unknown term these days, perhaps because of our feel-good, everything-is-OK-leaning culture.  The purpose of a “Dutch Uncle” in one’s life is to provide sometimes brutal but absolutely necessary feedback in your life.   They still love you, rest assured.  But they also realize that what you are doing/saying/believing currently is not working, and it is best to get your ass in gear, lest you be crushed by forces outside of your control (like reality).   Classic Dutch Uncle commentaries might be along the lines of:

  • “Lose ten pounds.  You are eating too much, and eating crap.  Stop it.”
  • “Stop drinking.  You are going to fail out of school.”
  • “You are acting like an idiot. Apologize NOW.”
  • “The romantic partner you are with is an addict and will pull you down if you keep hanging around them.”
  • “Behavior X is not tolerated in this family.  Shape up or ship out.”

The interesting thing about the concept of the Dutch Uncle is that a) as noted above, few people of heard of it, and b) when the term is finally explained to people, it seems like they have a vague idea of the term, but many can’t even conceive of having someone in their life to actually be that person.

Having the Dutch Uncle talk is generally unpleasant, for sure.  Nobody enjoys being grilled on bad decisions.   From the science fiction world, it can be seen in the civics instructor in Starship Troopers, and in the plan that Paul Redecker proposed to handle the zombie apocalypse in the Studs Terkel oral-history inspired World War ZReality is unpleasant – get used to it, and the faster you get used to it, the better.

This country has had some great Dutch Uncles; most of the folks in the Peak Oil/Peak Resource world have a hefty streak of it in them.   My own view is that some of these Dutch Uncles would make good presidents (however, the likelihood of them being elected is generally low, because people would rather hear “It is morning in America” rather than a sermon).   it would seem that we still need a hefty dose of them, and we should be giving them all the support we can.

From the question portion of this week’s essay:

  • It seems that having a president as a real Dutch Uncle is a long shot.  However, having a Dutch Uncle in other branches of the government is still possible.  Who are our current Dutch Uncles in the congress and courts?  In the media?  In comedy?  Anywhere?
  • Could a Dutch Uncle position be codified?   Science fiction has lead the way in many areas. There was a short science fiction story a long time ago (in Analog Science Fiction and Fact (?)) that had this position codified in an updated Constitution – someone (“Bespeaker of the House,” or “Beadie Eye”) beholden to nobody, whose sole purpose was to root out corruption and malfeasance in our government, and “tell it like it is.”
  • Sometimes a Dutch Uncle will give up, after giving an ultimatum to you.   Has our country passed the point of no return, and are our Dutch Uncles abandoning us?   Have we lost any Dutch Uncles due to fatigue/disgust?
  • What equivalent words are there for ‘Dutch Uncle’ and ‘stunad’ in other cultures?
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