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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: Tradition—The Most Dangerous Fallacy of All

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tradition—The Most Dangerous Fallacy of All

As a general rule, we as human beings love traditions. With some traditions we have a vague understanding of their origins, while others remain mysterious. Perhaps most traditions are harmless and even positive but can traditions also be morally wrong or even morally repugnant?

Of all of the logical fallacies people use to defend their positions, the use of the “appeal to tradition fallacy” scares me the most. How often have you questioned why a culture will embrace a questionable activity only to hear the answer: “Well, its tradition”? I don’t know about you but I don’t like that answer at all. This kind of logic is used to justify cultures which do not recognize the sovereignty of the individual; cultures which deem individuals to be expendable and treat women and other minorities as second class citizens (if citizens at all). We are told we should not judge other cultures or their traditions but to respect them as an equal to our own. What nonsense!

It’s easy for many of us in Western culture to be critical of the barbaric nature of the East, but there are traditions found in the West which are also barbaric and should be addressed or at least reconsidered. Among such traditions I find barbaric and morally repugnant: bullfighting and bull running.

Several countries around the world have bull running and bullfighting as “sports” but both originated from Spain where both sports are as popular as ever. Roughly a million people from around the world go to Spain to watch bullfights each year. Bullfighting dates back to 711 A.D. at the coronation of King Alfonso VIII. The practice was banned for the Spanish aristocracy in the early 18th century because King Felipe V did not want the royal class to set a bad example for the common people. This ban on the aristocracy, however, did not stop the common people from taking up the sport themselves. Since that time little has changed in the method these animals are tortured: the bull enters the arena, the matador’s assistant waves a cape in front of the bull to determine its mood, several other assistants begin stabbing the bull with spears (this phase lasts about 10 minutes), the matador entices the bull to charge, and then makes several attempts at the bull with a sword. The bullfight is over whenever either the bull or the fighter dies.

The famous tradition of bull running is an outgrowth of this barbaric practice which began around 1591. Originally, bull running came out of the “necessity” of efficiently moving the bulls from their stables to the bullrings for the bullfights. A few individuals decided to help the process by provoking the bulls to chase them through the narrow streets. Today, people travel from all over the world to be part of the famous “Running of the Bulls” for the adrenaline rush.

As we can see, both bull running and bullfighting have a long and storied history. Having a long and storied history is important in establishing something we call “tradition.” But after considering how these animals are mistreated, how can we continue to accept the notion that this 1,296 year practice is merely a tradition which should be honored through time and memorial?

While most traditions do not involve maiming and killing, we should always be wary of those who would suggest that because something is tradition it must be protected as part of “our” culture. Once something is deemed to be tradition by enough people, such traditions are difficult to overcome. Fortunately, there are always those who are willing to challenge the status quo. Slavery was once considered an important part of American culture but was eventually brought to an end by individuals who refused to accept the traditional “tradition” justification. As much as slavery was a tradition in our past, few people today would argue that that tradition should have stayed in place.

So what would happen if some traditions such as bull running and bullfighting were to go the way of other traditions we no longer embrace? Would society as we know it come to a halt? Perhaps this is the question we should ask when confronted by someone who tells us to respect tradition for tradition’s sake.


Blogger Ishvara said...

I am loving this blog.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Be careful not to use the Appeal to Novelty fallacy. Just because a tradition goes away, that doesn't necessarily mean the new way is better.

I would argue that the old tradition of all of the stores being closed on Thanksgiving (including grocery stores) so employees can spend the holiday with their friends and family is far more preferable to this new consumerist tradition of spending Thanksgiving Day in front of the Best Buy.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Promoting change for the sake of change is just as dangerous as promoting tradition for the sake of tradition. In fact one could argue that tradition is preferable because so far society hasn't been ruined because of it. Progressive thought presumes there won't be any unintended consequences, a dangerous assumption to be sure.

The dismissal of tradition in favor of progess is what brought on communism, fascism, and naziism.

12:03 AM  

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