Dec 28

Let’s Put Tradition on History’s Junkpile

In Brief— Tradition is entrenched in our lives, but too often those traditions are dated, irrational, serve no useful purpose and can even be destructive. It’s time to rid ourselves of needless tradition.


The Past as Hindrance—

“Tradition” can generally be defined as the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or of being passed on without justification. I say that it can even be destructive, not just irrational.

”Conservative” can be defined as a person who opposes change and sticks to traditional values and attitudes, or clings to the past when life seemed simpler. Notice that the definition centers around ”Traditional.” So the question I ask is…Does ”tradition” tie us down to what has been the prevailing custom despite the irrationality that modern life shows it to be?

Recently I said that Tuesday was a lousy day for an election. A partial answer is that it’s tradition…at least since 1845. There’s more to it, but it raises the question as to why so many other things are based on tradition rather than on rational reasons. Examples include Marriage, the Electoral College, the Metric System, Men’s Neckties, Royalty and many others. The purpose of this piece is to ask readers for rational reasons why tradition should or should not prevail.

Some Outworn Traditions—

Tuesday voting— Conservatives say we should retain Tuesday voting because ”it’s traditional.” Tuesday was officially established in 1845 when America was primarily rural and traveling by buggy to a voting place sometimes took substantial time. There’s more to it, but that’s the core of it.

Today, more than a century later, we are a technically advanced society that is overwhelmingly urban. Lots of people, particularly the working poor, work on weekdays. Employers often refuse to allow their workers time off in the middle of the week to vote. Extended voting times, vote-by-mail or same-day-registration have been abolished by some Republican-dominated states to prevent poor working people—who most often vote Democratic—from voting. Tuesday voting is one example. Some say with a straight face that Saturday or Sunday voting is unacceptable because many people have their sabbath on those days.

What’s the solution? How about allowing everybody to vote throughout the entire month of, say, November. Register all citizens when they turn 18 and provide every precinct with an electronic list. Felons who haven’t ”paid their debt to society” or mentally deficient people can be excluded. County Registrars have the list, so electronic votes from afar can be allowed. Since the Registrar’s office is notified of deaths, the names of deceased voters can be deleted. Voter fraud, already rare, is virtually eliminated. Remember, we live in a technologically advanced society.

Marriage— Conservatives maintain that only a man and a woman should be allowed to marry because ”it’s traditional.” As of this writing, thirty-five states now allow same-sex couples the right previously granted only to heterosexual couples. Conservatives also assert that homosexual couples can’t procreate so they shouldn’t be granted the same right to marry as heterosexual couples. What about the elderly or couples who cannot conceive or those who simply don’t want children? The conservative rationale is absurd, even destructive to society.

Why stop there? What about multiple spouses? Why marriage at all? Marriage is said to be a contract, so why not treat it as such? Today, those in love are able to get married at City Hall so why not allow Civil Partnerships—in effect, contracts— to have the same advantages as regular marriage? It’s easy (although not with the Republicans in control) to make the tax and other obligations the same for everybody without exception. Is what we have now rational when it’s a denial of privileges, is discriminatory? It’s separate but unequal and destructive.

Electoral College— This one is enshrined in the American Constitution and, thus, is felt by some to be traditional if not sacrosanct. However, it thwarts the democratic principle of “one person, one vote” in that it gives undue weight to sparsely populated rural areas. Included in the Constitution as a sop, it is now being abused by the Republican Party to assure them of control of the presidency to the exclusion of the Democratic Party. Thus, it is destructive to not just urban dwellers but to democracy.

Daylight Savings Time— Some areas of America change and some don’t. Strictly speaking, this isn’t usually an argument based on tradition since it has been in effect for only a bit over a century. The argument centers on advantages versus disadvantages. Advancing the clock an hour every summer gives an extra hour of daylight which benefits business and leisure activities. However, the disadvantages of advancing the clock include adverse health consequences and costly complexity.

