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The fluidity of tradition

 

Tradition is a word we’ve heard a lot these last few weeks, as the anti marriage equality crowd cast about, in increasing desperation, for valid arguments to make against the Yes vote.

I’m being generous here, in describing the No contingent as engaged in a search for valid arguments: there are no such arguments and the Nays are resorting to all manner of nebulous scare tactics, including, but not limited to, the threat same-sex marriage allegedly poses to “traditional” marriage.

Here is federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie with his understanding of traditional marriage:

I could spend the rest of the day deconstructing Hastie’s evangelical Christian opinion of marriage as solely for procreation, but readers here are more than capable of doing that for themselves. Suffice to say the man has publicly revealed his sexual repression, commiserations to his female partner and back to tradition.

There is a sense in which people who call on tradition as a justification for perpetuating contested attitudes and actions hold the belief that tradition, in and of itself, entirely validates the status quo. Tradition is to them a numinous concept, and as such, unchallengeable.

A moment’s reflection ought to alert them to the perils of such an assumption: think of the many traditions our society no longer tolerates and one is immediately aware of the fluid nature of tradition, why it’s almost as fluid as gender, hey Mr Shelton? 

There are many examples of traditional values that have revealed themselves, in a society struggling to evolve, to be bigoted, exclusionary and privileged, not to mention racist, sexist and genocidal. Traditional is not a synonym for good, or compassionate, or decent. It merely means that a certain set of behaviours has been naturalised or normalised at the expense of another set of behaviours. The determination is inevitably made by those who have the most power, and the most to gain by investing their favoured behaviours with the allegedly eternal quality of tradition. He (and sadly it usually is he) who controls the narrative controls what is to be considered traditional.

I’m going to venture out on a limb here and suggest that tradition, in and of itself, is bollocks. There’s absolutely nothing numinous or eternal or universal about it. It’s nothing more than reified repetition. There’s nothing wrong with doing the same thing generation after generation provided it isn’t damaging people, but please, let’s not pretend it carries a mysterious power of incontestable rightness, simply because it’s always been done that way.

So there you go, No vote. That’s fixed tradition for you as an argument. Next?

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.


22 comments

  1. Dave C

    I’m with you Jen, as I believe most people are.
    And as far as the silly arguments from the RWNJ nutters go, well, if I want to f#ck my dog, I’ll f#ck my dog, married or not.
    BTW, I don’t have a dog at the moment but if I did she/he would be safe!

  2. guest

    The word “traditional” comes up time and again in some circles, espoused as if it is the last word in permanence and immutability. Adherents cannot abide any criticism of anything traditional. That is why Howard came up with his stifling definition of marriage without consultation and imposed it on the nation.

    And part of that definition is the notion that marriage is for the procreation of children – yet we know that many people have procreated children without that marriage certificate. And many married couples have decided that marriage is not by definition permanent.

    In other words, the present “traditional” definition of marriage is a shambles.

    And the problems with “tradition” do not stop there. There are many things which are held sacred in the name of tradition, such as education, history, power generation, religious beliefs and practices…etc.

    Most recent is the “traditional” view that Captain James Cook discovered Australia. Perhaps he did think he had discovered Oz but to do that would have been in ignorance of the discovery of Oz by Aboriginal people, by the Dutch on the way to Indonesia, and even by the Englishman William Dampier years before Cook’s sighting of the east coast of Oz.

    So now we have people getting themselves into a twist about some people questioning the idea expressed on monuments that Cook “discovered” Oz. So aggrieved are some of the “traditionalists” that they have prepared a 5 segment history of Cook’s travels as if to prove that Cook did discover Oz. Yet all it achieves really is a great big fog which obliterates, apparently, the whole question. How dare anyone question the “tradition”. Cop this, young Harry!

    The Editorial tells us “The Cook story…is too big, too complex to fit neatly inside the plaques of big city statues”. But the plaques are big enough to contain the falsehood that Cook discovered Oz. The Editorial concludes: “The debate should be about building up our national self-understanding and patriotism, not about tearing it down.”

    So the idea is that keeping the myth that Cook discovered Oz is for “building up our self-understanding and patriotism.” It seems that many “traditional” falsehoods have already been inculcated in order to achieve those goals. And we are not allowed to question them?

  3. ANDREW SMITH

    Timely article as the form of ‘Christianity’ that opposes SSM etc. bares little relationship with the more mainstream Australian Protestant Catholic traditions of secular and quiet observance.

    Further, this is where Abbott et al. whom are influenced by old DLP (luring many conservative Labor Catholics to LNP), but more now by kooky conservative evangelical ‘business’ of protestant Christianity wrapped up in white nativism via ‘think tanks’ (while Catholic nations approve SSM).

    Meanwhile most conservative Moslems in Australia should be a perfect fit for the LNP i.e. conservative, respectful of Christian and Judaic prophets, pious, observant of authority and small business protagonists.

    Think many LNP voters are rolling their eyes at this supposed conservative promotion of kooky US Christianity as practised by too many MPs and constituents to attract the more culturally specific upper age voter median; in the long run it makes no sense for Australia, nor the US:

    http://churchandstate.org.uk/2017/05/has-evangelical-christianity-become-sociopathic/

  4. Jagger

    “Often, the less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it”. Mark Twain.

  5. Zoltan Balint

    Tradition! Many many years ago I started a management job in a company and found there was a problem with how something was done so I decided to change it. One of the owners / directors come to me and said ‘we have always done it this way, you can’t just change it’, my response was simple … ‘so you have been $/@&ing it up all these years’.

