Among the more irritating refrains I hear made as argument is the appeal to ‘tradition’. ‘This movie should be banned. It is against hindu tradition’. ‘That woman should be disciplined. What she has done goes against the tradition of the Indian woman’. Somebody is always outraged over somebody doing something or saying something that ever so slightly calls tradition or conventional practice into question.
– Khusboo should be ostracised for saying that premarital sex is all right. [Mock outrage]
– Water (Deepa Mehta’s movie, which you should definitely watch) should not be allowed to be shot. It portrays in a bad light the hindu traditions of treating widows worse than shit. (The movie had to be shot in Sri Lanka, after thugs from the VHP destroyed the original sets in Varanasi.)
– Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasreen and any number of other writers must be forced to seek asylum and live under a constant threat to their lives for writing something somebody found unpalatable.
– MF Hussein must be told what he can or cannot paint. And non-compliance must be punished by destroying or ransacking art galleries that display his work. Tradition, you see.
The instances are never-ending, one more silly and pretentious than the next. There is perhaps no worse – or dangerous – example of this than ‘traditional medicine’. There’s a contradiction in terms for you. What on earth is traditional medicine? Unless the word is used in the sense of ‘conventional’ (which medicine invariably is, with the stakes at play), ‘traditional’ has absolutely no place to the left of ‘medicine’. If a treatment works, it’s just medicine. If it doesn’t, putting ‘traditional’ before medicine makes the stuff no better. It also doesn’t make the peddler of this nonsense any less culpable, well-intentioned or otherwise.
The same trend is seen in America’s politics too. Should gay marriage be legalised? Should assault weapons be banned? Should stem-cell research be allowed? The answer isn’t to try and parse the constitution to see if it will support one position or the other. The people who wrote the constitution couldn’t have imagined weapons that could wipe out cities in seconds, or what a ‘cell’ is, let alone using it to cure diseases. They also lived in a society that allowed slavery, or denied voting rights to women, or anybody who wasn’t from the upper classes.
Mark Fiore makes the latter point nicely, as usual. I wanted to embed his animation, but it seems that can’t be done. You should watch it at the link above.