from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme #34


     In The Worldly Philosophers, economist Robert Heilbroner identifies three approaches man has taken to guard against disastrous societal breakdown: 1) tradition, 2) command, and       3) free market economics.  Of the first he says  "He has ensured his continuity by organizing his society around tradition, by handing down the varied and necessary tasks from generation to generation according to custom and usage: son follows father and a pattern is preserved."

     Over 2500 years ago, revered Chinese sage Confucius indicated his preference for the first approach.  Of people bound by tradition he wrote "Lead [them] with excellence...put them in their place through roles and ritual practices, and in addition to developing a sense of shame, they will order themselves harmoniously."  In societies bound by command, he complained, "External authorities administer punishments after illegal actions—so people generally behave well without understanding why they should."  His teaching, which provided lessons in conservatism for the semi-feudal society he was part of, was built on a foundation of disciplined individuals in disciplined families.  As he put it, "There is no one who fails in teaching members of his own family and yet is capable of teaching others outside the family...the teaching of filial piety is a preparation for serving the ruler of the state; the teaching of respect to one's elder brothers is a preparation for serving all the elders of the country; the teaching of kindness in parents is a training for ruling over people."

     In the West, in centuries following collapse of the Roman Empire, feudal society developed as did a Christian traditional framework  (Figure #34a) built around the Catholic Church. Centered in Rome and headed by the Pope, this included cardinals, bishops, priests, cathedrals, monasteries, monks, nuns, religious orders, formally institutionalized ceremonies, rituals, prayers, communion, confession, belief in Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, etc.  All this had important social functions.  It brought hope—in a wonderful, just afterlife for believers—to those who suffered.  It helped parents teach and discipline children.  It  encouraged kind, unselfish behavior, discouraged greed, and kept—as Napoleon put it—the poor from murdering the rich. 

     Eventually feudalism gave way to free markets and capital-ism.  Pushed in part by the so called Enlightenment—which sought to replace tradition and religion with reason—only in the last three centuries have societies based on the last and most complex of Heilbroner's three approaches emerged.  In his 1968 book Lessons of History, in looking toward the future Will Durant wrote: "in...complex civilization individuals are more differentiated and unique than in a primitive society, and many situations contain novel circumstances requiring modifications of instinctual response; custom recedes, reasoning spreads." 

     About the time Durant wrote, what Francis Fukuyama would latter call The Great Disruption (the title of his 1999 book) was


getting going: the transition from industrial to information age. If the industrial revolution began the shift from a personal "community" social group setting to an impersonal "society" type association, the transition to information age accelerated this.  As Fukuyama put it, "The culture of intensive individual-ism...spilled over into the realm of social norms, where it corroded virtually all forms of authority and weakened bonds holding families, neighborhoods, and nations together."  In democracies, he argued, the information age brought freedom of choice, weakened large, rigid bureaucracies, and empowered individuals by increasing their access to information.   

     As to its affect on traditional gender roles, he wrote, "The changing nature of work tended to substitute mental for physical labor, thereby propelling millions of women into the workplace and undermining traditional understandings on which the family had been based."  Two revolutions that began in the 1960s led to more such undermining: the sexual revolution where new birth control pills and increasing availability of abortion gave women control over reproductionand the feminist movement promoting equal treatment of men and women, and supporting activities advancing the cause of women’s rights.  Decades of decreasing fertility rates, increasing divorce, illegitimate birth, and crime rates followed. "Can the family make a comeback?" many conservatives wonder.

     While some may see challenges to traditional family values as an affluent, Western world problem, Richard Critchfield's experience suggests otherwise.  In his 1981 book Villages, he writes, "Almost everywhere, I've found the same pattern over the years: youth makes demands, parents resist; after a period of rebellion, youth surrenders to tradition.  This is not always, perhaps the best thing in terms of personal self interest, but it keeps the villages going. "  Since Critchfield wrote, accelerating  globalization and cultural imperialism has put new stress on village ties to traditional ways.  The term McDonaldization suggests a spread of multinational corporate homogeneous culture that threatens unique cultural traditions worldwide. 

     The challenge that older civilizations face, both from expanding newer ones and associated spread of technological advances, is a significant part of the human history of the last 500 plus years.  Yes, Columbus' voyages of discovery have been celebrated.  But from the perspective of indigenous people whose lands were invaded and whole way of life changed, that history has been sad: a tragic tale of near genocide!  Influenced by such history, the United Nations has recently passed a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Figure #34b). With this, it sets "an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet's 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalization."   

Figure #34b:

Figure #34a:

The Sacred Christian Tradition—Catholic Church

from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—adopted 9/13/2007

Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2: 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.                    (second Vatican Council, 1962-65)  Article 11
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs.  This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artifacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies, and visual and performing arts and literature.
           Article 12
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.

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