It’s the Way We’ve Always Done it: The Dark Side of Tradition

If you took a poll of people around the world on what they think of tradition, I think more often than not they would say it’s a good thing.  Thanksgiving dinners, church ceremonies, Christmas…it’s all a way to bring people together and strengthen ties between family and friends.

Or it’s a way to slaughter over eight hundred pilot whales every single year.

But wait…I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning.

Google defines tradition as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.”  And these traditions don’t have to be on a cultural scale or a city-wide scale.  They can just be the little things you and your family do every year: getting together for the holidays, going on an annual vacation, or even just celebrating birthdays.  And this is a good thing.  It keeps you in touch with the people in your family or community.  It gives you a tether, a way of remembering that you are a part of something.  Because no matter how far away in the world you are, these things stay with you.  They in part define who you are.

But there are times when traditions become outdated, or even harmful, but people cling to them for the sake of tradition itself.  And that’s not a good thing.

Back to that comment on pilot whales.  Have you ever heard of something called “the grind”?  Well basically, it’s a tradition in the Faroe Islands.  During the months of July and August the islanders use small boats to herd dolphins and pilot whales into a shallow lagoon.  And then they proceed to stab them to death.  No joke.  And this occurs every single year, and has for the past three centuries.  According to supporters of this act argue that it strengthens community relations and provides them with food.  But the article goes on to state that almost a thousand whales are being killed every single time this takes place.  And even this pales in comparison to the coastal Japanese town of Taiji, where local fishermen are allowed to hunt nearly two thousand dolphins every year.

Thankfully, pilot whales and dolphins as a whole are not endangered species.  But I have to wonder, would that even stop tradition?  Or would tradition only stop once there’s nothing left?

The bad side of tradition is not limited exclusively to how we deal with animals.  Tradition impacts how we deal with other humans as well.  Take India for example.

Anyone who has studied the religion of Hinduism has heard of the caste system.  In broad strokes the caste system is a hierarchy that determines an individual’s placement in society.  It starts with the “Brahmins”, priests and teachers, and ends with the “Outcasts” or “Untouchables”, people who were relegated to cleaning latrines and other such dirty jobs.  The caste system is intertwined with the Hindu concept of reincarnation, where the spirit of someone who died will be reborn as another human being or animal.  What this means is that your place in the caste system was due to how you did in your past life?  Did you stick within your caste and not fight the system?  Well good, you’ve likely moved up in the world with this new life.  But if you disobeyed and tried to take more than your share, then you are placed lower in the caste system on your next life.

It’s essentially the Hindu way of saying “if you’re poor, you deserve it.”  And you would think that the caste system being outlawed in 1950 would do away with it completely, but no.  Tradition never dies easily.

Now, I have a sneaking suspicion some of you out there are probably soothing yourselves right now by saying “well thank god I live in an enlightened and progressive country.  These kinds of things would never happen here.”  And then you laugh to yourself, saying “Ha ha these places are so behind the times ha ha ha nothing so heinous or backwards would ever happen here ha ha ha ha ha ha-”

It’s legal to drug and sexually assault your spouse in the state of Ohio.

Let that sink in for a moment…yes, it’s true.  If the victim is married to the perpetrator, sexual assault can be legal under the law.  It’s something known as “marital rape”, and Ohio isn’t the only state with strange, backwards laws separating marital rape and other kinds of rape.  South Carolina even goes so far as to require the threat of a weapon or aggravated violence before it can prosecute cases of marital rape.  To top it off, you only have thirty days to report the rape.  And even then the person who raped you will only face up to ten years in prison at the max.

And if you think this kind of thing is only endemic to the United States, hold on a second there.  According to that same article from earlier, Germany has basically no laws preventing sexual assault.  That is, as long as it doesn’t pose immediate danger to “life and limb”.  And in Norway, a poll found that around nine percent of Norwegian women in Norwegian relationships were the victims of sexual assault, but approximately sixty percent of them never pressed charges.

But we’re not done yet.  For our last topic of the day, let’s turn to corporal punishment.

I’ve heard a lot of people over the years say “I was spanked and I turned out just fine.”  Well great!  That obviously means spanking has no harmful effects whatsoever and is a great method for teaching kids discipline.  I’m glad we cleared this up.  Now we can all go and-

Wait, what’s that science?  You say that’s not true?  Oh science, always ruining everything for everybody…

It’s true, studies have shown that spanking can have a harmful impact on a child’s brain development and affect how they react to certain situations.  Now, to be fair, statistics and correlations only go so far.  But this isn’t just one or two studies.  There are over hundreds of studies on the effects of corporal punishment and as far as I can tell none of them have found a positive to its effects.  This is where people tend to get dismissive and say “whatever…I turned out just fine…people are just too sensitive these days.”  Well you know what?  I wasn’t spanked and I turned out just fine.

But here’s the problem: my experience and their experiences are merely anecdotal.  They are but droplets of water in the ocean of humanity.  We cannot assume that our own childhood experiences would be perfect for everyone.

Besides, spanking always struck me as an almost lazy tactic.  It always seemed like something people resort to when the child misbehaves either because they don’t want to take the time to punish the child some other way or because they’re stressed out and their child becomes an easy way to vent that frustration.  It’s not a popular opinion (often people against spanking get raked over the coals by those who support it…which ironically adds more credence to the idea that spanking increases aggressive behavior in children), but it is my opinion.  Perhaps that’s a little unfair, but that’s just how I see it.

And simply holding on to the idea of spanking because it worked “back then” is not the way to do things.  That kind of thinking is why it took until 2014 for a school in Wilcox County, Georgia to host a racially integrated prom.

Whether or not you subscribe to or even like Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution you have to accept that the world changes over time.  And clinging to outdated ideas of how things should function is not a healthy way to live.  Sure, sometimes the older way of doing things might be better, but in a world that is constantly innovating and evolving, we have to acknowledge that things are going to be different in the future.

Tradition or not, sometimes they just have to go.


Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.


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