Is there any necessary value in preserving a traditional cultural practice?

I’ll explain what I mean with an example: suppose ethnic group A does a fertility ritual, involving song and dance, with every full moon. Due to contact with other cultures, this traditional practice is dying out – most young people from group A do not perform this ritual any more.

Assuming that there is no actual supernatural benefit from the ritual (which I assume for any ritual), is there any value in trying to preserve its practice such that future generations will continue to do it?

I think the answer is no. While there is artistic and cultural value in recording such performances, I don’t think there is any intrinsic value to preserving the active practice of such a ritual. So a young person from this culture has no moral obligation, in my opinion, to continue practicing the ritual, though he/she may choose to if they wish, of course. And there is no loss to the world community if people don’t do it any more, in my opinion. There is a loss in our shared cultural and artistic heritage if it is totally forgotten, such that no record exists, but there is no loss IMO if such a record exists but people don’t perform the ritual any more.

What do you think? If you agree with me on the type of ritual practice I describe, do you think there are any rituals/traditions that are different and in which preserving their active practice has a value?

Depends on how you define “practice”. A dance? No - I agree with what you said, essentially. A language? Sure.

While I would hesitate to commit to a broad statement that implied any and all cultural rituals have a necessary value - I do feel that ritual has necessary value in and of itself. Ritual, like language, serves as a cultural adhesive, uniting cohorts with each other, and with their ancestors.

There must be a way to preserve the old while allowing the new.

Is there any identifiable *harm *from the ritual? Or from restricting participation to only a particular subset of the people for some arbitrary reason irrelevant to the ritual, a subset who by participating gain greater social prestige and acceptance than those prohibited from it?

If so, then no, of course.

That’s an underlying theme in Reconstructionist Judaism (and off shoot of Conservative Judaism)- “The past has a vote, not a veto”.

No, a cultural practice only has value if it serves the needs of the living. If it has no utility to the young people, they shouldn’t keep doing it out of some obligation to their ancestors.

Why? I think a language disappearing from history is a bad thing only if it has not been recorded so that it can be studied. In my opinion more people speaking the same language is a good thing for ‘peace and understanding’.

So do you feel that, all other things being equal, a young person from any particular culture has a moral obligation to continue the traditional practices of his/her people?

What if that arbitrary ritual was the only thing that really defined that culture from others around? Many cultures get assimilated into nothingness this way.

What if later, the people of this culture have nothing positive to define them? That they are such an outgroup they are seen as inferior, backward, primitive, etc? What role models will young people look to in their culture when most of their parents generation are abandoning their way of life?

It’s easy to forget a lot of minorities get raised to associate their culture as inferior. And as much as they desperately try to assimilate, often merely imitating the majority isn’t enough for them to be accepted. So what do they do? Rituals, even if they don’t literally ensure the sun comes up every day or your wife has a healthy baby can still serve to preserve a culture’s identity and give the members of that culture a sense of agency.

Mostly so that literature and historical documents in that language can still be read in the original. I don’t think preserving the speaking of a language has inherent value.

I’m not the kind of guy to whom rituals really appeal, and I suspect the same could be said of many of the other Dopers who are responding; so maybe we’re not the best people to recognize the value in such traditional cultural practices.

I think that, as long as there is someone who would gain something from either witnessing or participating in a ritual, even if the something they would gain is just “it would be really cool,” you can’t say that preserving the ritual has no value. But the value may well be minuscule compared with the trouble involved in keeping the practice alive.

I wouldn’t choose the words “moral obligation”. However, I do believe that it is useful to continue ritual practices - the risk of young people abandoning practices is that they haven’t developed the sense of history and connection to the past, that’s part of what the rituals provide. As someone grows older, they become more attuned to these aspects.

In some cases, carrying out rituals creates pleasant emotions, and that is not to be dismissed. When I follow certain Jewish practices, I do them mainly because they bring back fond memories of my grandfather.

As long as those practices are recorded in some way for posterity, I do not see such assimilation (when it’s voluntary, which in many historical circumstances it has not been) as a bad thing.

Again, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing (though it is definitely bad in some cases).

This is bad, but I don’t think this is anyone’s fault other than those who hold such bigoted views. I don’t see how preserving traditional practices counteracts such bigotry.

Hopefully, they will look to good, decent, responsible, and accomplished role models of any culture.

This is a bad thing, but not necessarily a consequence of a traditional practices being abandoned, IMO.

I agree that rituals can serve that purpose, but they don’t have to and they aren’t the only thing that can do that. So it makes sense that many individuals will stick with these rituals to maintain a sense of community, but this only becomes necessary when the larger culture around them includes significant bigoted elements.

That makes sense, and I don’t want say that no rituals ever have any value. It’s certainly reasonable that many rituals have value to individuals. My main point is that if a cultural practice has been recorded by anthropologists, nothing is lost (and nothing bad has happened) if it has been abandoned, as long as this was through truly voluntary choices (like ‘no, Grandpa, I don’t want to do that dumb dance any more – I want to dance the Tango!’) made by the ‘abandoners’.

Rituals don’t spring into existence for absolutely no reason, so their preservation can be very important down the line when we need to understand conditions during their beginning. Besides diversity for the sake of diversity, rituals can be important repositories of history and anthropology. Therefore there is inherent value in them.

Should people be forced to continue them when they don’t want to? Of course not. But as the rituals die off they are mostly to be mourned. Even abhorrent ones like human sacrifice and female circumcision need to be recorded and studied, even as they are exterminated.

Rituals seem to be very basic to human nature, but the exact details of the ritual aren’t really so important. Human cultures change all the time, with old rituals either being preserved, changing, or being eliminated. I see intrinsic value in ritual, inasmuch as it’s part of our nature, but not necessarily any value in any particular ritual (as opposed to another one). Harmful rituals, like FGC/M are best being relegated to the ash heap of history.

But that’s not really what I’m asking. Do you think anyone has any moral obligation to continue a traditional practice for their culture because of its value as a cultural traditional practice?

I would say absolutely not. We all should have the ability to choose which culture or cultural practices suit us best.