What Do Conservatives Conserve?

What Do Conservatives Conserve? January 29, 2016

We all need a reminder from time to time that the traditions which the conservative hold on to and seek to preserve are not from time immemorial. This topic came up in my Sunday school class recently, and one individual said that he knew people who remembered how the advent of electric lighting in churches in the South had led to the creation of a midweek service on Wednesday nights. Now they are “traditional.” But they had not always been so.

If you want a great example of this, read “A Note On Peppers” by Hari Balasubramanian. Even in India, most people think of the chili pepper as quintessentially Indian, an ingredient without which Indian food simply wouldn’t be Indian food. And yet chilies originate in the Americas, and only made their way to India after the time of Columbus – who, ironically, had himself been trying to reach India on his famous journey.

We lose track of how much the world has changed. And, as with biological evolution, because the pace of change can be slow, or punctuated equilibrium, we may fail to see the change unfolding before our eyes. And so we manage to deceive ourselves that the traditions we inherited are the way things have always been, that what we are defending are “timeless truths” rather than fossils of a particular moment in an ever-changing history.


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