Tradition, Novel values, and their balance

Will Durant, the prominent historian & author,

ended a chapter in his book, The lessons of history, by presenting the double edged nature of human reason,

That sharp “edge” of reason, that could possibly harm itself,

actualises in the approach of humans coming along with advancements in technology, & knowledge,

and attempting to revolutionise the scene with a “new” set of values/behaviors/traditions, for the time, as the older ones (which have actually stood some test of time) “no longer” serve a purpose in today’s “more informed” & “more technologically-advanced” world.

And it seems like there has never been a time that’s attempting to do exactly that, more than today’s time.

Now, on the other side of the spectrum, the reason why it’s has a “double-edge”، so to speak, is because the other “edge” can actually be valid.

Meaning, sometimes, there are behaviors/traditions of the past, that aren’t necessarily valid or have a reason to be perpetuated in present, which make it good to present new approaches.

And this whole scene and double edged nature makes one realize the unbelievable difficulty in managing such dynamic.

Chesterton’s fence:

There’s an interesting concept we can start with known as chesterton’s fence, which stipulates that you shouldn’t tear down a fence (or a tradition, in our context) until you know:

  1. why it was built in the first place.

or from another angle,

  1. The holistic consequences of tearing it down.

And it seems like there is an emergent rule in today’s world that’s exactly antithetical to chesterton’s fence which is that:

the only fence/limit that should remain, is that we should keep destroying old fences & building new ones.

But if you think about it, any “novel “great” approach that emerges, does so in light of all the things & building blocks that happened in the past,

which goes to say that there must be things in that “old” fence that are valid and are not really worthy of destruction.

Also, on the other side of the spectrum, making that fence completely inflexible is also problematic,

as the test of time, as important as it’s, is not the only variable that is used to judge the validity of a tradition/behavior/idea.

and it seems like both sides of the extreme, that we presented, have the same false perception, which is that:

time is the most important variable in telling the values of a society.

the ones who want to radically change the value systems and take down the “chesterton fence”, are implicitly claiming that the future always outperforms the past in all metrics (which is obviously fallacious),

and the ones who are not willing to change any parts of the fence, are focusing on the past and how it can outperform the future in all metrics,

and both of them are wrong.

so in light of this investigation of the extremes,

what really is the fair synthesis between those two viewpoints that strikes the right balance,

with chesterton’s fence, in mind?

The usefulness and lessons of religion:

In one sense, if you look at it deeply, this problem of the tension between tradition and espousing new approaches is one problem the Abrahamic religions essentially came to solve.

Because if you think about it, the unique thing about world religions is that its limits are expansive, explicit, & clear (will get to why this is actually important),

but any new approach inside those limits is not exhaustive, and up to the agent to decide, which gives room for novelty & new approaches, while simultaneously keeping the ever-useful “limits” intact.

(“ever-useful” based on the principles of that specific religion, let’s say).

So a religion (strictly defined here as something in the like of Abrahamic doctrines) will tell you to not profit from certain kinds of impermissible money, like gambling, etc.

but it will not tell you the exact way to make your money, or choose a career.

So major world religions, like Islam or Christianity, for example, essentially give you the God bestowed principles that you should not ignore as a limit,

and along with those, there’s an in-built flexibility within those world-views that allows the human condition to espouse new approaches,

while bearing in mind to not contradict the things that God have instructed the followers of those religions, which are of the utmost importance for the followers, since they believe it to be coming from God himself (if one assumes that to be true, of course).

So in some sense, religion mainly makes the limits explicit, and anything inside those limits is up to the follower to curate.

Despite the post-enlightnment misconceptions, which still exist today abundantly, that “religion is fundamentally backwards” or has anti-novel approaches,

even though, some scenes in history might’ve showed such behavior, especially with christianity,

but looking only at the historical context,

without an analysis of the doctrines is never really a complete assessment of the situation.

Obviously, this case can’t be made for Islam or Judaism, since many of the seeds of the enlightenment and it’s methodologies, were planted by some 10th, 11th & 12th century Muslim scholars.

And Logically, there isn’t any principles in the doctrines of major world religions, that really opposes the espousal of novel and new approaches,

it’s just that there’s a limit on what not to do, if that’s the proper way to phrase it.

You might think of this as a contradiction, how come there’s a limit, but also an ever-lasting novelty embedded within a “limit”?

But if you think about it, for anything to be done or conceived in the world, there must be limits.

If you want to do some action, that generates you money, for instance,

you have to limit yourself from doing many other things, that won’t make you reach that goal,

and that’s a “limit” that will eventually be the thing that actually elevates you to the “novel” goal.

Why limits are necessary & important:

You might take the previous question even a step further and say, do we actually need a fence/limit in the form of a “religion” or otherwise, in the first place?

in addition to our claim about limits being fundamental to conception,

We can establish this question first by recognizing that life without a fence is merely not possible.

Even if you say I want to remove all propositional or intellectual fences,

you’ll still have the fence of your human emotions or subjective experiences.

And this is what liberals essentially did, they based their fence or their limits on harm/pain & pleasure, which caused all sorts of subjectivity, and the wall ended up being a subjective infinitely changeable wall (which contradicts its purpose in the first place).

So a person who claims to have no intellectual fences/limits, will definitely start to have a limit/fence when they experience a painful experience, for example,

and that will be the limit with which they conduct themselves,

and they’ll not tap into that territory that causes anguish, without any returns.

On top of that, limits/fences are what defines morals.

The fence we are talking about is actually what we know as morality, from one angle.

So any idea that claims humans shouldn’t “have limits” is basically arguing for an ever subjective moral status, which eventually doesn’t lead to good outcomes.

So the fundamental question for the human race, if their thoughts are aligned properly,

is not whether to have a limit, it’s, what limit should one espouse or derive.


As we started with Will Durant, we can also conclude it with some of his wise words:

“As The sanity of individual lies in the continuity of his memories , a sanity of society lies in the continuity of its tradition.”

Just like our happiness is made up of both new experiences, and memories we had,

The approach to limits and fences should essentially be a complex integration between the two, and that can only be practically done, by not taking both sides of the extreme.

And that can’t be done without acknowledging that the modern human with all his resources & “knowledge” of the world,

can actually be more wrong than a thousand years old heuristic.

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