Tradition without intelligence is not worth, said T S Eliot. The word tradition brings to my mind the celebrated movie The Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye, the protagonist, tried his best to stick to his religious traditions, but the reality overtook him at every step. Finally, having given away each of his three daughters in marriages that went against his "tradition", he has to leave his home too because of the persecutions against the people of his religion (Judaism). The fiddler on the roof, the recurrent motif in the movie, accompanies the Jews in exodus playing on his fiddle the theme of tradition.
Tradition sent the Jews into exile all through their history. Finally when they got their Promised Land of Israel, they became encroachers who have had to fight a protracted battle. Why does tradition engender so many battles - at home, in society and in the country? In spite of such battles and other forms of enslavement, why do people stick to traditions?
Tradition tends to be unintelligent. It looks backward all the time. It wants to "conserve" the past when the whole world is racing at the speed of light into the future.
Does it mean that the future is intelligent? Not at all. In fact, neither the past nor the future is any more intelligent than the village idiot next door or the Einstein in the school assured of admission to IIT. Both are natural parts of human reality. In simple words, there are intelligent and not-so-intelligent people. There are people with different levels of understanding. In every age. At any given time. Past or present.
The past was no less intelligent than the future to come. The earth moves but moves round and round on the same axis. In the same orbit. Circular movements. Just like civilisations. Just like conservatism and modernity. There are people even in today’s America (the Superpower) who argue that Darwin’s theory of evolution should be abolished from academics because it is against the Bible! Conservatism at its best!
Those who swear by traditions have been the worst fascists and reactionaries. Hitler was a conservative. So was Mussolini. So is, I think, our present Prime Minister. And all of them, HitlerMussoliniModi, promised better future for their people. So they were not so conservative, after all: they were ready to accept changes for the sake of a better future for their people.
I think the question should not be about tradition and modernity. It should be about cunning versus wisdom. Wisdom is all that matters, be you modern or conservative.
Wisdom is knowing what really matters and what is merely ephemeral.
Even if you don’t acquire any wisdom you will survive. In fact, you may flourish if you don’t acquire wisdom. You need cunningness. Is cunningness modernity?
Wisdom was not the prerogative of people of the past. Nor was foolishness. There were people of both category in the past too. There will be people of both category in the future too. But wisdom takes time to be understood. In the meanwhile, cunningness will rule the roost. And the human world has always belonged to the meanwhile.
The question that is raised by the latest Indiblogger debate is why tradition and culture are labelled conservatism while modernity turns out to be mere fads like dressing style. Well, Gaurab who suggested the topic has labelled it under prejudice. I think both the terms conservatism and modernity carry a lot of prejudice. They mean differently to each person. Even Gaurab displays some prejudice in equating modernity with “clothes rather than thoughts.”
Conservatism and modernity mean differently because each one of us is a Tevye, the protagonist of the movie I mentioned above. Each one of us is trying to cling on to some traditions given by our culture, religion, etc so that we remain rooted somewhere. We need roots, each one of us. The wires that connect our mobile phone or any other gadget to our ears cannot act as roots for long.
Tevye found his roots in his religion. He was a simple person who did not possess the brains or the means to question his religion and its 'absolute' truths. Yet he overcame the bewitching magnetism of that tradition when he looked into the eyes of his daughter and saw love in them. Tevye knew the meaning of love. He knew that love meant more than traditions, more than religious truths.
My answer to this debate started by Gaurab who seems to be on a genuine quest is this: neither conservatism nor modernity is an absolute. Nothing in human life is an absolute. If I can look into the eyes of my daughter and see love there which defies my tradition, I will defy the tradition for the sake of the love.
But if I find only lust (modernity?) in the eyes of my daughter...
Tradition will be useless. I will have to enlighten my daughter. Or I will be the fiddler on the roof: in a precarious position.
Traditions are mere guidelines. Wisdom is what matters. And wisdom is nobody's monopoly: neither of the conservative nor of the modern. Who is modern anyway?