09 August 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Traditions

Dear friends,

I hope you are having, will have or have had a good holiday this August.

Talking about holidays, this Sunday we are discussing Traditions. These
are activities which we have all participated in our time. However, as
we know, not all traditions are good for one. If you know of any
traditions that are good for us please come and share them with us.

See you Sunday,

Take care


+++++++++++++++++VICTOR – FLAT FOR SALE+++++++++++++++++++++++++
Victor has asked me to forward you details about his brother's flat
which he is trying to sell:

Hi, My brother is selling this nice flat with a nice patio, it is just
12 min from Madrid with no traffic jams. If you contact them, tell them
that Victor sent you:
Observaciones del anunciante:
Patio/jardín de 35 m2. 3 dormitorios con a/e. Dormitorio principal
forrado en madera. Salón independiente con mueble de pladur y amplia
cristalera. Aparcamiento en la puerta.

**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);


Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
- Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com/
-Group photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147


A dictionary definition of tradition would include something like
beliefs or behaviour followed by one generation after another usually
through oral communication. (see. thefreedictionary.com or Webster
website). Traditions are usually associated with religion, society,
culture, politics, and we also speak of traditions in philosophy. For
example the analytical Anglo-American philosophy or continental
philosophy. I shall only consider some general aspects of traditions.

If we take the dictionary definition of tradition we can find a number
of issues that will interest us. I will consider what must probably be
the most relevant issue of all, that of the value of traditions, till
later. If traditions are beliefs or behaviours handed down through
generations then we need to ask ourselves whether what gave rise to a
tradition is still valid many generations down the ages. The Christmas
card can be a good example. If the Christmas card was a means to keep in
touch with people during this religious festivity (the original idea of
Christmas cards was not religious, see Wikipedia: Christmas card) maybe
today the religious sentiment might not be a high priority as it was in
the past. Maybe today it is more doing what one is expected to do during
such occasions. In the late nineteenth century, when personal means of
communication between people were rather limited, a Christmas card would
have had a great deal of meaning. however, and this is not meant to take
away the personal touch and significance of sending a Christmas card,
today we have many means of keeping in touch with people. Maybe sending
a Christmas card today is more a case of another opportunity to network
than a need for personal contact with someone.

What might be a tradition today could also have evolved beyond the
original scope of what the practise or belief were supposed to achieve.
Of course, change is such a fundamental part of nature that it would be
unreasonable not to expect change in traditions. However, we must
distinguish between traditions changing to meet a particular evolving
need, and changing a tradition for the sake of changing a tradition.

Summer holidays in continental Europe used to be a month long affair;
usually August. During this month most of the economies and business in
Europe would shut down. With globalisation and dubious competition from
certain countries shutting down an economy or at least a business for a
month is not tenable any more. Of course, some might not like the idea
of taking holidays over shorter periods. on the other hand, not only do
some of us feel we have the right to manage our time but business and
service providers also need to have the flexibility to manage their
production to meet market needs.

Compare this with instances when certain traditions are abandoned or
proposed to be abandoned just because they are old or simply to prove
that one has power. I am particularly thinking of the campaign by some
sections of the political elite in England in wanting to abolish the wig
and gown which barristers wear in court. The point is not whether
wearing wigs is an old practise; the point is that access to the legal
system is still limited to a privileged few given the cost of
litigation. Or even the frivolous waste of money in taking certain cases
to court. Hence, picking on a tradition might take away valuable
attention from real issues. It is very easy to have an opinion about
wearing wigs, but not that easy to have an equitable system of justice.
The same goes for the traditions of fox hunting or bullfighting. It is
very easy to have an opinion about foxes and bull being killed in a
traditional ritual, but not so easy to remember or even to have an
equitable system to protect factory farm animals or large sea mammals.
However, it is the latter two animal groups that need urgent saving.
Thus witting or unwittingly traditions can easily create a distraction
from what is really important.

