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on the duality of tradition and addiction

I've always had a non-standard reaction to both of these words. I've often said that I don't believe in addiction... and I've also often said that tradition is the root of all evil [after all, it's responsible for such things as religion and QWERTY--what could be worse?] I didn't realize till today, however, that the two words have almost identitical meanings. Their denotation is the same--a ritual or habit which doesn't serve any useful purpose. However, their connotation is different--people usually speak of tradition in positive terms and addiction in negative terms.

Although I've claimed before that I don't believe in addiction, I've been a bit wishy-washy on the subject... in fact, over the years I've come to accept more and more that such a thing does occur in society; I just don't have much of a tendency towards it or understanding of it. The word has always had a positive connotation to me, though, whereas tradition has a negative one. I suppose the form of addiction that has the most meaning to me is: a passionate persuit of something dear to you for which you are willing to give up nearly everything else. I react positively to it emotionally, even though I know it isn't the most efficient way to live--because it's artistically indicative of the human spirit. Tradition to me, in contrast, often seems to be just a refusal the give up the past and live.

So I thought more about the relationship between these two, and why I might have such a different response to them as society; and why people have such different reactions to them in the first place. I realized the key difference is that addiction is usually associated with selfish rituals whereas tradition is associated with selfless rituals. Tradition is usually connected to honoring and obeying others, either family or ancestors or society in general. Addiction is seen as a selfish indulgence--an escape from society. You might talk about an addiction to work or sex or puzzles, which are all selfish pursuits... but you wouldn't talk about an addiction to family or christmas--instead, you'd call that tradition.

So the reason people react differently to them than I do, is because of a more fundamental reaction that's different between selfishness and selflessness. While I've come to appreciate that there are, perhaps, valid reasons to accept selflessness into one's life... I still have a gut reaction to it that's very negative, whereas I continue to admire and praise selfish pursuits, especially when they're carried out well.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
smirkingjustice
Jan. 14th, 2004 12:15 pm (UTC)
I hadn't really thought about the duality of the two until I read your post, but in my mind it's not so much a difference of selfish and selfless as it is involuntary and voluntary.
Addictions and traditions can be good or bad, right? The difference is that if you practice a tradition that hurts someone else (say, fraternity hazing), you do so voluntarily, and are thus morally responsible for the consequences. Addiction is more complicated in that the risk of addiction was voluntary, but the addiction itself is involuntary. Also, many people don't see the hurtful consequences of addiction, because, as you say, it appears selfish. I used to smoke. I was only hurting myself, right? Not so much. Many people have this outlook when they take the risk of addiction. It is only after the addiction has taken control of them that they realize they are hurting everyone around them (in the case of 'bad' addictions, obviously). So, the question lingers whether someone who becomes addicted to a bad habit is morally responsible for the damage he does to others...
spoonless
Jan. 14th, 2004 12:36 pm (UTC)
Well, this whole talk of voluntary and involuntary is sort of why I didn't believe in addiction in the first place. I suppose I still don't believe in involuntary addiction. I think it's an excuse that people make up to justify their choices.

Nobody is unable to make one decision or another--unless of course doing so would be physically impossible.

So, the question lingers whether someone who becomes addicted to a bad habit is morally responsible for the damage he does to others...

I absolutely believe people should be held accountable for their actions. An addiction is not a valid excuse for behavior, it's just a statement about where one's priorities lie.
paideia
Jan. 15th, 2004 01:24 pm (UTC)
Really, really insightful. I had not thought of this before. Did you look up the etymology? Next time I get a chance I'll look in my friend's copy of the OED.

Will have to think on this more.
gustavolacerda
Jan. 16th, 2004 12:41 pm (UTC)
differences
Addiction: compelled by reward in the brain. Self-maintained.

Tradition: compelled by a sense of duty. Maintained by social pressures.

Also, while addictions offer temporary pleasure, traditions tend to have a long-term function. The good traditions, anyway, like friendliness and hospitality.

If addictions are selfish, then objectivists should think that addictions are good!
If you ask me, it's about self-control... which self should I serve? Tonight's self or my self a year from now? So there's more than one way to be selfish.
spoonless
Jan. 17th, 2004 03:30 pm (UTC)
Re: differences

Addiction: compelled by reward in the brain. Self-maintained.

Tradition: compelled by a sense of duty. Maintained by social pressures.

Also, while addictions offer temporary pleasure, traditions tend to have a long-term function. The good traditions, anyway, like friendliness and hospitality.

Agreed.

i>
If addictions are selfish, then objectivists should think that addictions are good!
</i>
I don't think this follows. Not that I'm an objectivist--but to defend their point of view: if an addiction implies persuing something to the exclusion of all others--whether it's selfish or not, it's going to drown out a lot of other selfish interests, and therefore is not a good thing.
spoonless
Jan. 17th, 2004 03:35 pm (UTC)
Re: differences
Also... the way that objectivists use the word selfish is a little different from the way that I use it. Or at least the way I'm using it here. They would exclude a lot of activities, such as perhaps addictions, because it doesn't fit into their nice nifty package concept "selfish". I really don't want to get started down the route of discussing objectivism because it's something I have too much to say about and not enough time.
gustavolacerda
Jan. 17th, 2004 03:38 pm (UTC)
Re: differences
going to drown out a lot of other selfish interests, and therefore is not a good thing

it wasn't really a serious comment about objectivists... but if it's overall bad for the individual, then it's not "selfish"
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