09 January 2008

Conservatism

From the beginning, man has been in pursuit of happiness and the good life. Much has changed over the millennia, but not this basic human desire. The earliest men also wanted the same thing (essentially) that we want today. And in this pursuit, they made many mistakes, and learned from them. They asked many questions, and found answers to some of them. They had many problems; they found solutions to some of them. By a painful process of trial and error, they managed to learn a few things. They managed to make some progress.

These people passed on their hard-earned knowledge to their offspring, so that they (the offspring) would not repeat their parents' mistakes. So that they would not face the same difficulties. So that their lives would be safer and easier. And the offspring learnt whatever their parents had to teach them. Thus knowledge was transmitted from one generation to the next. This process of transmitting knowledge continued with every generation. Each generation learned new things and passed on that knowledge to the next generation – in addition to what it had learnt from the previous one. Thus was knowledge accumulated and over time, a store of knowledge built.

Some of this knowledge was explicit and tangible. It could, for example, be written down as a book. Other knowledge was more implicit. People developed many beliefs, practices, customs, habits, values and norms to make their lives better and more meaningful. They gradually built many systems and institutions to help society to function more effectively. This implicit knowledge grew as life and society became more and more complex. The explicit and implicit knowledge together make up a way of life, or what we call culture. Culture is mostly intangible. It improves and enriches our lives – in ways that are not immediately obvious. And when this culture is passed on from one generation to the next, it becomes tradition.

The tradition that we inherit is thus the product of the cumulative efforts of our forefathers in their quest for the good life. It has been developed over a long period of time and with great difficulty. It is good, useful and precious. We cherish it. We preserve it. And we nourish it. Tradition has sentimental value too. It is the bond that we have with our ancestors. It is what connects the past to the present, and the present to the future. Tradition is also a responsibility. It does not belong to us alone. It is given to us to hold in trust, so that we can bequeath it to future generations the way we found it, or in a better condition. This, in a nutshell, is conservatism.

Conservatism does not mean we should keep things the way they are. It means we should build on what already exists.

2 comments:

Savitha said...

beautifully put and very articulate!

Indian said...

Thank you! :-)