From Tradition to Innovation and Everything in Between

Too often, our political divides are portrayed as unbridgeable chasms composed of representatives from both Left- and Right-Wing thought. Attempts at healing this apparently irreconcilable divide usually include appeals to bring the two sides together through some form of compromise, where both sides get less than what they wanted for the sake of creating the perception that the government still functions. At a minimum, this is preferable to a state of open civil war. As it stands, regardless of which side you fall on, a paycheck keeps coming in, food gets put on the table, and a roof continues to stay over your head. This is the product of our political-economic system, a system which has never been fond of moving beyond the abstract; paeans to freedom and god-given rights always being mere phrases and slogans. Diversity has become established as an ideal in itself, while it lacks any concrete definition of what the term actually means or what function it may have. A government built upon such a foundation can certainly continue for an extended time as long as it continues to meet the material needs of the populace, but such a government can only be built upon those material needs and the force needed to maintain itself. Should it falter in either task, the precarious nature of its existence would lead to its inevitable dissolution.

The troubles we’re now experiencing are certainly not a new phenomenon. Revolutions, murders, riots, and wars have been a reality since the dawn of time. The successes and failures of a state, however, can be correlated to the degree to which a State becomes organic- organic being the extent society’s different interests are integrated with the State. American history provides two clear examples of this phenomenon. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, America began to significantly industrialize, creating in the process a proletariat existing on the economic fringes of society. At this time, subversive ideologies such as Anarchism and Marxism began to take root in American society. Likewise, during the 1960s we had just gone through a long stretch of economic growth, but that growth was distributed disproportionately, leaving out many Black Americans. The riots and civil disturbances of the '60s were in large part due to the persistence of a system excluding a good chunk of the population from the decision-making process and relegating them to second-class status. Much like the Gilded Age, this latter disturbance served as an impetus for the growth of socially fracturing ideologies.

What we see on a social scale also exists within smaller units, such as the family. Families consist of individuals living together, sharing a common history, ties, and obligations. Each family member has a particular role and responsibilities within the family unit. However, what happens when responsibilities aren’t met, and roles overlap? When abuse or infidelity enter into the family dynamic, the perpetrators fail to see the connection between themselves and others within the family. They choose to instead view life through their own eyes and everything else as meaningless data of existence. Likewise, the victims of the perpetrator, whether it be the children or spouse, feel disconnected from the family unit as a result of the behavior they’re forced to deal with. To the extent the family unit stays together, it does so for the maintenance of bare material needs, food, shelter, security, with the difference being that before, connections and the willingness to sacrifice for each other defined the family; now the unit is nothing more than individuals huddled together for material sustenance.

Whether it be the family, State, or society in general, fracturing begins with the premise the unit exists as a single functional whole, and once the bonds of those units are broken through either sins of commission or omission, the whole breaks down into its component parts to be held together by the bonds (or chains) of material needs and force.

All of this begs the question of how to hold societies together; is there a way out of our current mess? Or is fracturing inevitably just a process to dispose of the old as a way to make room for the new? Contemporary philosophy delights in mimicking the method of the scientist, in looking at objects as existing apart from and not being influenced by the consciousness of the subject which perceives it, much like viewing phenomena through a microscope. All relations observed are viewed as being external to the subject, whose role it is to absorb the image of reality given and try to discern as much as possible from what’s before the eyes. What we think and perceive being an aberration from what is really there in front of us. Is it any wonder our politics is so broken? We view Left and Right as existing separate from each other with their own defined belief systems on opposite poles, constantly opposed and fighting.

To the extent relations exist, they do so only as external phenomena, i.e. visible connections, and lineages. So, Left and Right remain eternally separated. Much the same takes place between black and white, male and female. Connections are established based upon similarities, those aspects, usually biological, which are shared between different objects. In reality, however, do similarities establish connections? Men and women, while both belonging to the human race and by the fact we all are the products of a male/female bonding share things in common with each other. On the other hand, there are drastic differences in the natures of both males and females in terms of nurturing, caring, aggression, body, and muscular tone, etc. It’s these differences which over time have proven to be the very features attracting men and women to each other and consequently, the fulfillment of the roles based upon these differences is what leads to healthy relationships and families. In a similar vein, the biological similarities between black and white Americans are overwhelming, with there being more variation between individuals of the same race than between different races themselves. In appeals for unity, it is often these similarities that are emphasized. It is these very appeals, however, which often cause unity to fracture as these similarities lack a functional connection, being thrown together haphazardly to maintain a semblance of national unity. The inward desire most of us have for unity, however, is not based upon an abstract notion we’re all human, but it lies in the very differing nature of the Black experience in America and how it contributes to widening the vision of the country, helping us to see phenomena universally and not insularly.

The most integral differences between genders and races are not biologically based but are dispositional and experiential attributions. In much the same vein we can view their varying attitudes towards society. In an admittedly simplistic description, there are two poles of thought which constitute social thinking: the traditional and the innovative.

