Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Unquestioned Traditions

Tradition without validation is stagnation.

What do I mean by this? Aren't "traditional values" important?

Well, to answer these questions, I first should define the word, "tradition."

A tradition is something that is passed down from one generation to another. This something is often information from the perspective of a previous generation, a custom, or a belief. Traditions form patterns that may differ from one society to another, but ultimately form the basis for all societies.

Traditions are not universally positive, though. Despite what religious leaders, newscasters, and your parents tell you- traditions are definitely not something to follow blindly.

These are some examples of traditional teachings that people still follow today:

Racism. Sexism. Xenophobia. Bullshit. Cowardly responses to unfamiliar stimuli.

Check any random history book at your local library, and look up most civilizations, and try to find one that didn't base some of its culture on at least one of those labels. (Most, in fact, were based on several of those labels- and still are!)

It is traditional for humans to be a cowardly lot. We react to anything that is different from ourselves with fear, and that fear often leads to hostility. (Hostility, as any rational being will tell you, is a display of weakness. After all, if a creature is not threatened it has no need for hostility.)

Fear of the unknown was an unavoidable part of the origin of humanity. (This has nothing to do with either evolution or creationism- it is simply a historical fact.) The immediate access to almost any information we desire has made us forget that there was once a time when people honestly had good reason to be afraid of the night. (Back when the ability to create and control fire was still considered to be science fiction we were very vulnerable to predators and the natural environment after dark.)

Consider that time period our infancy. Limited knowledge. Limited tool sets. And a lot of guessing when it came to anything more complex than simple survival.

Now, thousands of years later, let us consider ourselves as teenagers. If a teenager cried at night because it was dark, and asked their parents to check under the bed for monsters, we would wonder why the teenager is acting so immaturely, and point out that those fears should have been overcome years earlier.

We must recognize that patterns from the past are not necessarily in our best interest anymore.

Do not simply accept something because "tradition" says so. Question it. Validate it with all that knowledge you have access to now.

Take the tradition of racism. And, yes, just to be clear- that vile stupid cowardly weakness is spread almost entirely through traditional teachings.

At the turn of the twentieth century, it was "common knowledge" that all non-whites were inferior to white people. This supposed knowledge was passed down from parents who learned it from their parents, who learned it from -well you get the idea-

And it spreads just like that from parent to child to peer to community. Like the most virulent airborne contagion, traditional teachings left unquestioned easily turn into a plague of fucking stupidity.

We must MUST face our traditions- ALL of them, and question them. We have access to more knowledge than at any other point in human history. There are no more excuses as to why we should tolerate stupid things just because it was what our parents did.

This is not to say that in questioning all traditions we do away with them wholesale. No, that, too would be missing the point. While we must revile and discard traditions that hold us back as a species, we must find strength in traditions that are universal, just as we start new traditions that can stand up to questioning from anyone at any future point in history.

No comments: