Being Old Doesn’t Make Something Good

A young girl was hanging out in the kitchen while her mother cooked dinner and noticed her mom cutting an inch or so off the end of the roast she was about to put in the oven.

“Mom, why do you do that?”

The mother shrugged and said, “I don’t know, but that’s how my mom did it and she taught me.”

Curious, the girl went to her grandmother and asked the same question. The grandmother thought about it, but could find no satisfying answer other than to say that’s how her mother cooked a roast.

Knowing she had only one chance left, she sought out her aging great grandmother and asked why she cut the end off of a roast.

“Well, you see,” the old woman smiled, looking off into her memory, “your great grandfather and I had a tiny apartment and that was the only way I could fit the roast into such a small oven.”

“Tradition” is thrown around a lot these days. It’s an important word to us, one that suggests  a connection to a past bigger than us, a way of aggrandizing ourselves and understanding that we are a part of a more glorious whole. I honestly have no problem with this in theory. In fact, I rather like that idea, and when I think of all of the writers and creators that came before me just so I would have the even limited ability that I do to write these words in something approaching coherence, I cannot help but feel like I’m somehow adding these meaningless mental dribblings to a vast store of knowledge and thought, and perhaps one day somebody else will see an idea that they can improve on and thereby continue the cycle.

That being said, though, I can’t stand tradition for tradition’s sake.

Recently, on Mike Huckabee’s Fox News show, the former governor, generally terrible person, and bass player said the following about the recent and far too long in coming Chick-fil-a backlash:

I have been incensed at the vitriolic assaults on the Chick Fil-A company because the CEO, Dan Cathy, made comments recently in which he affirmed his view that the Biblical view of marriage should be upheld. …It’s a great American story that is being smeared by vicious hate speech and intolerant bigotry from the left.

Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant.

First of all, this is a guy who compared homosexuality to necrophilia and drug use, wanted to “isolate” AIDS patients from the general population, blames gay marriage for poverty, opposed same-sex marriage because of the “ick factor“, and a whole host of other despicable things. This is a guy who had the audacity to compare same-sex adoption to raising puppies. Yea, that guy put child raising and dogs in the same statement. Yet his little fee-fees get hurt when people call him a bigot for it. He can fuck right the hell off.

That being said, Huckabee makes a grave error here in assuming that something being “traditional” somehow inoculates it from being terrible. What he doesn’t understand is that the accusations being thrown his way aren’t because people hate him or his religion, it’s because the “values” he and his supporters espouse actually are homophobic, fundamentalist, hateful, and intolerant. Those words all have meanings, and the actions that Huckabee exhibits express those meanings exactly.

But the interesting thing is that he seems to think that because his values have been held by a lot of people for a long time, that automatically makes them good, rather than just compounding the tragedy that anyone has ever been as spitefully contemptuous toward others as Huckabee and his friends. Traditional bigotry doesn’t actually make it not bigotry.

The thing is, conservatism in its William F. Buckley tradition, is supposed to “stand athwart history yelling ‘stop’.” This isn’t a bad thing to do, really, and by definition it is made to preserve tradition and cause a sober examination of the nature of progress before it is implemented. However, Huckabee has so fetishized “tradition” that he is no longer standing athwart history, he is desperately attempting to drag the world back in time to some mythologized past where everything was better because he could safely assume the majority of people he encountered would look, act, believe, and think like he did.

The Daily Show did a segment about this tendency for adults to make the past seem much more pleasant than it really was. It’s really one of their best bits, and I’ll regularly post it.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Even Better Than the Real Thing
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Recently JT Eberhard’s father, John, who I presume learned to argue by debating rabid bears in the wild, took on some people pulling the “traditional family values” card in order to justify the work of hate groups like the Family Research Counsel. I won’t spoil all the awesome, but my favorite pull quote is, “This is like saying the Klan is aimed toward building up traditional Southern values.”

