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.