The traditionalist looks at society using deductive reasoning. Otherwise stated, some or all observations are presented as facts to support a conclusion, i.e., an argument. Logicians say deduction means if the premises are true, the conclusion is guaranteed. All deductive arguments are valid. Many logic textbooks give this example:

Premise 1: All men are mortal

Premise 2: Socrates is a man

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

This is somewhat tricky. The following also is deductive:

Premise 1: All fish are bats.

Premise 1: 2: All bats are kangaroos.

Therefore, all bats are kangaroos.

This is what one mathematician calls "transitivity", as in ``A is larger than B, B larger than C, and, hence, A larger than C.". Whether the specific objects are this way is another matter.

The problem is with the word "valid", many people's thinking means "true", more specifically, factual. Deduction is about form, not substance. If it has proper form, it is valid. Logicians refer to "soundness", the factual content of the variables.

It is like algebra with its variables instantiated with specific numbers. "A+B=C" can represent "3+8=11", "91+ 100=191", or any of infinite values. This does not mean the premises are, in fact, true, but only if they are. These placeholders can be filled with sense or nonsense. Deduction, then, refers to validity. It is only a matter to get the audience to accept those premises in substance for a successful argument. In essence, we want the argument to be both deductive and sound. Lawyers often argue deductively, their strategy to get a jury to accept the content, knowing people already realize a deductive argument is valid, playing on the word "valid".

Deduction does not offer any new knowledge. It concerns what already exists. In one sense, it is a "top-down" way of arguing, the top being the known, a corral, as it were, containing objects within it. The one arguing merely re-arranges the objects to produce the illusion of knowledge, as a kaleidoscope yielding myriads of patterns, like the pieces of glass confined in a rotating tube of mirrors.

In a similar vein, traditionalists, having a pre-formed conclusion, view all social phenomena as taking place within the already established conclusion. Hence, we have the authority of already-established "facts". To the traditionalists, social phenomena exist (or are forced to exist) to validate their conclusions. The inherent difficulties of such a line of reasoning are obvious; with conclusions already established, the room available for change or adaptation remains limited. On the other hand, the opposite pole can be defined as a tendency towards innovation. One argues from what is known and arrives at new information, i.e., synthesis. Logicians refer to "induction", the opposite of deduction. Formally stated, induction means if the premises are true, the conclusion is less than certain (from above zero to less than one). Inductive reasoning is bottom-up, beginning with a blank slate, the individual creating knowledge from what is known to reach a conclusion. For example, "I pulled three pennies from the bag. Therefore, most, if not all, the coins in the bag are pennies."

Statisticians rely on inductive reasoning by the way of sampling (e.g.: voter surveys) to arrive at their conclusions. So do scientists, as in pharmaceutical research assessing a drug's efficacy. In fact, most scientific reasoning is like this. Another example is archeology, researchers describing ancient ways of life, based on artifacts in lieu of having actually been there.

Attempting to always be fair and base decisions on empirical (knowledge gained from the senses) evidence, the innovator disregards any established truths or traditions not based upon scientific principles. Hence, norms or values have little place, instead, being at the mercy of constant change.

It is worthy to note two epistemologies in philosophy – empiricism and rationalism. The former relies on our five senses, generally regarded as a physical method. Rationalism comes from the non-physical, the mind. The former is more dynamic, the latter static. Tension between these two poles has existed since ancient times. Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BCE) argued there is only change. Parmenides (late sixth or early fifth century BCE) said everything is constant.

In contemporary society, these two poles often manifest as either Conservative or Liberal, the faults of both being their existences separate from each other. Tradition absent any change is nothing more than thoughtless inertia. Doctrine based solely upon the individual or institution it derives from is an empty formalism. This is not to imply faults with the doctrine itself, but without the individual internalizing doctrine and making it his/her own, that doctrine is dead. In addition, a changing environment at times necessitates changing views towards life; yet, a strict traditionalism would ignore this for the sake of not deviating from established norms.

If we look inwards at our own lives and relationships, we find the same battle between tradition and innovation playing out. A loved one may stubbornly refuse to change common practices which may be hurting themselves. You, as a part of the relationship, may recognize the signs of self-destruction taking place and thereby encourage your loved one to go in a different direction. There may not be a predisposition towards either tradition or innovation in your own life, but the situation you’re confronted with demands you help your friend adapt their own behavior to better live in a changing environment.

Just as an over-dedication to tradition can be toxic, so can a relentless pursuit of innovation. The foundation of innovation/induction is faulty at its core. The idea that we can approach every situation similar to the scientist with a blank slate and a completely impartial attitude is a metaphysical impossibility, which could only be done by an individual who is him/herself a completely blank slate – another impossibility.

