Saturday, March 03, 2007

Substance behind the statement

So, flipping through the channels last night, I caught Mitt Romney on CSPAN. It was part of their ongoing series highlighting the race for president in 2008. Mitt is a Republican, former governor of Massachusetts. I watched for about two minutes while waiting for Alton Brown to come back on, and I really couldn't handle Mitt's bullshit for much more than that anyway. At first Mitt sounded okay on the surface. He talked about lowering various taxes for the middle class--that kind of stuff that every politician talks about. Then he got all proud of his so-called social conservatism. He basically took shots at homosexuality and medical science and the other standard stuff that is so sound-biteish in modern politics. His big subconclusion was something to the effect that he has, throughout his political career, stood up for traditional values. Traditional values? I guess I don't know what that means to some people.

As a big history nut, traditional values are interesting to me. One of my passions is Appalachian history. I like the idea of a family unit and/or a community coming together to survive in this world, despite the fact that most times the rest of the world you are aware of is against your people. I value many traditions, including respect for and deep knowledge of the land. I like the tradition of self-government and self-reliance that is deeply, though more and more obscurely, rooted in our unique history. I like the fact that we have the chance to look to the oldest in our society, those who are the keepers of nearly lost knowledge.

The values of tradition that I hold dear are, to me, intrinsically useful. Losing these values would cripple our society if one day our modern technology/lifestyle failed us. I value lots of things that are rooted in the past.

Unfortunately, politicians and journalists don't understand tradition. Or, if they do, they spin tradition into a narrow meaning. Either way, the result is people like Mitt.

To interject, I don't really consider myself partisan. Most people who know me would say I'm liberal. And that's fair. I lean to the left quite heavily. But I really don't buy into the right/left dichotomy. Those who really know me would say that I have strong libertarian tendencies as well. I'm also rooted in the philosophies of Montaigne, Hume, Deleuze, Nietzsche, and Foucault. I think I'm fairly independent when it comes to issues and politics. But hey, the labels come out when you have to operate in a political system that is so polarizing. My point is that I'm not a Democrat, or a Republican, or Green, or anything. In other words, if a politician wants to talk to me about stuff, I'm listening. But you better not talk like an asshole or a simpleton.

Nowadays, the culture war is everything. One side claims tradition and values. Another side claims acceptance and progress. And none of it makes sense because all sides could easily exchange the labels they rely on and still be talking about the same shit.

When people say they stand as the gatekeepers of tradition, they're full of crap. Most people, in one way or another, cling to tradition. At the same time, most people want progress. You can't have one without the other because the resulting lack of any balance would cause the personal system you live life by to collapse for want of structural integrity. When I hear a politician get on their pedestal and tell me that they and their party represent the sole voice for tradition, it makes me want to yell. And yelling is not good: it destroys a conversation. So, I refuse to yell. But then, my subsequent natural preference is to withdraw. And that's not that good either.

What I want to see is people argue for their traditions based on the simplest sense of utility: How does your tradition and your values positively impact society? You can't just say "traditional" or "values" and automatically claim some sort of authority. No, you must elaborate. You must show us how what you hold dear is beneficial for people. You must show us relevance. I want it carefully spelled out for me every time you make such a deep claim. If you don't, I will not hesitate to completely disregard your whole message. We know how logic works: if one premise is weak or unsupported, then the rest of the argument is lost.

Sometimes tradition is unhelpful, sometimes it's productive, and sometimes it's downright harmful. All the time, it's worth exploring--but, we can't forget, so is change.

Sadly, people who are strict partisans fail to see how another perspective always--always!--has something of value to offer. Screw parties and the political spectrum and anything else that attempts to essentialize a person's mindset or philosophy. Think we'd survive without political parties or partisanship? Yeah, it's hard to even imagine what that world would be like. But I believe it's probable and preferable.

What Mitt's little superficial appeal to tradition really got me thinking about was my value for some old ways that were prevalent not too long ago: people in this country, at least those who lived the rural life (which were many), used to have a close connection to the earth. They knew when crops needed to be planted and harvested; they knew how to track animals in the woods; they knew which wild plants were which and what each was good for; they knew the best wood to burn for warmth; they knew the general time by the position of the sun, moon or stars in the sky; they knew the night sky so well in general; they knew their neighbors; they knew solitude; they knew quiet time; they knew really, truly hard work--but work that was all theirs; and they knew uncountable other things that are virtually lost in modern day America. Our entire history as humans has been about living closely with the land. While that relationship has been complicated, and filled with ups and downs, it has been the physical (and often spiritual) center and bedrock of people's lives since always.

What happens if technology and synthetics have to completely replace intuition and naturally occurring substance? I don't really know. My gut says that it would turn out bad eventually. And if it doesn't, well, I get the impression that it wouldn't be such a fun or meaningful world to live in. But I also admit that I could just be desperately clinging to an old way of life that is bound to die like so many others. I doubt it though.

So, who's seriously talking about this tradition out there? It's important to a lot of people, even if it's not vocalized loudly. (Wink wink, nudge nudge--I'm talking to some of you libertarians and environmentalists. This is right up your alley.) I want to hear talk about what it means to be self-reliant or to be an environmentalist. Our political lives are not about the hot-button, superficial issues that generate high ratings on TV. Anyone who says, "I own issue x" just doesn't get it. And that goes for everyone--right or left, the religious or the secularists, northerners or southerners, the political or the non-political, or whatever binary opposition we are told to position ourselves in.

Alright, this post is getting out of control.

Possibly Related Posts

Widget by Jack Book


  1. Your posts have charm and resonance. Maybe Blah blah blah does not represent your thoughts well. Glad I stumbled in anyway.

    You are welcome to drop by.

    Eureka Ideas Unlimited

  2. Thanks anthro. You're right, blah blah blah wasn't the title I was going for, just a placeholder until I could come up with something else not so good but slightly more relevant.

    I appreciate the invite, and I look forward to future conversations.