One of my least favorite memes/concepts employed by the alt-right is “trad” – short for “traditional” – primarily because the concept bears so little relationship or relevance to the world that we currently live in.
If you live in a technologically modern country, your way of life is overwhelmingly likely to not even remotely resemble anything that can accurately be described as “traditional”. For a way of life to be traditional, it must must follow in the footsteps of prior generations. The Amish, for example, are one of the very few subcultures within North America, who live in a truly traditional manner. They practice a low-tech agrarian mode of subsistence, in which new technologies are only adopted very selectively and only following great deliberation. Due to the exceedingly slow pace of technological change in Amish communities, sons still lead very similar lives as their fathers and grandfathers. They have the same profession (typically a farmer or artisan), practice the same religion, and participate in similar social arrangements and events. This cannot be said by over 99% of the North American or European population. If you are reading this, your way of life is likely radically different from that of your parents, whose lives were equally different from that of their parents. This can be said, at minimum, about every generation born since the earliest periods of industrialization – and possibly before that, as agrarian societies weren’t nearly as stagnant as commonly conceived of.
Present societies are “intergenerationally multicultural”, in that every generation practices a different culture than the prior one. Conditions differ sufficiently between generations that each generation adapts differently to their respective circumstances. Of course, generations don’t regard each other as completely alien and unintelligible, as common practices and frames of reference do link them together. However, even shared practices differ in both subtle and dramatic ways. In North America, boomers, Gen-Xers, Millennials, and Gen-Zers all speak English, but they don’t exactly speak it identically. Accents differ and new slang is introduced with every generation, the latest of which tends to be inspired by memes originating on Internet discussion forums. All living generations use automobiles, but younger generations are more likely to forego car ownership and rely upon Lyft, Uber and various carsharing services. All generations consume media entertainment while looking at a screen. However, older generations are more likely to watch cable and network television, whereas the youngest generations play video games and watch five minute YouTube clips. Boomers still advise Millennial men to pursue women using courtship rituals that worked in the 1950s, but would likely get one branded an obsessive creepy stalker today. Millennials who happen to be employed often work in job categories that didn’t exist 50 years ago. Popular musical styles vary dramatically between generations – to the point where prior generations regard new music as unlistenable. Sexual mores have both loosened and tightened in different respects. There are far fewer settings where pursuit of sex or romance is considered appropriate – For example, the days of a lawyer or detective romantically pursuing and marrying his secretary seem to be over. However, due to the ubiquitous availability of Internet porn, even the most sexually conservative Millennials know the meanings of terms like “bukaake” and “double penetration”. The once predominant ideology of the U.S., namely American exceptionalism – has been dethroned within the course of my lifetime by progressivism, and yet older generations are oblivious to this transition. Right-wing Millennials are more likely to join the alt-right – a movement that’s arguably both post-American and globalist, despite calling itself “nationalist” – than to embrace the “respectable conservatism” of William F Buckley and the National Review.
In the above paragraph, I’m not conveying any information that the reader doesn’t already know, but my point is that those who deem themselves “trad” are not exempt from the aforementioned generational shifts. If you shitpost memes about “thots” and “Chads” on Twitter and 4chan, listen to synthwave or neofolk on YouTube, or participate in a Skype group with other “trad”-minded folk, there’s nothing about your way of life that even approximates anything traditional. No generation prior to yours has spent its free time in this manner. If you attempted to explain memeposting to your grandfather, it would strike him as every bit as alien as the culture of a Muslim, if not more so. Your daily activities are as much a manifestation of modernism as that of green-haired intersectional feminists who think broadcasting their politics on Tinder is a good way to attract a man. Furthermore, if you ever end up having children (like a good “trad” should), they are unlikely to mimic your idiosyncratic customs, as they will grow up under a different set of conditions and will regard your practices as irrelevant to their “lived experience”.
I’ve observed attempts at reconstructing lost traditions, most notably Asatru – or Germanic paganism. Given that most of our European ancestors converted to Christianity at various points during the Middle Ages, depending upon location, the practice of paganism amounts to a form of historical reenactment (e.g., LARPing), based upon mythological texts written after the Norse conversion to Christianity, incomplete historical accounts and archeological digs. A religious practice is not exactly “traditional” when neither your father, grandfather nor great-grandfather had any familiarity with it, much less if you have to rely upon a potentially faulty interpretation of scattered historical remnants to reconstruct it. Also, the children of those who practice Asatru are more likely to regard Asatru as a weird eccentricity of their right-wing hippie parents than to embrace it themselves, meaning it won’t likely transfer between generations.
