This is just idle speculation, mind you, but I was wondering the other day about time and tradition. There’s two kinds of tradition, or at least two ends of the spectrum. At the one end you have what you might call the reasonable ideas, the principles and conclusions you arrive at by looking at how things are and thinking about them and then, above all, trying them out to see how well they really work, and adjusting them as necessary to make them work better. These ideas get their strength from their adaptability and increasing accuracy over time.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have the principles and conclusions that arise, not out of a search for real-world answers and understanding, just Because I Said So—ideas that get passed from one generation to the next not because they describe how the world really is, but because I’m The Father, That’s Why. These ideas get their strength from authority and constancy.
I suppose that initially, these two types of thinking are fairly close to the middle of the spectrum, and thus to each other. But they evolve in different ways, and thus, over time, they take different shapes. The reasonable traditions, based on observation and incremental improvements, tend to change over time, as new information becomes available. This means that as time goes on and year passes year, the reasonable traditions are less likely to be old, because they keep evolving into new (and better) traditions. Taken to the extreme end of the spectrum, they become less like religion and more like science, sacrificing the authoritative appeal of It Is Written for the power and reliability of learning where you went wrong before.
The unreasonable traditions, by contrast, undergo a different evolution. By their very nature, they’re inflexible, so they can’t evolve into new and better traditions. Their survival depends on developing mechanisms by which prior assumptions can be preserved regardless of new evidence. They do not merely fail to learn from experience, they actively resist doing so, because learning something new implies that you didn’t know it already, or worse, that your previous ideas were wrong.
So they fossilize. Just as minerals creep and replace the bones of the decaying animal, so dogma and social constructs and peer pressure replace the curiosity and adaptibility of the living mind. They become the dinosaurs of the world of ideas, resurrected anew each generation, to continue their life in all its original, unevolved, prehistoric glory.
Thus, the traditions that have the longest histories are those which lie farthest away from the reasonable end of the spectrum. Over time, the reasonable ideas adapt and evolve and are replaced by newer, better traditions. The ones that stay the same are the ones that cannot improve, and that hang on by their power to silence criticism and dominate minds. They’re like a Jurassic Park of ancient misconceptions and superstitions, given life in the expectation that people will be fascinated by them, but without adequate safeguards. And the more time goes by, the wider the gap between the two ends of the spectrum.
So, like I said, idle speculation. But I think there might be some bit of truth there.