Friday, December 08, 2006


“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, now heavens knows, anything goes.” (Cole Porter)

Recently I wrote a blog on another site (Dartmouth Traditions) about college traditions, their plusses and minuses. This has caused me in turn to think about much of today’s social and political conflicts in these same terms – the push and pull between modernity and traditions. To be specific:

Gay Marriage – a main argument against gay marriage is that it changes the definition of “traditional” marriage (one man, one woman). Therefore, the “modern” view is pro gay marriage. However, I find it most ironic that gay couples often wrap themselves in the age-old marital traditions (a walk down the aisle, a wedding cake, exchanging rings, etc.). This has just a touch of pathos to it.

Radical Islam – it seems that much of bin Laden’s hatred of the West has to do with the creeping modernity with which we seem to have infected the world. Sex, drugs and rock-and-roll would clearly vanish under traditional Sharia rule (the ultimate world goal for Al Qaeda). Women (and I suspect many minorities) would lose centuries of emancipation. And whole populations would resemble Afghanistan ere its recent liberation: one-eye burkas (see BeliefNet), brutal stoning-to-death executions, destruction of centuries old art works, etc. “Civilizations” would clearly become a lot less civil.

Journalism – Ernie Pyle exemplified journalism in the Second World War. David Gregory exemplifies it today. There is a rift between these two styles of reporting as wide as the seas. Is the traditional journalism mold better than the “modern” one? I’ll let you be the judge.

Rap Music – Does anyone really think that out-year reunions of today’s youth will nostalgically involve Gangsta Rap? Modernity is not always indisputably better.

Old Europe – Without traditional garb, food, architecture, etc. Rick Steves would have to find another line of business. The charm of traveling through France, Germany, Spain, etc. is experiencing these delights first hand. Usually, however such vacations do not include a sampling of the local politics … which is far from traditional.

Art Movements – Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract Impressionism, Pop Art, Op Art, etc. Art movements come in quick succession like waves sucking on a money-strewn beach. Which of these movements are “traditional”? Time alone can make this ultimate judgment. But please give me just one opinion … Andy Warhol has done more to trash the progress of art in the twentieth century than the Taliban ever could have.

The lesson here is that everything old is not necessarily good and everything new isn’t necessarily bad. However, once a tradition is establishes, it has an inertia that should not be fooled with carelessly. But changing circumstances can devalue a tradition as well as make a good innovation poisonous. It is only mindless insistence on a style of behavior that seems truly dangerous.

1 comment:

George W. Potts said...

The day I wrote this Jeane Kirkpatrick died. This is notable as she was the first person I ever heard use the term "modernity" in this context. It was on a CSPAN forum and she shone like a supernova against the red dwarfs of the other debaters. So long old gal.