Wednesday, October 3, 2012

For sale: traditional values. Well used. Still loved

Tony Abbott speaks about 'traditional values' to the
United States' Heritage Foundation
I've a column in the Canberra Times today, 'For Sale: Traditional values. Well Used. Still Loved'.

Prompted by politicians' talk of 'traditions' and 'traditional values'--from Labor and Liberal--I'm looking into the nature and value of traditions.

Just how seriously should we take these phrases? A sample:
Traditions are neither straightforwardly good or bad, nor easy to evaluate. We are part of them, and they us: in our gestures, clothing, food, art, craft, language and ideas. 
This familiarity can make them seem more valuable than they are, but it can also blind us to their power: we think we have overcome them with our radicalism or progressiveness, but we are still under their spell. The philosopher and journalist Karl Marx wrote: ''The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.'' And no more so than when we can no longer feel this weight. 
If there is any straightforward lesson to be learned from the study of our traditions, it is that they are larger, longer and more complex than they seem; that they require study, reflection and respect for their subtleties and intricacies. And, for this reason, anyone trying to sell you conveniently-packaged ''traditional values'' is best left at the counter.
(Photo: Fairfax)

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