Jacob L. Moreno introduced the phrase cultural conserve to describe anything that has the effect of preserving valuable cultural memories, such as skills, discoveries, concepts, or moral values. Culture is conserved by culture carriers, that is, those who carry something forward from one generation to the next.
One way culture is conserved is tradition. Tradition is acknowledging that I have a history. Tradition is acknowledging that for hundreds and hundreds of years before I existed, people existed before me. Those people, like me, wanted to flourish and to a large degree wanted to promote human flourishing.
To promote human flourishing they created customs and beliefs, created or accumulated tools, and bought and maintained property. Some of these things were woven into tradition as a remembrance of something good or noble. Some of these things were woven into tradition as a warning or reminder that some things are bad. These traditions are what make my most intimate community. It is the songs we sing, the dances we dance, the food we eat, and the way we support and care for one another.
To break with tradition is a contemplative act. To some extent, I have to say to myself and others that I have figured something out or been enlightened in some way that they were not. Rather than an act of hubris, breaking with tradition is an act of humility. It is saying to the many that came before me that I somehow got it more right than they did.
But for there to be a place for tradition, culture carriers have to do just that. Culture carriers have to meaningfully examine which parts of the culture, which traditions, they will carry forward into the next generation. To refuse to carry forward no culture is to unhinge from the generations upon generations that did carry forward their part for human flourishing. It is choosing unnecessary suffering and death for this generation.
There is a place for tradition. To choose tradition does not mean that we have to keep the bad along with the good. We can choose to carry forward the tradition that promotes human flourishing and leave the rest to history.
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