  6. Glenn Barry

    There was once a time when slavery was a longstanding tradition spanning several centuries, which also drew upon biblical writings in it’s defense – in the end it’s all garbage reasoning employed by people attempting to conceal their selfishness and prejudice.

  7. paul walter

    Some wonder why have this writer has followed her (Wilson) for sometime. Not just the pieces in isolation but as part of a didactic sequence.

    Can be a bumpy ride, but she is original enough to learn things unsuspected from. Must be both a joy and a curse to be brainy.

  8. paul walter

    Tradition does seem to be the entrenchment of taste within a temporal mode.. then we can all switch off with another facet of experience explained until the next disaster arrives, to our grieving, eternal shock.

  9. Michael Taylor

    She’s not bad, is she, Paul?

  10. paul walter

    Has the knack, Michael..has the knack.

  11. Jennifer Wilson

    Hello? I can hear you two. Who on earth would question you following me PW, we have been together for years 😄
    ❤️

  12. Terry2

    When I get confused and annoyed with the arguments and distractions put forward by those who oppose marriage equality and changes to the Marriage Act, I inevitably turn to the agreement we signed in 1948 when Australia as a founding member of the UN played a prominent role in the negotiation of the UN Charter in 1945.

    Australia was also one of eight nations involved in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At that time we believed in the principles of Article 7 :

    Article 7
    All are equal before the law and are entitled without any
    discrimination to equal protection of the law.
    All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration
    and against any incitement to such discrimination.

    These ‘NO’ people may have forgotten that the adoption of this Universal Declaration was largely due to the influential leadership of Dr Herbert Vere Evatt [Doc Evatt] the head of Australia’s delegation to the UN. In 1948, Doc Evatt became President of the UN General Assembly. That same year he oversaw the adoption of the Universal Declaration.

    The question for those opposing marriage equality in this country is this : where in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights does it say that it is OK to discriminate against one sector of the community ? Did those who drafted this declaration overlook putting in a clause saying that it’s OK to discriminate against LGBTI people ?

  13. Johno

    Response to Andrew Hastie.. Yadda yadda.

  14. Johno

    Oh yeah, I suppose that was very unaustralian of me to use an american colloquialism.

  15. Terry2

    President Donald Trump recently directed the Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals joining the military.

    The Obama administration in June 2016 had changed longstanding policy, declaring that troops could serve openly as transgender individuals. And it set a July 2017 deadline for determining whether transgender people could be allowed to enter the military.

    llinois Senator Tammy Duckworth made sure her response would be heard.

    Ms Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, issued her own statement soon after that has caught the attention of tens of thousands of people.

    “When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk helicopter after I was shot down, I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white or brown,” the senator said in her statement, posted to Twitter.

    “All that mattered was they didn’t leave me behind.”

    Says it all, really !

  16. Zathras

    “I don’t follow tradition. Neither did my father nor his father before him”.

    Slavery and witch-burning were two firm Christian traditions that were not only followed but justified from the beginning until relatively recently. Likewise the clerical tradition of the wearing of gaudy dresses and funny hats is somewhat outdated and meaningless and no longer holds their trembling congregations in awe and humility.
    For example, Bishops in their fish-head hats may have been relevant to denote the Age of Pisces but many have long forgotten that meaning.

    Religion and tradition provide not so much a reason but an excuse for irrational and often evil behaviour.

    Perhaps it’s time for plain old compassion and fairness to be given a chance.

  17. helvityni

    “Perhaps it’s time for plain old compassion and fairness to be given a chance.”

    That’s my simple motto too, f..k the tradition; let’s do things better now and in the future, let’s build on those traditions that have proven to have passed the test of times.

    Let’s be selective and get did of fish-head hats of bishops, and just simply love our neighbour…

  18. kristapet

    All I can say thank goodness for brainy, deep thinking people, to stop us being “stuck” in, fruitless traditions.
    I think this is an important, and, articulate article, (think piece), needing to be read, heard, taken in, are imperative, these timely words, and thoughtful concepts, in this article by Jennifer

    Ideas such as these are helping, are necessary, to further our growth as a community, as a society, so as to keep us, continuing, to evolve as better human beings
    We need thinkers, writers, poets, artists, playwrights, film makers, ethical philosophers, scientists

    In the comments I think these words are also an imperative:
    “Article 7
    All are equal before the law and are entitled without any
    discrimination to equal protection of the law.
    All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration
    and against any incitement to such discrimination.”
    And,
    “Perhaps it’s time for plain old compassion and fairness to be given a chance.”

  19. kristapet

    This paragraph is outstanding and resonated with me:
    “Traditional is not a synonym for good, or compassionate, or decent. It merely means that a certain set of behaviours has been naturalised or normalised at the expense of another set of behaviours. The determination is inevitably made by those who have the most power, and the most to gain by investing their favoured behaviours with the allegedly eternal quality of tradition. He (and sadly it usually is he) who controls the narrative controls what is to be considered traditional.”
    Brilliant!

  20. paul walter

    Michael Taylor, there was an eavesdropper.

    “If a man goes deep into the forest and cries out
    If a woman doesn’t hear him, is he still wrong”?

    In fact I ought to thank Jennifer Wilson for her kind remarks. She has put up with my nonsenses at her blogsite and here. She has been remarkably tolerant. Not all that many of her sort of person you meet in a lifetime.

  21. Johno

    It’s high time we break a few traditions.

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