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Fiddling with Tradition

New -- 22 January 2005

In the classic musical, Fiddler on the Roof, much ado is made about tradition and its ability to provide a sense of stability in a chaotic world. As the song entitled, Tradition, tells it, "How do we keep our balance? Tradition!"

This attitude can be repeated in countless examples other than Jewish. If there is an unspoken tenet in every fundamentalist creed, it is tradition. It is the unstated paradigm which speaks loud and clear that we will not change and that we will always do things the way we've always done them before, or in the manner in which our fathers and ancestors have done them. This is not because the traditional ways are necessarily the best -- or that we even have the faintest clue as to why we do them in the manner in which we do -- but because it's tradition. The answer to all piddling and challenging questions is always the same: It's tradition!

This all sounds very appealing to anyone who finds little or no opportunity in chaos -- even when the ancient Chinese equated opportunity with chaos. No change means that one is never troubled with the need to rethink one's routine or daily activities, or to expend the slightest amount of energy in consciously choosing between alternatives. All alternatives other than the tradtional route are automatically dismissed and consigned to the proverbial round file. It's allegedly very energy-efficient. It's also very lazy.

Curiously, in the same musical, the lead character, Tevye -- a wholly sympathetic personality who is enamored with tradition -- constantly finds himself having to choose between tradition and some very serious challenges to his traditions. The challenges are represented on the stage by his daughters, three of whom in descending order of age, represent ever increasing breaks with the Jewish traditions of marriage as practiced in their small Russian village in the latter days of the Czar. Significantly, the appeal to tradition is represented by the character of the Fiddler. It's as if the Fiddler is always attempting to entice Tevye with the sweet sounds of Jewish traditional music, always reminding him of the alleged need to heed tradition in all of his choices.

And yet the Fiddler (on the roof) is also the symbol of the precarious and shaky state of the world that Tevye and his fellow Jews found themselves. Let's face it, fiddling around on the roof in almost any endeavor is precarious and just a little foolhardy. It takes only the slightest inbalance to go careening off the typically shaky perch. And sometimes it's a long ways down to earth.

In essence then, tradition is precarious as well. And from our thesaurus, we can also equate tradition with "uncertain, unreliable, unpredictable, doubtful, dubious, delicate, perilous, risky, hazardous, treacherous..." and so forth and so on -- in the traditional manner of exagerration. We can even note that in a universe virtually defined by constant change, tradition -- or any form of resistance to change -- is foolhardy, anti-entropic, and in a manner of speaking, anti-God (at least in the sense of God being defined here as the creator of the universe).

Clearly a universe -- one which by its very nature involves change -- must be the work of a creator who by the evidence of the creator's resulting creation encourages and in a manner of speaking demands change. The very existence of entropy with its mathematical inequality between the past and future is an arrow of time denoting change. Resistance to change, therefore, is resistance to the universal creator's handiwork. Tradition and any attempt to limit change is therefore, anti-God. It's a bummer, I know, but there it is.

By the same token, fiddling around with tradition, allowing its natural evolution, is pro-God. Note in fact the emphasis on the "natural", the means by which one is in tune with the creator's creation. Fiddling around is going with the flow, which in accordance with recent research into the nature of happiness, is perhaps the best route to follow in one's pursuit of happiness. The "happy state of mind called flow [is] the feeling of complete engagement in a creative or playful activity familiar to athletes, musicians, video-game enthusiasts -- almost anyone who loses himself in a favorite pursuit." [1]

If "flow" can be visualized as floating down the river and allowing the water to take you wherever, tradition can be seen as paddling furiously (and vainly) to remain in the same place. The very strange aspect of the latter is that where tradition was supposed to allow one to save energy by not requiring creative or alternative thought, the allegedly energy efficient aspect of tradition is actually quite out of sync with reality. Instead tradition is very energy consuming. It takes an enormous amount of time and effort to resist change, the same kind of vain, useless attempt one might expend in an attempt to violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Ultimately, the key to happiness and divine destiny may be to fiddle with tradition a lot more, and simultaneously go with the flow. Just remember to laugh at most everything -- not just the antics of Tevye on the stage. The whole of life is really just a play.

BTW, why do you suppose they called the performance of a creative work on a stage a play? To answer this, check out the dictionary definition of the word, "play". It goes on and on. Perhaps, life is just -- one possibility -- monkeying around. I like it.


Genesis         Epic of Creation         Chronicles of Earth

Forward to:

A Whimsical View         Sumerian         Hinduism         Taoism

Religion         Faith         Obsolescence         Dominionism



[1]  Claudia Wallis, "The New Science of Happiness", Time Magazine, January 17, 2005.



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