The flip side of this is that traditions are not necessarily bad things either. Just last night I was discussing with some friends on how sad it is that so much knowledge has been entirely lost over the years. Many of the skills and history we retain is partially due to the traditions that passed them down, the pride associated with passing knowledge from one person to another in an unbroken chain. Our awareness of history is part of what helps us move forward.

That’s why I can’t fathom why anybody would seriously consider this request to tear down the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. Apparently the request is coming from a person (potentially a handful of people) who believe the fort represents a history of slaughter and death toward native peoples and should be removed as part of the healing process.

As my regular readers know, I recently visited St. Augustine and spent some time at least outside the Castillo, as well as among a number of other historical sites. And you know what? Slaughter and death are a centerpiece feature of damn near every tour I was on and information packet I read. There isn’t some hidden agenda to try and whitewash the horrors that happened in the founding of the Oldest City, it’s quite clear and in the open, and a part of having knowledge of the place.

In this case the tradition represented by the Castillo and in the vast majority of information available about it and the rest of the city is such that we are made to confront the reality of life at the time, including the horrendous things that were done by those first settlers. In this case it is used as a teaching tool, one designed to help us empathize with those early victims and get a fuller picture not only of the founding, but of the complex nature of history. Tearing down that tradition will do nothing other than remove a value tool for learning about who we were and what we don’t want to become again.

In a less serious example, I have a number of traditions that I participate in. Some of my favorites are my Thanksgiving ones. Every year I go to visit my parents. I wake up early, one of the few times in the year that I do, and make cinnamon rolls and coffee if my mother hasn’t already. I then settle in for the parade and watch while helping to cook dinner and calling friends for the holiday. When Santa rides through the parade, that’s my signal that I can start watching Christmas films. After dinner, we start putting up decorations.

These little things, rituals that I perform every year, are a part of what makes the time special for me. They remind me of earlier times and give me a basis on which to dream of future holidays. It was while setting up the tree last year that my mom told me she didn’t want to go to Church any more because she didn’t want to support an organization that hates her son. Before my grandmother passed away she would sit nearby and untangle/hand us ornaments for the tree, so I remember her very clearly while we set things up. So many of the ornaments represent specific events in my life and the lives of my family, and putting them up gives me a chance to reflect on them.

Similarly, as a member of the SCA, I find a lot of the traditions of the Society to be an important part of why I enjoy it so much. They add to the pageantry of every affair, making the mundane seem so much more grand. Even simple things like doing salutes before a fencing match remind me that I am not out there alone nor as a product just of my own work. I’m representing my Don who teaches me, my lady who inspires me, the Crown who encourages me, and even my opponent who forces me to improve. They remind me that victory is less important than courtesy. In this case the traditions are designed to bring people into a larger group, to include them in something bigger than themselves so they might have the opportunity to grow.

And that is the fundamental difference between the traditions present at St. Augustine and the “traditional values” of Huckabee and his goons. The Huck’s values and traditions are exclusive. They are designed to be. Those sorts of values were made to separate people from one another, raise some above others based on arbitrary rules given arbitrary weight. You are only allowed to be a part of it if you are willing to submit fully and unquestioningly to Huckabee’s authority and that of his pastor and his imaginary friend.

But traditions shouldn’t be like that. They shouldn’t be exclusive, but inclusive. They should be things that bind us together and help us recognize our small but important part in the very reality we inhabit. It becomes, however, far too easy to see tradition not as a comfort but as a prescription for the future, even when it no longer makes sense and actively hurts other people.

Not being able to skeptically examine our traditions or being unwilling to show any care for the harm they may cause does a disservice to us as human beings. But the ability to know and understand why we do what we do, what it means and how it impacts those around us, gives us a platform on which we can build better relations for generations hence.


One thought on “Being Old Doesn’t Make Something Good

  1. Pingback: Bronze Age Women Metal Workers | Reasonable Conversation

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