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What’s so great about tradition?

November 29, 2010

Mill raises an excellent point in contradiction to burke’s sentiments on tradition: sure, tradition may bring about stability and sure, it may be functional, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best course of action. It is certainly possible that traditional practices once brought about the best ends and still do, but this isn’t necessarily always true, bringing us back to Socrates’ thought that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

If we are never to examine, or at least think about what life could be like in the absence of traditional practices, we severely inhibit our ability to enlighten ourselves. If there had been a conscious comparison of all different methods of arranging the sexes and the one best suited to make everyone the happiest was subordinating women to men in the sense that they have been, then this would be the best course of action. Of course, women have never truly been treated as equals to men, so there’s no way we can say that their subordination is the best way to go about things.

Mill’s point about the presumption of conductivity of certain practices like the subordination of women exemplifies why Burke’s arguments and tradition are so accepted. We can tell each other “well, this is the way things are, and this seems to be working out for us,” but while we can sometimes explain why things are the way they are, this does not justify the existence of the practice.

And while the “women and sandwiches” jokes may be funny, it also exemplifies people being all too willing to accept roles without considering alternative possibilities. Yes, I know the jokes aren’t serious, they’re jokes, but I just want to say, I’m a guy, and I can do regular guy stuff as well as cook and make sandwiches.

10 Comments
  1. Jorge Rodriguez-Larrain permalink
    November 29, 2010 3:07 PM

    I agree with the post, tradition is not always the best course of action. Tradition should sometimes be analyzed to see whether or not it is rational and the best solution, which in many cases isn’t. Furthermore, tradition should be questioned, as innovation can sometimes be the right way. For instance, slavery, for many centuries slavery was acceptable and a horrific tradition, but from innovation and question of those “traditions” we found that it was wrong and immoral.

  2. Lorna Malja permalink
    November 29, 2010 7:29 PM

    I completely agree with this this post, tradition should not always be considered the best option. Though, it has been around for many generations, etc it should not automatically be seen as the better choice. Things keep changing everyday and it is necessary to look at new options and better ones to adapt to our changing world today. We cannot limit ourselves just because tradition tells us to, or anything of that sort. In lecture today, we discussed the roles of men and women and how there are general things that women do, like make sandwiches, wear pink, etc. Well, this isn’t necessarily true anymore. Men do wear pink and they can also make their own sandwitches. We shouldn’t just accept our roles, we need to think about them and challange them as we continue adapting to this changing world everyday. Tradition is clearly not always the best option.

  3. cgould4 permalink
    November 29, 2010 8:12 PM

    I wrote a post very similar to this one when reading Burke, where I compared Burke’s idea of tradition with the Declaration of Independence and revolution in America. I am even more set on this idea of defying tradition, not only because it brought about our wonderful country, but also because of feminist issues. I, being a female, am most definitely not a feminist. I also am a fan of some of the social roles attributed to my gender. However, I think it is very important for both genders to allow individuals to define what their personal role will be. I do not like to cook, but I love to shop. I shouldn’t be defined as a cook just because I am a woman. Also, my father loves to barbecue, but also loves to bake. If this is the social role he wishes to have in his life, then no gender norm should be allowed to contradict him.

    The Seneca Falls Convention is an event that should be a model for all individuals. Women at this convention wanted the right to vote and wanted to have legal rights separate from their husbands. They wanted the options, and I’ll bet that when they were given these rights, not all of them went ahead and voted or filed for divorce. As long as all people no matter their gender, race or religion, have rights and freedom, their individual decisions will help define their role in society.

    People should step outside of the traditional gender and social roles and start defining themselves as individuals.

  4. jmrusso permalink
    November 29, 2010 8:28 PM

    I agree with this post as well, it seems as if people today are beginning to break away from the mold and shy away from tradition in general. It is evident that we would not have the technology nor knowledge today if people did not break away from traditions that were set in place hundreds of years ago. For example Martin Luther broke away from the church which was seen to be appalling across Europe back in the early 1500’s. Many ideas which are used today have come from people who grew away from traditions and began living their own ways. People are able to evolve through change. Traditions are meant to be respected but not always need to be explicitly followed.

