Post by david.
Moving on to new beginnings involves first, to varying degrees, dealing with ends, i.e. goodbyes; some people we will not be seeing for a while as we are leaving the UK, while others we will probably never see again. This post isn’t about that though; it’s about a random thought I had on the way to say goodbye (a more temporary goodbye in this case) to some close friends.
We were driving along an A road, and standing next to his snazzy car in a lay-bye was a guy wearing a suit. I suspect he might have been a driver having a smoke break. Seeing him there in his suit, kind of out of the blue, I had that thought that many of us have that goes something like “isn’t that weird!” You know, like when you see something everyday in one context, and then encounter it in a completely different context, it seems really strange.
If you think about it, business suits may as well be bat suits. The only thing that has made them seem so normal is that, for many of us living in cities and towns, they are so common. But if everyone wore a bat suit and we all became accustomed to them, that would become a norm and nobody would raise an eyebrow.
This all perhaps seems quite obvious, but so much of what we encounter all around us are products of custom and habit. David Hume, a prominent Scottish philosopher of his time, asserted that even our conception of effect following cause is a consequence of custom and habit – the assertion that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, for example, may be wrong, and we only believe that it’s right because we are accustomed to that pattern of events, i.e. sun setting at night and rising in the morning. Let’s not, for now, go that far though. Instead, consider sport.
The friends we visited had rugby, cricket and golf on the TV in the background over the several hours that we were at their place. We don’t have a television, so even being in the presence of one can seem odd, but the sports themselves (which I haven’t watched for years) seem incredibly odd when you look at them from an alien’s point of view.
This is a little trick of the perspective trade that one picks up along the way: pretend that you are an alien and seeing whatever it is that you are seeing for the first time (warning: this is harmless at first but later might be a view of the world that is difficult to shake!) In this way of looking at many of our customs and traditions, they seem totally absurd; it is only due to the regularity of exposure we have to them that makes them seem normal to us.
The rugby game was full of men grabbing each other in their nether regions , ramming shoulders into each other’s heads, running back and forth between white lines – normal. The cricket had people launching a hard red ball at three sticks, close ups of guys jiggling their crotches every now and again, and the occasional group arse-slapping when the sticks were knocked down – normal. The golf showed panorama shots of masses of land flattened into open spaces dotted with sand patches with the singular purpose that a person can launch a one inch white ball with a stick over considerable distances – normal.
This way of looking at the world can offer a useful reminder that our customs and traditions are things we inherit, and that many of these hand-me-downs are outrageously strange – if only we could step back more frequently and consider them from a less conditioned point of view.
One might even be tempted to argue that at this complicated point in history, such an activity is very much-needed , as it could allow us to consider the point of our traditions: are they valued because they are useful, because they make our lives better in some meaningful way? Or do they keep our consciousness tuned to so-called ‘channel normal’, preventing the development of updated customs that would be more suited to a people and planet facing very interesting challenges?
Luckily I’ve managed to avoid wearing a business suit for the duration of my life so far, but for those of you who might find yourselves wearing one in the near future, remember – you may as well be wearing a bat suit 🙂