When discussing certain civil rights issues, or for that matter discussing certain controversial issues containing moral implications arise, the argument of ‘traditionalism’ continually arises as the end-all hammer against those who seem to be desiring the ‘erosion’ of our culture. This line of argument is most commonly found in discussions concerning ‘gay marriage,’ ‘gay rights,’ and other issues concerning homosexuals. I have heard countless politicians, pundits, religious figures, and opponents insist on the refusal to ‘undue 5000/10000 yrs of human history’ when it comes to the perceived threat of undoing ‘traditional’ marriage. As previously discussed in the context of ‘natural’ being used as a moral predicate, I intend to go after the use of ‘tradition’ as moral predicate along with the idea that it serves as an authoritative concept.
From a pragmatic perspective- tradition is merely an aspect of history that for various reasons have been perpetuated. This perpetuation may be coming from a pragmatic perspective but this isn’t always so. Take a look at interracial marriage legislation in the US for example. It wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court did away with such restrictions. From the state level, more states had repealed bans on interracial marriage just a decade or two before the 1967 Court decision. What could the pragmatic reasoning be for disallowing interracial marriage? Again, the same could be applied to institutional sexism, racism, and even the abolishment of individual rights during America’s wonderful period of coercive sterilization policies.
For example, many atheists/agnostics (not all of course; I am thinking of one of the many arguments Nietzsche presents in his diagnosis of the ‘death of God’) argue that the ethics of religion, notably Christianity, have become obsolete, impractical. The notion of a celestial dictator when juxtaposed in the Age of Science has left the former reduced to a mere myth- a child’s story to keep them well-behaved. It further keeps us from advancing as this belief keeps us in servitude and a constant state of fear and guilt. Yet, we are told that religion is part of our ‘tradition,’ hence the inability to do away with it, but why?
Tradition, as the attempt in using natural as a moral predicate, fails across the board. For many traditions of our history have been horrible and through our moral and mental evolution have done away with- slavery is a paradigmatic example of course. Traditions do serve a purpose for a variety of reasons but if traditions were never reformed, abolished, amended, etc. then we would be living in the dark ages. It was the tradition of feudalism that was abolished at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. It was the theories of John Locke and Montesquieu that helped paved the way for democracy in the Americas; it was the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers that led to the abolishment of an age old tradition of the ‘separate but equal’ ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
One can surely argue against gay marriage- however, deep down whether willingly or not, the only real gun one has is the notion of tradition, which historically and as I attempted to touch on briefly has had a long history of abolishment and overturns. So next time the argument of ‘our tradition is…..,’ further inquire as to the specific justification of said tradition, have it defended from a pragmatic perspective. For if this response is avoided stagnation shall become our new tradition.