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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Traditions, and Why We Should Examine Them.

Galleria BorgheseImage via Wikipedia
Does it strike you as odd that we frequently defend peculiar behaviour by calling it tradition? That we hear others defending what, to us, is indefensible, on the grounds that it is traditional?
I've heard men from Pakistan defend the throwing of acid over women who refuse their advances simply on the basis that it is traditional. Apart from the obvious inhumanity and cruelty, just how traditional can something be if based on an acid that has been around only a relatively short time?
In the UK those who chase foxes with packs of hounds and allow them to tear the caught animal to pieces justify their cruelty by calling it tradition.
The bull fighting fraternity in Spain use the same justification for their cruel taunting and killing of bulls in the ring.
And the American hunter defends his killing sprees in the same way.
On a lighter note, the custom of sending cards to all and sundry on any of innumerable anniversary dates is called tradition. It certainly keeps card manufacturers and the postal services in business.
It is still the custom for brides to marry in church and wear white (for purity) even though they and the rest of the family have no belief in God and she is unlikely to be virginal.
In religion it is tradition that forbids the eating of pork by certain groups. That this ban was initially a way of avoiding the many parasites harboured by swine seems to have been forgotten along the way. We now know that cooking pork properly will kill the parasites, but the old tradition lives on regardless.
And then there are those traditions that fall under the umbrella of superstition. A rabbit's foot for luck (not for the rabbit, it isn't). Avoid walking under a ladder (step into the road and have a car run you over instead). Avoid that black cat crossing your path (the witch for which it was a familiar is no longer a common feature of life, so the fear is irrational, as it always was, of course). 13 is such an unlucky number; but if you're not a Christian, why would it be; does the number of people assumed to attend the Last Supper have any bearing on your life? 7 years of bad luck follow the breaking of a mirror, but any smooth surface performs the same function of reflecting the image, so does tossing a pebble into a still pool sentence you to the same period of ill fortune?
Just a few examples. I'm sure you can think of hundreds more. Some are harmless, some ridiculous but many are positively dangerous, cruel or unjust.
My point, then, is that perhaps we should examine those things we call traditions and measure their value to society before we blindly follow them.
What say you? 

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