For example, neurophysiological research indicates spatiality and magnitude are physiologically built into the brain. It appears we are already born with impressions on an otherwise blank slate. How many there are, neuroanatomical researchers with their brain mapping (neural correlates) will find out. See also the U.S. National Institutes of Health Research Across Domains and The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) to sample the latest developments in such research.

Needless to say, we are not born with a mental blank slate. There is no such thing as a presuppositionless existence; from the moment we’re born, we interact and grow within a world of ideas and values. Add to this inherent human bias, explained by no less of a luminary than Warner von Heisenberg in his Uncertainty Principle and the Copenhagen Interpretation in the famous double-slit experiment. In modern terms, it is second-order cybernetics including the observer in the observation, the observer also influencing what is observed. Our world, our environment, merges with our own inherent dispositions to form life and how we see it. Our experiences color all of our decisions, from the least to the most important. When we attempt to disregard our own value system for the sake of viewing something with an open mind, we discard a part of who we are, and instead of having an open mind, we unintentionally close it by rejecting a necessary presupposition of our own existence. In an attempt to view life from an impartial angle, we destroy its variety and richness and instead produce a colorless formalism.

If, instead of viewing the phenomena of tradition and innovation through the lenses of opposing sides, we view them as functional sides of a single whole, we can begin to see how integral and necessary they are to each other. Much like the illustration of a balance between the two tendencies being necessary in a relationship, the same idea has value within a political structure. Looking back into American history, the Civil Rights movement for both people of color and women was long overdue and necessary. If not for the spirit of innovation, both of these movements would have been born stillborn. It wasn’t Conservatives who were pushing for reforms in both these areas. However, what originated as movements to give freedom and a voice to those without degenerated into abortion on demand, BLM, and identity politics. The danger of innovation without a tradition to balance it out is innovation for the sake of innovation. When the original rationale for the movement has exhausted itself, future change can only happen for the sake of change. Whereas organizations like the SPLC previously targeted groups like the Klan, they now find it necessary to broaden their definition of hate to include pro-family groups, whose only justification for being labeled as a hate group is disagreeing on the value of gay marriage. With the original rationale reduced to irrelevance, change can exist only for the sake of change and becomes destructive in its pursuit of a chimera. To the degree American Conservatism has value and potential, it’s to the degree in which it can act as an effective brake upon Liberalism. Unfortunately, American Conservatism beginning in the 1950s and 60s adopted a scorched earth policy, reducing the power of the American government while simultaneously strengthening the private sector at the government’s expense, creating the very conditions necessary for the spirit of innovation to run rampant across the American scene.

Both tendencies, innovation and tradition, are false in themselves. There’s nothing divine about either. As individuals, we’re usually predisposed to one or the other, but not completely. Throughout our lives, we encounter situations calling for either change or staying with a time-tested steady course. It’s rare we consciously make a bad decision for ideological reasons. But that’s exactly what the party of innovation and the party of tradition insist upon within government. Bad decisions are made constantly if they prop up one side at the expense of the other. I have thoroughly critiqued the problems associated with American government previously, and while those articles dealt with structural problems, the issue confronting us now is both mental and physical in nature. It affects both the political sphere and consequently the personal as well. Political opinions color so much of our lives, we often fail to make the connection between how we conduct ourselves in non-political situations in comparison to its political counterpart. The pragmatism with which people live their lives seems to magically disappear when the topic of politics comes up. At once, the most calm and serene of us transforms into a dogmatic political warrior ready to storm the castle and defeat the evil enemy which is destroying the country. Best friends and family could enjoy every aspect of their relationships, but when the topic of politics is broached, it’s either followed by silence or anger.

Resolution depends upon context and outlook. If we continue to view phenomena as existing separate from each other with no connections or common purposes, then life will continue to be viewed as a zero-sum game lacking in morality. Looking at the growth of not only the acceptance of homosexuality but its promotion as well, we see this phenomenon at work. The differences between the sexes are no longer viewed as complementary but fluid to the extent they’re perceived to have any social relevance at all. This state of mind had led to the growth of a lifestyle promoting the coupling of similars. Lacking the obligations which go into overcoming the differences inherent within a male-female relationship, those differences never reconcile, and society becomes progressively more stratified and uglier, resembling greatly the ugliness of American politics.

Through discarding ideology and viewing politics as an aspect of life, much like life, politics can be viewed as a pragmatic activity as a part of a larger whole. With an adjusted frame of reference, the hold tradition and innovation over the political sphere can be loosened, making it more functional and constructive. Pure innovation is negated through the fact a presupposition will always be brought to the table regardless of the issue at hand. Pure tradition is also negated through the fact that environments and conditions change; once this happens, so do the particulars, necessitating a changed general conclusion. Learning to look at the beyond by looking within, the opposition between tradition and innovation, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, begin to break down. By being ourselves, we see the other within us and realize what we used to understand as the enemy is actually a part of us.

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