6 Supposedly Ancient Traditions (That Totally Aren't)

Nothing shuts down a person's higher reasoning functions quite as fast as the word "tradition." If it was good enough for our ancestors, it must be good enough for us, damn it!

Unfortunately, some of the most "ancient traditions" still followed today come from people who knew this, and just made them up off the top of their head.

#6. The Pledge

The Tradition:

According to this ridiculously schmaltzy video, this video with a hilariously ironic choice of music and 90% of the people in states beginning with the letter A, the pledge is an inviolable American tradition. Given the massive hissy-fit that erupts any time someone tries to change a single word, you'd think the version you grew up reciting was written into the constitution after the Founding Fathers watched a giant bald eagle fuck every letter into Plymouth rock.

An image that would bring a tear to Captain America's eye.

How Old It Actually Is:

The idea of pledging allegiance to the flag was basically an early viral marketing gimmick. It was first published in 1892 in a wildly popular children's magazine named The Youth's Companion. The much-bitched-about "under God" was only added to the pledge in 1954.

Who Made It Up:

Daniel Ford, the man who ran The Youth's Companion, dreamed of putting an American flag in every classroom in the country.

The man loved him some America.

Within a year, 30,000 flags had been sold. Our calculators tell us that comes out to $300,000, which was a lot more impressive a sum in 1892. The man who actually wrote the pledge was a former minister named Francis Bellamy. He was a Socialist (aka, a dirty commie) whose stated mission was to create in America's youth a habit of automatic reverence and utter loyalty to the country. He even came up with an original salute for children to give while reciting the pledge...

Things got awkward around '41.

The decision to add "under God" was made at the height of America's brief flirtation with paranoid schizophrenia, otherwise known as McCarthyism. Congress felt the pledge, like most people at the time, just wasn't American enough. How were these children standing around the American flag, pledging "allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands" to know that they weren't in the Godless Soviet Union? Thus, Congress added God to the pledge, and every generation who passed through a public school after 1954 was transferred into a flawless vessel of patriotism.

#5. Bushido - The Ancient Code of the Samurai

The Tradition:

For centuries, the samurai and their spiritual descendants followed "the way of the warrior," living lives governed by its tenets of honor, strict devotion to one's master and, above all, self sacrifice. This ancient tradition helped make World War II a hell of a lot scarier, since, according to the Internet, "Kamikaze pilots used the samurai and their code for inspiration ... Just like the samurai, kamikaze pilots had no fear of death, and were honorable men that were loyal to their country."

How Old It Actually Is:

The idea that samurai are either loyal to their country or eager to die in battle is approximately as old as Walt Disney. Bushido as a coherent ideology only dates back to 1905.

Who Made It Up?

The whole thing started with an honest, if retarded mistake by a historian named Nitobe Inazo, who based his 1905 book Bushido: The Spirit of Japan on rules written for samurai. This is the equivalent of reading a high school handbook and determining that teenagers live by a strict code of attending class, and turning weed dealers in to the cops.

According to Karl Firday, professor of history at the University of Georgia and author of a bunch of really smart books on Japan, aside from laws that they were told to follow, the history of the samurai is notable for a complete lack of evidence that they were any more happy to die in battle and even a little bit loyal. It's entirely possible that a warrior sacrificing his life was seen as noble, but that's no different than the European code of chivalry which also made room for honorable suicide. In fact, the evidence paints a picture of samurai that looks more like a modern professional athlete than what we see in our martial arts films. They'd fight and kill for you as long as the money was right. When it wasn't, they'd switch sides, and slice the word "for" clean out of the previous sentence.

So if Japan was one big game of "fuck your buddy with a sword" and Europe was the land of the noble warrior falling on his, how did a bunch of Japanese pilots find themselves swan diving at air craft carriers while saying prayers to the medieval equivalent of Terrell Owens?

As it turns out, our modern concept of Bushido developed as a method of social control. The Emperor and the Imperial Army and Navy wanted something that would boost their men's fighting spirit. When Nitobe Inazo sucked at his job badly enough to write that "the way of the warrior is to die," they all just sort of nodded and said, "Yep, that's the way of the warrior alright!"


#4. Islamic Fundamentalism

The Tradition:

The boogeyman that replaced the specter of communism in the hearts of terrified Westerners, Islamic fundamentalism seems to come from another time. They rage against science, Western ideals and the basic rights of women. That's why you hear people on Fox News claiming that Muslim world is stuck in the Dark Ages.

"You can't use reason with these people. They only understand shadow puppets."

How Old It Actually Is:

Actually, the Middle East's clock stopped around the same time as the one at Marty McFly's high school in the 1950s. If the Arab world was really still stuck in the Middle Ages, everyone would be a lot better off.

Who Made It Up?

During the period the the Western world thinks of as the Dark Ages, when Europeans were busy murdering each other over matters of religion and superstition, Islam was cool as a cucumber. At the time, Islamic regions were actually more accepting of Judaism and Christianity than most of the Christian world was of Judaism and other types of Christianity. Long before the Italian Renaissance, the Islamic Empire realized the Greeks and Romans had been on to something with this book learning stuff, and used this realization to revolutionize astronomy, literature, physics, philosophy and architecture. Still bored, they went ahead and invented algebra and modern medicine too.

"George Washington invented numbers! We call them Arab numerals to mock them!"

The antiquated practices many Westerners associate with modern Islam are actually a relatively recent development. Reporting from Saudi Arabia for The New Yorker, Lawrence Wright interviewed an older Saudi man who reminisced about the good old days when men and women used to be able to celebrate weddings together. While it might seem weird to Westerners used to hearing stories of ankle length hemlines following the words "Back in my day... ," in the Middle East, when grandparents miss the good old days, they're often talking about a place that was far less up its own ass.

"We had books. And the orgies! Don't get me started on the orgies ...

It wasn't until the 1950s that fundamentalist Islam started gaining influence, and outdated, dying traditions like the veil saw a spike in popularity. That's when followers of a fringe 18th century scholar Mohammed Al Wahab began to take Islam back to basics, which in this case meant an imaginary past where women were treated like shit and all the pesky "progress" of the last 1400 years never happened. During his lifetime, Wahab was taken about as seriously as Pat Robertson is taken today in the West. But in the 1950s, Wahabi Muslim thinkers like Sayyid Qutb started to urge total separation between Islam and the West, arguing that the outside world had "nothing else to give humanity."

Oh really, Qutb?

Qutb and his fundamentalist contemporaries inspired a new generation of radical thinkers, who took this "fuck the West" mentality a few steps further, resulting in a Middle East that is far less progressive than the Dark Ages they're supposedly stuck in.

Some people shouldn't be encouraged to "shoot for the stars."

See, as tempting as it might be to divide history into the bad guys and the good guys, civilizations tend to evolve more like the Batman franchise, kicking ass part of the time, and reaching unspeakable, ass backwards lows that would embarrass their ancestors at others. Muslim people were doing algebra while we were burning women for having funny birthmarks on their face. They just happen to be going through their Batman and Robin phase.

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