The Myth of Tradition 1

The Myth of Tradition 1

We saw yesterday, as we completed our treatment of the Myth of Religion, that those who believe that Religion is the source of morality in society are also likely to place great value on Tradition, since both Religion and Tradition seem to have their roots deep in antiquity.

Today we begin to examine the conservative Myth of Tradition, which combines with the other Major Myths to further consolidate a world view that is debilitating, destructive, and selfish in the highest degree. We will start by defining the Myth, and we will quickly show that Tradition cannot possibly be a fundamental value.


Is Tradition the repository of all wisdom?

The sixth Major Myth is the Myth of Tradition, which holds that Tradition is the repository of wisdom gleaned from the past, and the cornerstone of stability in society. Tradition is supposed to be the treasury of “what works” in human relations, tested over the centuries and annealed in the fires of history.

Believers in this Myth lean on habits and customs handed down from their parents and ancestors. They regard such habits and customs as the standards by which life is to be lived. This saves a great deal of time and effort. They don’t have to think through every important issue of life for themselves.

But it also means that believers have little justification for their positions beyond “That’s the way it’s always been, and eternal verities are, after all—eternal.” Unfortunately, that justification is both too general and too uncertain to be useful.

There can be no guarantee that any particular tradition is an eternal verity. And the very use of this justification usually implies that a challenge has arisen to confront the presumed verity.

Furthermore, neither the length of time a custom has existed nor its putative utility are the most important factors in judging its value. A practice can be both traditional and foolish, traditional and unjust, traditional and irrational.

For instance, slavery was a long-standing and utilitarian practice. But it had to be eliminated, because it was fundamentally unjust. Justice, to name just one thing, trumps Tradition.


On Monday, we will see that, even though Tradition may contain much wise and useful information, it is also the repository of much that is foolish, unjust, and irrational.

Until Monday, then.

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