Others on the right have attempted to adopt traditions that have persisted unbroken in other cultures, most notably Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Unlike Asatru, the practice of Orthodoxy has been practiced in an unbroken lineage since the formation of the church. However, it also doesn’t strike me as particularly “traditional” for Anglo-Germanic descended white Americans to convert to a religion historically practiced by Slavs and Middle Easterners, particularly when so few of their white American coethnics living in the same community are likely to follow suit. As with the children of parents who practice Asatru, the children of Orthodox Christian converts are just as likely to become atheists or Buddhists as they are to embrace what they see as their kooky right-wing Dad’s LARPy religion. In the meantime, numerous Orthodox Slavs, Armenians and Lebanese remain “Orthodox” in name, while adopting the same modern lifestyles as any secular liberal in response to the incentives generated by the modern world.
One other possible option is to invent something completely new and turn it into a tradition. However, I see this as unlikely, given the rapid pace of technological and economic change during the era in which we live. A traditional way of life is dependent upon a “steady state economy”, in which available technology and economic demands don’t vary significantly between generations. Within an agrarian, pastoral or hunter-gatherer setting, traditions serve as useful intergenerational knowledge, freeing up each generation from having to repeat the discoveries and mistakes of their predecessors. Under such circumstances, traditions conducive to survival and reproduction tend to persist and proliferate, while those that don’t tend to be discorded – or kill off or reduce the numbers of those who practice them. In an industrial or post-industrial economy, all traditions end up discarded, as the practices useful to one generation don’t necessarily impart practices useful to the next. The demands required to make a living, find friends and attract a mate can change so rapidly that any given set of customs can be rendered obsolete within a decade. It is certainly possible that industrial society could collapse even in our lifetimes, but those born during this period will adopt a very different culture than ours. Furthermore, we will most certainly die before the world once again reaches a steady state economy that persists between generations.
If we actually were able to experience a traditional way of life in a small community under a steady state economy, what makes us so certain that we’d actually like it? We are not psychologically adapted to such an environment. Regardless of how “traditional” or “right-wing” one might think of themself as, each of us grew up in an atmosphere of material comfort, overstimulation and hedonism, and I haven’t witnessed a single person completely sever their addiction to it. We like comfort and convenience, digital entertainment, easy access to sex, urban anonymity, plentiful mood-altering substances, the ability to video chat with friends from other continents, vacations to remote locales, Lyft rides home when drunk, etc. Hedonism by itself is of course insufficient to make us feel satisfied, and when taken to excess, it can lead to self-destruction. Many people do find themselves uninspired and depressed by the softness of the modern world, but they generally respond not by abandoning it entirely, but by adopting surrogate challenges or mini-struggles to counter-balance it. They will take up rock climbing, crossfit, boxing, mountain biking, hiking, bushcrafting, etc, which allows them to experience a psychological state approximating pre-modern struggle for a brief period of time, before returning to their modern apartment – with packages just delivered from Amazon Prime waiting in a locker in the lobby (accessible by code delivered via text to their smartphone).
My intention is not to impart the message, “Change is inevitable, therefore it’s good, therefore embrace all of it in its entirety”. However, I don’t think we have any choice but to recognize that our identity is inescapably modern. Traditions don’t have much to offer us, hence why they long ceased to propagate themselves. Our way of life is new and bears little resemblance to those who preceded us. However, we must recognize that not every behavior that the modern world permits or encourages is to our advantage. It’s in our interest to engage with the modern world selectively, and we can only inform our decisions by observing the fallout of other peoples’ and our own bad decisions. While it would be more efficient to inherit the practices and customs of our predecessors, this is not an option in a world characterized by accelerated economic and technological change. Each generation must perpetually reinvent their culture, retaining only the practices of prior generations that prove themselves beneficial, while discarding the remainder and replacing them with something new. Our best option is to adopt an orientation of selective futurism, while purging the word “traditional” from our vocabulary. It doesn’t exist and will never exist in our lifetime.
Decay blogs at https://decay123321.wordpress.com/