When tradition is the counter-culture

Every few weeks it occurs to me that I haven’t checked Tumbler lately. I open the app, check out my stream, and invariably find something within seconds that’s great. Recently that took the form of this Yohji Yamamoto interview, where the conversation centers on fashion. But Yamamoto addresses tradition and conservatism in a fascinating and broadly applicable way:

I simply cannot stand people’s tendency to become conservative. There’s always a move back to established conventions, otherwise upcoming waves would be soon categorized as common sense. Even the term avant-garde – avant-garde is now just a tiny fashion category. It became so cheap and pretentious. I hate it. But still, I strongly believe in the avant-garde spirit: to voice opposition to traditional values. It is not just a youthful sentiment; I live my life by it. Rebellion. You will only be able to oppose something and find something of your own after traveling the long road of tradition.

This follows on from yesterday’s post on Albert Wenger’s definition of knowledge as “information that is reproduced by humans over time.” Together Wenger and Yamamoto have me wondering:

What happens in eras when tradition and conservatism become the counter-culture? As Yamamoto points out, the genuine rebel is someone who has traveled “the long road of tradition.” At some point, a majority will have grown up in a time of counter-cultural rebellion. They’ll lack the experience, the “long road” of tradition. For them, the counter-culture is the tradition.

I think those are times when conservatism or traditionalism become particularly valuable. I’m speaking in terms of cultural value, rather than the political meaning of those words.

At some point, rebellion and the counter-culture risks obliterating knowledge. It risks suffocating a culture’s ability to “reproduce the information” about its past that can lead to an informed future.

And this is why cultural conservation is valuable, because times of rebellion inevitably lead to times of peace. And those times call for craftsmen and builders more than iconoclasts.

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