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A Word on Tradition

June 15, 2011

by J. Andrew Zalucky

Of all the images on Despair, I think the one above is among the best. Beyond just being hilarious, it perfectly captures my feelings on tradition and the reactionary impulse in general.

This is not to say that there is no value in a given ritual, idea, or cultural practice. Some traditions are good, while many others are self-evidently awful. But what do I mean by these “judgmental” terms? Many staples of civil society and private life have aged quite nicely- like certain family rituals, legal practices, or even things like the Hippocratic oath. This is because of how well they square with human reality and how conducive they are to our happiness and survival. Others like human sacrifice and honor killing have long since been abandoned by those in open societies, but still persist in the most backward, miserable, and impoverished nations on Earth.

According to this rubric, one could see other traditions as morally neutral and related more to personal taste than well-being. Things like artistic and literary standards would fall into this category. That is unless you find a certain book so awful that you hate your professor for assigning it…but I digress.

All cultural practices need to be evaluated on their merits and not on how long they have been in place. What this entails then is an attachment to principle rather than a retreat into the safety of precedent and consensus.

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