When you look at traditions closely, examine what they really are, you realize they’re made up of layers and layers of deferrals, delays, indecisions, tomorrows and long lunches. Their very weight and awkwardness defy examination and smother change. They are the immovable object that sits with its back to the unstoppable force.I have always, always, always hated doing things because they were traditional or interpretations of old traditions--one reason why I always had problems with religious events and services. I have never found tradition to be a good reason by itself for doing anything. I need to see the costs and benefits of today and for the future, the moral, ethical, political, and logical justifications. Because it was always done this way is a poor reason. If x was always done because there were good reasons for it and those reasons still apply, then okey dokey. But if x was always done because there used to be good reasons for it, then perhaps we should try something else.
Other people’s traditions look charming and decorative and exotic. They’re nice places to visit on holiday, but you wouldn’t want to live with one. They’re like having a mad, invalid aunt in the attic.
All too soon, the inertia of competing arguments can lead to a comfortable stasis. You find you do it this way because you’ve always done it this way, time flies and, before you know it, you’ve grown a tradition where there once was a view.
This is one of things that drives me crazy about academia and especially McGill--that things are always done a certain way because they were always done this way. Of course, one could say that about tenure, but I think there are still good reasons for that tradition (self-serving ones, of course).