Geographical Custom

I am finding it a little difficult to give an exhaustive description of each of the three kinds of slavery to custom (that we mentioned here). For example it is difficult to make a distinction between the customary ideas we have because of the specific time that we live in from those ideas that we have by virtue of the fact that we live in this or that specific place.

being able to identify the ideas that are associated with a specific place may depend on a person getting out of his own place for a time and traveling to other places. We are generally interested in hearing travel stories and particularly stories that illustrate how people act or do things differently in other places. We find these stories curious.

When we do things (or think things) a certain way for a long time those things become customary. And when a thing becomes customary it seems to become natural to us- or perhaps we should say it becomes “second nature.” And when a thing becomes second nature to us, then it seems to be the right way to do a thing. To act or think against such things seems unnatural and wrong. And when we think or do things for no other reason than that it is our custom to think or do these things- we are in that respect slaves to custom.

But the object of this discussion is to identify the ways in which we might be slaves to that custom which specifically arises from the place that we customarily inhabit. Does our place have a widespread influence on our actions and thoughts?

Well, just off the top of my head I can think of some very superficial differences between what people do depending on where they happen to live:

  • I hear that some people actually sit on the floor when they eat dinner.
  • In America dinner is ordinarily the largest meal whereas in Europe they tell me that lunch is the most significant meal.
  • In England they apparently set great stock in a thing that they call “tea time” at which they eat things like small pastries and cucumber sandwiches.
  • In Italy everyone takes a siesta. The whole country shuts down for several hours right when we Americans really start working.
  • In Europe the salad is generally served after the main course whereas we generally serve the salad first.
  • Apparently Europeans have longer vacations than Americans.

I suppose the broad minded among us will not make a judgement about whether eating salad at the end of dinner is better than at the beginning. Nonetheless what do the ‘broad minded’ actually do themselves – and do they not show us what they really think is best through their actions? I think so. Let’s not listen to their self professed non judgementalism. We know what they really think.

It is clear to me that eating while sitting at a chair is in fact the best and most proper way for a human being to eat dinner. But salad should definitely come after the main course at dinner!

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About marklangley

Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see theLyceum.org) Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their twelve children.
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4 Responses to Geographical Custom

  1. Lstojck says:

    It sounds as though you are saying that we should be skeptical about everything, as every good thinker knows. But aren’t the sorts of customs you speak about just individual ethnic groups doing things based on their own tastes? The only reason people in Europe serve the salad after the main course is that they (or more specifically their ancestors who developed the custom) liked it better that way, and there is nothing objective involved. I personally prefer my salad before my main course. It sounds like you are trying to make relative things objective. It is a waste of time to try to “free ourselves” from slavery to a taste, while we should focus on “freeing ourselves” from slavery in the realm of ideas that matter, like the slavery that religious people have of inventing something supernatural without having any rational proof, or the slavery of Christians to the idea that Jesus is God, and focusing instead on only accepting things we can learn from experience as being objectively true.

    • Mark Langley says:

      Yes, I think it is probably not a good idea to argue about tastes (“de gustibus….”). I brought those up mainly to point out some obvious ways in which mere geography appears to play a role in our thoughts and actions.

      I do wonder, however, about your principle of good thinking – that “we should be skeptical about everything.” If we are to be consistent, shouldn’t we also be skeptical about this principle?

      Perhaps we should not be skeptical about everything. Maybe the intellectual life and the attainment of truth begins with a fundamental act of faith. St Augustine was not only speaking of matters of religion when he said “Credo ut intellegam.”

  2. Lstojck says:

    I trust my senses and my personal experiences, and after that I only accept things based on empirical evidence and rational proof.

  3. Mark Langley says:

    I trust my senses too, although I would have to say that I trust my wife’s senses about many things even more (she has better eyesight and smell -and probably taste touch and hearing as well!)

    But what do you mean by empirical evidence? Are you making an explicit reference to Sir Francis Bacon’s rejection of the wisdom that can be obtained through common experience? (I think Bacon makes a big mistake in disregarding the wisdom that can be gained from a careful examination of “common experience.”)

    By “rational proof” do you mean the sort of proof that is found in Euclid’s Elements?
    or the sort of “rational proof” that Aristotle discusses in his logical works? If so we are in agreement.

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