It’s included since I’m one of many who suffer the costly adverse health effects and complexities arising out of the need to change twice: forward and then back. I argue that there are more advantages for the majority in moving the clock forward AND LEAVING IT THERE ALL YEAR. As an old guy, the twice-yearly changes have adverse health effects, and our dog cannot understand why, every autumn, she must wait an hour to be fed. But then, animals don’t have rights say the conservatives.

Metric System— America is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t use the metyric system. Only three countries do not use the metric system: Myanmar, Liberia and, of course, the United States.

Why? Most people except the technically-informed citizenry say, ”It’s traditional…and, besides, it’s hard to learn a new system.” The USA approved the metric system in 1866, yet it still adheres to the archaic system currently in use because…well, it’s tradition. America should join the modern world.

Mens’ Neckties— This is a tradition that goes back for millennia. Some say that it is a virility thing since the necktie points to the genetalia. Others say that since women can wear multi-colored clothing, men can wear a colorful necktie to compete. Still others contend that it arose in the military.

I say that a necktie should be optional. If a man goes to the office neatly dressed but without a tie, not only does his ability remain the same, but he must not be tied to an outworn traditional dress code. Those required to wear a uniform, as in the military, will not be affected as long as the requirement isn’t capricious.

Royalty— Although in the past royalty was traditional, today royalty is an anachronism. Though the tradition lives on in the Nordic countries and countries such as England, royalty is usually ceremonial. An elected parliament is tasked with governing the country and enacting laws.

Since conditions have changed today, royalty is not only anachronistic but needlessly costly. Many Swedes think the royal house is ”charming” and ”traditional” and should therefore be retained. While I agree that the royal family may be appealing, the tradition should end. There are more important concerns toward which the money should be directed. The needless cost of maintaining the royal family should be discontinued.


There are many more traditions that have outlived their usefulness or are just plain irrational. Please feel free to mention them and share your thoughts. Let’s see if we can put those unjustified traditions on the junkpile of history.


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    • Susan on December 28, 2014 at 17:52

    I have a question. Why can’t you just feed your dog an hour earlier?

      • Don Bay on December 29, 2014 at 07:25

      Though humorous in response to my attempt at a little humor by including the family dog’s problem, Susan’s question fails to solve the problem of twice-a-year time change for humans. We may solve the dog’s problem, but the rest of the world (well, almost) still has to deal with the problems of twice-yearly time change.

      It helps to look at the bigger picture, and the bigger picture happens to be the problems imposed on humanity by the change. The best solution for humanity (and pets) is to dump Daylight Savings Time and leave the clock without changes all year.

    • Donna on December 29, 2014 at 21:20

    you really hit the nail on the head this time, Don. I agree that all of those traditions you named are ones that we should consider discarding – some, only after very carefull consideration

    I was reminded of another “tradition” – that of leaving the meat out for a couple of hours to let it cool before refrigerating it. When the cook was asked why, she replied that her mother had always done it this way. Why? because HER mother had always done it. Finally, the grandmother revealed that the meat was allowed to cool before putting it away “so that it wouldn’t melt the ice in the ice box.”

    I wonder if this shows why we hang on to traditions long after the reason for them exist. It will be interesting to read of other examples from your readers.

      • Don Bay on December 30, 2014 at 16:12

      Good example of a tradition that gets carried on long after its utility has ceased. Unfortunately, while the meat cooled down bacteria propagated leading, in some cases, to food poisoning.

      This is just one of many outdated traditions that exist. With you leading the way, there are undoubtedly readers out there who are willing to contribute examples of traditions that have outlived their usefulness…if the action ever had any supportive reason to begin with. Thanks for the contribution.

    • Lionel Burt on December 30, 2014 at 21:09

    I would like to hear Don’s comments on “Marriage” and whether homosexual men should be granted the term based on a consideration of PHYSICAL HEALTH and not on the basis of fairness, rights or traditional values.

      • Don Bay on December 31, 2014 at 13:30

      Thanks for raising a point that can be added to my necessarily limited remarks on Marriage in the blog. I see two major areas in your request: 1) The Agreement (contract) and, 2) Health.

