In which I sound like a pretentious douchehole

19 Sep

On Tradition

 “A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past.”

Even in our modern-day lives, it is quite safe to assert that tradition is omnipresent, and that it is in some ways shaping the way we behave and live. It, among many other things, pressures us to behave in certain ways that we do not normally behave in on certain days (or even hours). The expectation, or even assumption, that we will behave in these ways could be credited to what we might call tradition. In this essay I seek to define what tradition is, and what differs tradition from similar things that are not. I want to explore the importance of tradition in this modern era and the attitude of society towards it, or rather the changes thereof. I want to juxtapose today’s attitude concerning tradition with that of the past, and explore the various reasons for it. I shall try to find a criterion which I can use to weigh certain traditions against others and decide which ones we should be allowed to let go of.

At a first glance, one might observe that a tradition is something that people behave in accordance to due to sociological reasons. They are usually passed on from generation to generation, continuing for perhaps even centuries until the present day. Traditions are kept because people and society are used to it being done, and because they think it is the right thing to do—and they think this because of the former. But I think this does not correctly define a tradition. According to this definition (see top of page), sexism, slavery and racism would have been traditions. Those things had existed in society for a long period of time, and generations had followed them without question, thinking that they were correct in doing so, until much later. Yet, they are not (or rather, no longer) considered to be morally correct in the present day, and people are now fighting to expel these past beliefs from their lives. This proves two things: firstly that the possession of a long history does not automatically make something a tradition—rendering the definition incorrect, and secondly that traditions could be removed if later deemed inappropriate or “wrong” (for example, the “tradition” of having slaves battle and kill each other as a form of entertainment has been terminated along with slavery and, later, racism to a certain extent).

Thus far, we have established (or rather, tried to establish) that having origins in the past and having been continued for many generations are not sufficient for something to be considered a tradition. (In my opinion) Traditions are inexplicably linked with culture—and such is its connotation. When one speaks of traditions, one is thinking of the culture to which it belongs, and its background. In most cultures, traditions have a story or moral behind them to serve as a reason or an explanation. More often than not, they pertain to a dominant religion in the region. Therefore, we can assume that most traditions come with a suitable reason, and thus it is clear that social prejudices such as sexism or racism are not. They were born to feelings of superiority and—more often than not—disruptive groups of people who spread their cancerous ideas and eventually infected all of society. These do not have much cultural or religious background at all, although the case of sexism may be disputed. Example of traditions that indeed have cultural or religious background stories might be wearing a white dress for weddings (following the example of Queen Victoria), or celebrating the Duan-Wu Festival in China (the tragic death of a renowned and patriotic poet). Here I conclude that tradition, even if it fulfills the criteria of the definition, ought to have a (cultural/religious/moral/etc.) background and a reason. Failing this, one might argue that perhaps even biological instincts such as eating or sleeping could be considered traditions, which they are not.

In the present day, we are faced with many dilemmas. While people feel obliged to follow their traditions, many limiting factors render them sometimes quite unable to do so. Their jobs anchor them because they need the money. Workers have foregone spending special days with family because of financial difficulties. In some cases, it is because they are halfway across the world, living amongst people with an entirely different culture. And sometimes, it is for they simply do not care—more and more people fail to find it in themselves to want to follow the old customs of the past, instead opting for a more modern way of life. This we could perhaps attribute to the Internet and globalization. As we find ourselves surrounded by increasing numbers of different-minded people, we also inevitably find ourselves becoming more doubtful of the things we would have clung to in the past. As we gain more knowledge, we become more skeptical of things. As more people become skeptical, more follow their lead. Eventually we reach a point of apathy where nobody really cares about whether or not these traditions are rigorously enforced.

However, I do not think that it is only globalization that is causing this change in our attitude. People in the olden days revered and relished in traditions because they provided an opportunity and an excuse for them to meet up together with friends and family; to dress up in their finest clothes; to eat things that they could not afford to eat in everyday life. That is no longer the case with us. With a plane ticket, we can travel anywhere in the world. We have sufficient amounts of clothes and finery. We eat well. Even luxuries sometimes fail to impress us. In short, we have become insufferably rich, to the point where nothing really excites us anymore. Thus, traditions lose their appeal. Thus our attitude towards tradition. Thus the difference between us and those who lived before us.

Which traditions should we deem superfluous? Should we judge them by popularity, age or content? At a first glance, it would make sense for us to rid ourselves of those traditions that nobody follows any longer, but it is because of its rarity and scarcity that they need to be protected. Age too is no criteria to judge them against. Those which are older have more history, while those which are younger simply have a longer journey ahead of them. They exist for a reason. And can we actually judge traditions by content? Would we say that the tradition of wearing a white dress on the day of marriage ought to be abolished simply because it is not as culturally rich as Christmas or perhaps Easter? This brings me to think about what “abolishing” a tradition means.

By “getting rid” of a tradition, what does one do? Does the country’s government remove the holiday? Do people stop holding events? And what if some people want to carry on regardless? In short, is a tradition—something that has gone on for centuries—something that we can remove with the snap of a finger? A tradition has roots deeper than we can imagine. It exists in the heart of the people. I think it is only when the older generations—those who do follow the traditions—die, with newer and more ignorant generations replacing them, does a tradition truly die with them. As long as a tradition is practiced somewhere, it lives on. (For example, even if governments from all around the world announced one day that brides no longer had any obligation, social or otherwise, to wear white dresses, would the to-be-wed women abruptly discard the idea and go in search of another color with glee? I think not.) From this logic I conclude that even if we were to “remove” a tradition, it would not be really removed. It would only cease being “official”, but culture and tradition were never official in the first place. It is like art and it is born by the people. They cannot be dictated by an official document or a seal of a government. The very notion of “removing” a tradition, as if it could be done instantaneously, is preposterous—if you’ll excuse me—bullshit.

It is my opinion that traditions have survived to this day for a reason, and we are unfit to judge them. With the death of a tradition departs a piece of its culture. Moreover, traditions cannot be removed without a long period of time—maybe as long as it took for them to form. And although we practice them with less and less rigor and certainly a steadily decreasing amount of enthusiasm, I doubt a tradition could truly die as long as it leaves a mark—however small—on humankind. Even a definition or explanation in a book means that it could one day be reborn. Coming back to the question—and answering it in the simplest terms, is there a way for us to determine whether or not traditions ought to continue on? No, I think not.

 *********

This was written for my English class. I don’t think I was supposed to write this much, but I went overboard and decided why the hell not. In my head, this doubles as my TOK Journal as well. Anyway, I was experimenting with the style and ended up sounding like a complete douchebag, oh well. 

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2 Responses to “In which I sound like a pretentious douchehole”

  1. Tamuel Vimes September 25, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    Dude. You always sound like a pretentious douchehole!!!

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