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.

Monday, June 15, 2009

As Promised...

Ok, so here I am again. Finally with the time and preparation I wanted before I started this in earnest.

I have terrible grammar, and spell checking is one of my best friends, so please be forgiving of technical errors as I try to explore my thoughts in an electronic format...

I mentioned "Individuality vs Generality," in my last post, and that seems like a good place to start here.

Let's start with a visualization. Picture yourself being a very pretty piece of crystal. You have random geometrical edges, light filters through you in an appealing way. You feel valuable, important somehow.

Next to you are your friends and family. Each of them is also a crystal, just like you. Unique, beautiful, and important.

At a glance you can recognize the difference between you and your parents. You have more sides, for example, or your parents are more transparent than you. Details are easily determined.

Now imagine that everyone sees themselves and their loved ones the same way. Billions of us, all crystals, and unique and important...

Imagine a camera looking at you and your fellow crystals. It is on a crane, and begins to back up and away from you. Farther and farther it goes until you see all of humanity and recognize us no longer as individual crystals, but now we are seen as a whole... as a beach.

A grain of sand is a very tiny piece of (usually) quartz. Under a strong microscope it is quite pretty, and its unique traits are easy to see.

From our perspective a single grain of sand is barely noticeable, and a lot of sand blends together to form a single, smooth image.

Individuality would be a single grain of sand. You. Not you in how you are related to someone else. Just you. (Not Mrs. so-and-so, or so-and-so's son, for example.)

You see things from a completely unique perspective that might be partially shared with those around you, but never completely repeated by anyone else. The further a person is from your life, the less their perspective has in common with yours.

On the other end of the scale from individuality is generality. A perspective made not of individual details, but of broad strokes, estimations, and "the big picture." From this perspective we can recognize that there are billions of individual grains of sand on the beach we are at, but they are not important to us, except as a whole beach.

The properties of each grain of sand are irrelevant to us. Our questions regarding them are always as the entire beach of them.

For example, "Is the sand hot?" Sand being used as a singular, despite being a question about billions of different grains.

Why is this? (By the way I love the question, "Why?" and I will ask it a lot. It usually has a myriad of correct answers, but for this post I am going to focus only on one.)

Why do we see ourselves (and those we know personally) as the important grains of sand, but when we step back to look at all of us, we only see a beach?

It's because we have a very limited perspective. If you could see each separate grain of sand in detail as you glanced at a beach it would be billions of different packets of information for you to process all at once. So, instead, we gather all those packets into one we call "estimation," or generalization.

It's just easier that way. In some cases (like at a beach) it is not necessary to know all the unique information provided. We just need to know if the sand is hot, are there rocks to worry about, and how are the waves are looking.

In other cases we must make the effort of avoiding generalizing. Especially when dealing with our own species. Each of us know we are unique. We know that our family and loved ones are unique. We even know the jerk who makes obnoxious jokes about us at work is unique. We can see all of those details. Never once would any of us be fooled if someone in their life was replaced by another person...

And yet, most of us don't recognize that people from outside our very tiny perspective are also unique. They may share some common details with those they are closest to, and they may even (almost) completely oppose your unique viewpoint. I use "almost" there because if we look at all the details, we find that even completely opposing groups still share some of the exact needs in their individuals.

(We all have to eat, right? Water is important to every single human, even the "bad" ones. Prick any one of us from anywhere in the world, and we all still bleed the same blood...)

"They," aren't a collective singular like the word implies. They are countless individuals that are as unique and important as you or I.

And just remember this: "You and I" literally means something different to every single human being on the planet, but "they" is always the same.

...I am running long on this already... I will continue again at a later time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

And So It Begins... Finally.

I started this blog a very long time ago, and then never made a first post to it.

I realized, at the time, that I was not ready to start posting my views of things, yet.

I have been doing research into the human condition and I feel more comfortable expressing my views now.

But not quite yet, actually. Responsibilities in the "real world" (such a silly term, as very few humans can even agree on what is real in the first place) are keeping me too busy to post.


"Individuality versus Generality: Grudge Match!"