      Health— HIV/AIDS is a disease. Those with this disease can take a chemical “cocktail” that allows them to live almost normal lives. While this is merely controlling the disease, it does not cure the disease. Rapid advances in medical science appear to be leading to a cure for the disease in the not-too-distant future. Summing up, the moral perception of the disease is in the mind of the outside observer or the one with the disease, but it is still a disease that can be treated and may ultimately be curable.

      The Agreement— Marriage is simply a form of contract and I believe it should be treated as just that. While contract law is a year course in law school, my response is necessarily abbreviated in this blog. The parties to the contract can include ritual or religion if they agree. If one or both (assuming a pair relationship) men has the disease and acknowledges it, it can be covered in the contract. Should one or both parties conceal the disease, this deception may go to the heart of the contract and render it invalid. However, a clause in the contract will cover the matter and can be determined by the parties. They alone can decide if the disease is grounds for setting aside the contract or not. Whether awareness exists or is not disclosed simply becomes a clause in the contract.

      I believe that only the parties to the contract can decide whether a disease is enough to render the contract invalid. This has nothing to do with rights, fairness or tradition. This should answer the issues. If it is too complex, I’m willing to clarify in private exchanges or in the context of this blog.

      Happy New Year!

    1. I’m confused. What do gay marriage and health have to do with each other? If it’s about HIV/AIDS, this isn’t a disease restricted to the gay population. According to the CDC, 25% of infected people in the US are heterosexual. In Africa, if I’m not mistaken, most of those infected are heterosexual. Or are you suggesting that if gay people aren’t allowed to marry, they won’t have sex? Or that heterosexual people don’t carry sexually transmitted diseases?

        • Don Bay on January 2, 2015 at 17:33

        Good information on the disease of HIV/AIDS. In pointing out that HIV/AIDS is a disease, I didn’t mention that it has devastated hundreds of thousands (if not more!) of heterosexuals in parts of Africa. Ignorance of the causes of HIV/AIDS has led to whole families being infected. Fortunately, although there’s not yet a cure, thanks to education and treatment, many are surviving who might otherwise have died. Fingers crossed that that medical science will soon have a cure. The research is hopeful.

  1. I’ve always thought men’s neckties were sort of a silly item of dress. They don’t do a darned thing– except as ZZ Top says, “Every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man.” So maybe there’s that. But I tend to think a cravat looks a lot sexier. But look on the bright side. Men don’t wear hats much anymore, unless it’s a baseball cap or a cowboy hat. That tradition disappeared in a single generation.

      • Don Bay on December 31, 2014 at 14:01

      I appreciate your observations. As I see it, a man can still look sharply dressed with an open-throated shirt. Unless I am mistaken, a cravat is simply a modified form of tie. The photos I have seen show a neck decoration that, in some cases, looks very much like tie.

      The hats worn by men (mostly) have simply changed through the ages whether they are fedoras or baseball-type caps, but the fedora can still be seen from time to time. Winter imposes its own demands since the head is perhaps the greatest heat-loser in the human body. Thus, a head covering of some sort is more likely to be seen and is a necessity rather than a tradition. I’m not sure if the fedora or the baseball cap qualifies as a tradition, but they sure seem to qualify.

      Cowboy hats have been worn by cowboys for centuries and make some sense in light of the hot sun bearing down on the wearer during the day. In many cases, the cowboy hat is little more than an affectation for those who live in states like Texas. Did George W. Bush, Lyndon Johnson or Dale Evans need to wear a cowboy hat? In the latter case, the cowboy hat is an unnecessary tradition, but, hey, they look cool and give the wearer a certain cache at the country club.

      Happy New Year!

      1. Actually, it’s the other way around: the cravat was the precursor to the necktie. I do see there’s a modern version, though, which I didn’t know.

        Happy New Year to you, too! 🙂

          • Don Bay on January 2, 2015 at 17:17

          Thanks for the additional information on cravats, the earlier form of the tie.

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