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Saturday, January 21

Why Is Tradition Supreme?

Sometimes I can't stop myself. My need to speak of horses will break over me like a wave with such force that I can't stand it. So to all offended, please forgive me.

No activity pursued on horseback is more codified, stratified, and freighted with incendiary issues than foxhunting. It's rules on dress and behavior, from the ritual of the stirrup cup to jacket color to who may precede whom, make cutting off the crusts of a sam-ich look like something every peasant does as a matter of course.

In America it is yet another British import, like the Land Rover, that is employed as a semaphore for social (which in this country acturally means financial) standing. Not to mention the fact that it is deliriously fun to ride a fine horse at a good clip over fences in the open countryside. The prime danger the sport is faced with on this side of the pond is the tendency of ignorant and nervous pop stars to buy estates in traditional hunt country and then close off the land to riders. That and the unimportant possibility that a few all-but-voiceless kooks will decry such a display of arrogant elitism as an affront to today's society that rivals staging a minstrel show or making one's house-cleaner curtsy and back out of the room.

In Britain it is a different story, but a bit of the same. Only there is it conceivable that a bill to ban the hunting of mammals using dogs would be brought before Parliament (here the notion of cruelty to animals stands as much chance of being debated in Congress as whether to observe Lenin's birthday) and only there is it conceivable that such an act would bring one hundred thousand people to rally against the bill. That is because a threat to foxhunting is seen as a threat to "a way of life." This might be translated as "the privileges of class," so long as you don't forget to factor in the sizable economy that grows up around any such activity. And also don't forget the fact that rituals comfort us as tight bunting comforts the newborn. We are perhaps conditioned from the birth to crave the small walls that tell us exactly where we are. Besides, no one likes to tear down historical buildings, even if they are beyond repair.

Tradition is supremely important to human culture, and it reacts as a serpent when threatened. It cannot be called wrong if it is what has been done for a long, long time. So the foxhunters everywhere are hanging on tight, as would anyone who has what they have. It is no surprise that they can field arguments to buttress every aspect of their right to continue doing what they have long done, and that these arguments wear the particularly steely armor that is standard issue to the legions of the status quo.

I was invited once to participate in a hunt, and was therefore sent all the requisite information about the illustrious history of the hunt (even one that has existed for only a few years will have ammassed an illustrious history), the Who's Who of the organization and their illustrious qualifications, the rules (the rules must be followed!), and the options for participating as an outsider. One month later I recieved a sternly worded disinvitation from my would-be-host. He had read something I had written about the sad life of the urban carriage horse, and had thereby discovered that my heart was not in the right place. I was a bad and dangerous sort of person, and moreover did not understand some very fundamental things about nature, which he sought to educate me about. I had called myself a lover of horses, and so did he. Only one of us was an impostor.

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