Thus while traditions might have to adapt to present times, as Nietzsche
proposed, traditions can also be used as smoke screens for present
inequities. A tradition can be used to prevent an injustice being
removed, for example religious or social prejudices against certain
members of society. Or a tradition can be used to disadvantage some
members of society. For example, the tradition of paying hardly anything
to doctors during their houseman training years or barristers during
their pupillage. Of course, both professionals expect to make handsome
gains when they are fully qualified, but this tradition has an inbuilt
disadvantage against those who do not have independent support during
this training period. the Guardian* published an article by Zoe Williams
in May saying, that some co-pilots pilots are having to work for free in
order to keep their qualifications valid; again putting unfair pressure
on those who might not be in a financially privileged position. And
comments left by some readers of this article say that this practise
also happens with certain media institutions. Thus, an issue with
traditions is that these can be hijacked or abused for aims and purposes
which have nothing to do with the tradition itself.

From a social point of view traditions do help establish links and
bonds not only with our ancestors but with the present generation. They
give us a sense of continuity and stability. First of all because we
know what to expect, how to behave and what to believe. We know that
come the first of January we expect to be recovering from the previous
night New Year's partying. On the 25th of December we expect to exchange
gifts and sit through a huge Christmas lunch. Hence, a tradition can
give us an opportunity to socialise with friends, family and most
important of all other we don't know. Thus, building a social bond with
our community. We also use traditions to link with the past and
ancestors. maybe Christmas lunch has always include a certain family
recipe which one of our grand, grand mothers used to prepare for the
occasion and now the family continues to prepare the same dish some
three generations later.

Religions also make great use of this idea of keeping in touch with the
past and with past ancestors. This need for continuity and stability,
which traditions seem to offer, is maybe used to balance against the
randomness of life itself. I mean looking back to Christmas, how many
events in your life did you or could you have predicted these past eight
months. Maybe not many, maybe the journey to work and back, the
philosophy meetings, but many things we experience we just cannot
predict. Fair enough, we might predict that we are going on holiday in
august, but could you predict what was going to happen on the second day
of your holiday? Traditions, as the dictionary definition points out,
tells us exactly what is to happen practically to the minute. As I said
this sense of predictability and certainty is a welcomed respite from
the sea of randomness in our lives.

The value of traditions, whether moral or social benefit, is an
important issue as I mentioned at the beginning. Many religious and
social traditions have iniquitous and discriminatory effects. For
example, discrimination against women, against certain members of
society and of course, personal freedoms. Maybe what was a practical
solution many centuries ago might today be interpreted as a law from god
or a constitutional right. One such tradition is the question of married
priests in the Catholic Church (Google the subject: married priests).
Historically, it was only in the early Middle Ages that priests could
not marry, although this does not seem to be a problem for other religions.

Should traditions that are obviously inequitable be stopped, changed or
done away with completely? It will of course be difficult to persuade
those that have a stake in such a tradition to agree for the tradition
to be stopped. Whether it is veiled women or unmarried priests it would
be difficult to persuade the present establishment of these respective
religions to give up this obvious power they have over others. It is not
only the Establishment that might provide resistance to change but also
ordinary people like you and me. it is easy for a philosopher to accept
a philosophical argument about a tradition and as a consequence change
one's opinion, but quite another for someone who has been brought up as
a god fearing member of a religion to simply change what one has been
taught to belief over a life time. Believe it or not there are people
who are genuine and honest believers of what they are taught by their
religion. Despite, that is, of any inequities or incongruities such
teaching might include.

Of course, some traditions are so inequitable, that sooner or later
there will be an influential political movement to change such
traditions. Most armies of western countries today have women front line
combatants. Not only has the movement for equal opportunities opened
career opportunities for women in industry and commerce, but also in
bastions of traditions such as the military services. And this, I
suggest it is not only because they followed Nietzsche advice to open
one's mind to change but also for practical reasons. Modern armies today
depend on ultra hi tech equipment and skills and one just has to recruit
suitably trained and qualified personnel. And it makes no sense to
exclude female candidates simply because traditionally women were not
employed on front line duties. There seems to be a natural push to
change a tradition when it is inequitable or impractical. If your best
fighter pilot is a woman, you'd better start believing is the equality
of the sexes.

It seems that the value of a tradition is directly linked to its
utilitarian value whether moral or social. If necessity is the mother of
invention, it also seems to be the father of opportunism.

Take care


*The bumpy playing field
Zoe Williams

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Traditions

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