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“It’s Tradition” is not a very good reason to do something

“Tradition” is the least persuasive rationale for continuing to do something. Tradition as a reason is weak because its purpose is basically 1) to remind you of something positive you associate with the past and 2) to free you from having to think of a new way to do something. It is easily trumped by other reasons. Now, if tradition is the reason you do something, and there are no other compelling reasons NOT to do that thing, tradition may stand uninterrupted for a long time and be harmless. For example, why do I put up a Christmas tree in my house and decorate it with ornaments every year? Because it is a tradition, and there are no more compelling reasons why I do not. It’s pretty, it reminds me of past Christmases which I also enjoyed, and I don’t have to think about what to decorate my house with. It is even an artificial tree, so it literally doesn’t impact anyone other than the people in my house. It’s a different story if we are talking about a Christmas tree put up by city hall. In that case, you may now have different compelling reasons other than tradition. For example, it excludes people from other religions, or it violates the Constitution. Those other reasons are more important than tradition.

Other traditions can and should be easily trumped. Traditionally, brides wear white and grooms wear black. If you are a bride and groom and you like that, and have no reason to change, then great. Tradition it is. Again, it’s pretty, it reminds you of other weddings, and you don’t have to think about it. But really, any reason is a good enough reason to buck that tradition. For example, what if the bride or groom just likes tan suits better than black tuxedos? Tan suit wins, and out the door tradition goes. There may be other even more compelling reasons to buck wedding traditions. Traditionally, a bride marries a groom. Fine if you are a woman that wants to marry a man. But what if you are a woman that doesn’t want to marry a man, but want to marry a woman? Then that reason is more important than tradition. The tradeoff is that you have to think about how and why you are doing things differently. What should we wear? Two dresses? Two different color dresses? A dress and a suit? Two suits? What color suit, and why? It might be hard to have to think of new ways, but for a woman who wants to marry a woman, it is far more preferable to think about new things to wear than to throw up her hands and just marry a man because that is an existing tradition.
Same thing for team names. Tradition is a fine enough reason for the Giants and Dodgers, because there are no other compelling reasons for those not to be the names. No need to change the name of the Dodgers every year. However, for the Washington Football team, the argument is “it’s tradition” vs. “it’s racist.” Guess what? “It’s racist” is a much more compelling reason than tradition.

Same thing for the Confederate Flag. “It’s tradition,” which can be similarly expressed as “it represents pride for Southern history” loses out to other far more compelling reasons, the main one being that most black people see it as a continuing endorsement of the side that fought to keep black people slaves. Because of its connotations, racists still use it as a code identifier to other racists, and black people often feel threatened by those who fly it. Tradition should lose so hard on this one.

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6 Comments on "“It’s Tradition” is not a very good reason to do something"

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Logic Prof
I think that this resource is great (and I may use it in my critical thinking course). One correction I have is that you might want to rethink whether counts as liberal. Though its title may sound that way, its content skews way right. This is from yesterday, for example: Their news feed shows itself to be pro-trump and extremely anti-liberal. There is a fairly common misconception that anti-vaxxers tend to be liberals, but in my experience this is not the case. In my experience (which is actually fairly extensive on this issue) anti-vaxxers tend to be libertarian… Read more »
Logic Prof

Moderator: Please remove the comment I just posted.
I thought I was posting this under the post about the media graphic from two days ago (“High Resolution File Formats for Full Chart …,” 1/23/17). I will post it again there. Please remove this comment from this page if you still can. Sorry about that!

DS Bakker
Are you familiar with this quote from Chesterton? “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive… Read more »

I love it! But when I first saw you mention Chesterton with regards to the question of tradition, I thought for sure you’d be posting the following quote from his book titled Orthodoxy:

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

While I agree that tradition is not alone sufficient reason for engaging in a certain practice or holding a particular belief, it might still warrant some degree of deference.