  5. Will Butler permalink
    November 30, 2010 1:20 AM

    I think one of the most interesting things that was brought up in lecture today was the idea that nature or something being natural does not necessarily entail it being normative. It started to make me think about all the things that I do and that society does that are not exactly natural, but are now considered normative. One thing I thought about was doing activities in the winter. I recently was just talking to my brother about how this is a fairly recent development, only starting in the 20th century. Before humans almost had a mock hibernation. So what the professor said is true, we have shaped our society to match what we have decided to become normal, but this is not always what is “human nature.”

  6. adamkornbluh permalink
    November 30, 2010 12:48 PM

    Burke’s views on tradition also bothered me. They seem to parallel many of the conservative views held in our political system today. When policies like social security and healthcare are brought up, right thinkers proclaim that the ideas are too radical. Instead of thinking rationally, they hold onto traditions of our country because they believe it has worked in the past and “if it ain’t broke, dont fix it.” Instead, I tend to agree with you and Mill. Stability should not inhibit innovation. Mill rejects the idea that rational thinking is not as important as the adherence to our past ideals. He takes on the persona of the left-winger always urging for change. It would be interesting to see Burke and Mill face off in the modern political arena.

  7. Sara Mitchell permalink
    November 30, 2010 8:19 PM

    I found this post to be interesting and I do agree with it, but I also disagree with it in a way. I believe that certain traditions are very valuable and bring people together, regardless of if you know the true meaning behind it. For example, every year since I can remember my family and I would go into New York City every Christmas Eve and stay in a nice hotel and then Christmas day we would go ice skating and see a movie. I don’t know why we do it every year, but I know that if we didn’t do it one year it would feel very strange. I think a tradition like this one is good to keep because it always bring the family together and has sentimental value. I agree that certain traditions are not always good to follow, but there is always an exception.

  8. reedmarcus permalink
    November 30, 2010 11:57 PM

    I think that Mill is certainly right in that while tradition may be the easiest and most comfortable way to go about doing something, it does not mean that it is the best or most efficient option. While there are some things that are embedded into society as tradition, for instance a parade on Thanksgiving or fireworks on the 4th of July, there are certainly other instances in which tradition may be the most comforting but not the best choice for the situation. Overall, tradition is something that people feel leaves a sense of community in daily activities, however sometimes, people must leave their comfort zones in order to truly achieve what is best for the time being.

  9. adamarcher permalink
    December 1, 2010 11:00 AM

    ” The unexamined life is not worth living”

    Yes, certainly, however just as Mill says, it is impossible to examine every facet of ones life. To review the reasons and motives for why and how we do things is an essential part of living a good life. Everyone must do this to the extent of their abilities, but it is unfeasible to demand that one do it with every single thing they do, indeed, it is unfeasible for even an entire generation to accomplish such a task.

    This is where the value of tradition comes in. Because it is impossible to constantly review ones reasons and actions (One would never have the time to make progress or accomplich anything), one must rely on tradition to guide onesself in many of lifes aspects. There is value in following the pack, indeed we all do it to survive. What Mill argues is that we must not only do that, we must use our time wisely to examine the notions and institutions that we hold most dearly to ourselves, and share our learnings with the world – to contribute to the great vault of tradition.

  10. awodarczyk permalink
    December 1, 2010 7:12 PM

    Surely tradition is needed in life, and at many time it becomes valuable, but in order expand life one must take risks and venture away from tradition. Life for the most part is guided from traditions set back way before out time, but it was the innovators and risk takers that set a new standard for life. To be able to experiment with new ideas and traditions, allows one to break away and visit a potential part in life that is maybe wonderful and awesome. Without experimenting new ways of life, life could still possibly be like it was years ago. I agree with this post and how it connects with Mill’s view on tradition. There is a need for new, but tradition will always be around no matter what.

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