Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Dangers of Tradition

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Sorry about the delay in new posts, things have been very busy for me over the last few weeks.

I would wager that probably everyone on the planet clings to some type of tradition or another. In many cases our traditions are comforting. They are old friends that we anticipate getting re-acquainted with. Most of us don’t bother to stop and question our traditions, and why should we? After all, our traditions are awesome, aren’t they?
Most of us have some staple family traditions of some form or another. It could be a specific type of food that you eat on a holiday, like Turkey on Thanksgiving or Ham at Easter or Christmas. It could also be an activity that you do; like giving someone a cake on their birthday, or singing Christmas carols to your neighbors.

The question that I’ve been asking myself over the last few weeks is whether or not these traditions are a good thing or a bad thing in terms of our cultural and individual psychological development. Sure, I can argue the point that traditions play a very important role in our societal development. I could argue that without tradition we have no way to cling on to our past; no collective “living memories” of things that once were, no ever-present reminders, and no exotic fanfare with which to pepper our culture.  It can certainly be argued that many of the more colorful aspects of our culture come from traditions and that without traditions our culture might feel empty and hallow.
However, there are two sides to every story. I can also argue that tradition holds us back; it inhibits our growth, it stagnates our social and psychological development and only serves to placate us. What a horrible thing to say, I know, but I feel compelled to say it.

What started me thinking about this a lot was an incident that happened a few weeks ago. I teach martial arts classes every Thursday night with my friend, Matt. We had a student arrive to class who had studied martial arts before. We had several lengthy discussions and comparisons of styles and techniques. This discussion flooded my memory with numerous similar discussions where people told me about this “ancient technique” or that one, and they almost always were followed by some demonstration of something that was rather complex.  I thought about most of the other major martial arts in the world and how they fragmented and split over disagreements about the curriculum.
One thing that I am very grateful for is the fact that Matt is also analytical. Between the two of us we scrutinize everything and evaluate everything and reject what doesn’t work or what isn’t good and replace it with what does.  But, neither of us views our art as being very traditional. I also help teach Karate on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings and the mentality there is very different. They don’t do anything that wasn’t passed down for generations upon generations.

But, this type of mentality extends far beyond the realm of Martial Arts. One prime example that comes to light is the US Presidential Elections. Of course, you may have surmised that I mean the Electoral College specifically. Historically this institution made sense. Hundreds of years ago it was not possible to tally every single vote from every single person in a realistic time-frame. This system was devised as an alternate to the popular vote based on the ideology that they Electoral College members would vote the same way as their states and that they would vote altogether for one president. Since its inception The members of the Electoral College have split their votes for both candidates and they have voted opposite the popular vote of their states. If you examine the National totals you’ll see several instances where the popular votes would have garnered us a different president than the Electoral College system. Take, for example, the 2000 election; Al Gore won the popular vote while George Bush carried the college. Another example is the 1888 election; Grover Cleveland had the popular vote, but Benjamin Harrison carried the college. Or the 1876 election; Samuel Tilden had the popular vote while Rutherford B. Hayes had the college. The point is, with modern technology it is now possible to count and tally the votes of every voter in real time. When the Electoral College was created this was impossible. So, why are we clinging to the use of the college at all if we can now perform the very task that it was intended to circumvent? Tradition.
Historically, this problem plagues our police departments as well. They typically develop policies and procedures that develop into tradition. When presented with new ideas about how to do things most departments resolutely cling to their traditional views saying things like “this is how it’s always been done”.  In the case of police procedures, they only change when a new disaster has occurred and the department is forced to change their policies as a result.

All in all I think that we should all be encouraged to know what we’re getting from our traditions. Do they have meaning and value in a cultural sense? Do they perform necessary functions? Or, do they simply shackle us to a pillar of stagnation?

References & Notes:

To read up about the voting history of the country’s presidential elections, including the number of electoral and popular votes each candidate received check out:

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These blogs represent my thoughts, ideas and opinions. They may be different from yours. You may not agree with them. While I do enjoy a good, polite debate on a topic (where points are countered with other points based on logic, reason and fact), I do not enjoy an argument (where you tell me that I am wrong simply because you disagree and cannot offer any reasons to support your position). I am very respectful of others, and I expect everyone on here to be respectful in return, not only to me, but to each other as well. Disrespectful posts will be deleted automatically. Feel free to share your ideas, but keep it civil, please.