Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stupidity + Time = "Tradition"

Tradition can be a weird thing. It causes us to do some fairly stupid things for no other reason than we've been doing them for years.

Sometimes, this is relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things, such as in the case of the current setup of the BCS. Here, you have a system where one predetermined postseason game decides the national championship, and 34 other bowls (it's 34 this year, at least) do not feed into this championship and cannot determine the championship. Several of these games used to help determine the championship, as the pre-BCS system allowed for any bowl to potentially be the deciding factor, but the current system has removed that. In any other sport, these games would be recognized as the structurally irrelevant games that they have been rendered (as college basketball's NIT tournament demonstrates), or simply not played at all. However, when confronted, many people- maybe you're one of them- will still step in to defend the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and the like, insisting that they still mean something.

What defense is typically used? Tradition. The fact that they USED to mean something is, apparently, proof that they still do, even when they have been stripped of all that made them mean something.

But again, that's relatively harmless. It's ultimately just a football game. Tradition is also used to defend more serious practices, such as bullfighting- which has recently been banned in Barcelona, Spain, much to the chagrin of some Spaniards. That, along with the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, really don't need too much explaining to those of us in non-bullfighting countries to know why Barcelona banned it: suffice to say that in The Onion's book Our Dumb World, Spain's national sport was listed as "Cornering a dazed bull and stabbing it to death in front of 50,000 people". It has become increasingly common, when seeing footage of the Running of the Bulls, to openly root for the bull.

So why are some Spaniards getting teary-eyed? Tradition. They've fought bulls for hundreds of years! Ernest Hemingway gushed over it! It's our national soul!

And then there's Kyrgyzstan.

Have you ever heard of bride kidnapping? It's how nearly half of all marriages in Kyrgyzstan are formed, and it's exactly what the name implies: a man seeks out- or lures- a prospective mate, and then just up and grabs them and drags them off, kicking and screaming, to be married. An estimated 15,000 women a year are married off this way.

For some couples, this is actually mutually agreed to beforehand, and the act- played out in front of the bride's parents- is just that, an act. But for many, it's not, and to the naked eye, both look the same. Often, the man doesn't even know the woman beforehand, and just grabs her off the street. Once kidnapped, the woman's parents, lacking leverage, are forced to consent to allow their daughter to be married to her kidnapper. The marriages more frequently end in divorce than in non-kidnapping marriages, spousal abuse is more common, and suicide rates among the women are higher. It's estimated that a quarter of the women are raped prior to marriage, which in Kyrgyzstan causes the woman to lose honor and standing within her family and become less able to marry by normal means, because as we again establish, Kyrgyzstan is a place where you can kidnap your desired wife in broad daylight and get away with it.

Technically, this practice is illegal in the country, and Kyrgyzstan's outgoing president, Roza Otunbayeva, has called on the country to step up enforcement, but in order to step up enforcement, the law must first be enforced, period. The men almost never face prosecution, and everybody involved knows it. And even if it is enforced, it only carries a three-year prison sentence compared to ten years for other types of abduction.

Why not? Tradition. Those defending it cite a folktale from a national epic poem, the Manas, in which a mutually-consenting couple staged a kidnapping in order to avoid paying a very expensive dowry. However, according to Russell Kleinbach of the Kyz Korgon Institute, this story actually doesn't appear anywhere in the Manas. He figures the practice started in the 19th century and gained popularity during the Soviet era.

Otunbayeva only made her call to end the practice as she left office. The new president, Almazbek Atambayev, took over on December 1st. There is no word on his stance, but it may not matter, as a mere one day after he took office, his parliamentary coalition fell apart. Hopefully, once someone settles into office, they'll run with the torch Otunbayeva has lit.

But tradition can be a hard thing to overcome.

For more on the practice, VICE has put together a three-part report; Part 1 is here.

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