Strawman Monday: Identifying an Entire Culture by its Best or Worst Aspects

15 Oct

Mark 9:50, “Salt [is] good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.”

 

There is a reason Jesus taught about salt being the seasoning for a culture and not about fresh chives or cilantro or a rosemary herbal mix.

 

For most of the centuries that this planet has been in existence, man has used salt to enhance flavors.  It was the cheapest item available in most places, and I mean to emphasize the word available.  It was not without cost.  In fact, the word “salary” arose from times when soldiers received their pay in salt.  But it was cheaper than the herbs and spices we now use.

 

You will recall that the exploration of the Western world originated as a contest between Spain, Portugal, and Italy (mostly) to find the cheapest route to Asia in order to purchase herbs and spices for Europe.  Asia had abundant herbs and spices available, but their preciousness put them out of reach of even the ordinary person in Asia.

 

The reason all of this was in my mind last night was because I ate a miniature Beef Wellington with Yorkshire pudding at a Downton Abbey party thrown by our local PBS affiliate for those people who contributed to them this year.

 

The Beef Wellington struck me as way too salty.  It used to be my favorite dish, but my tastes have shifted to herbs and spices these last few years, along with everyone else’s.  I suddenly realized why British cookery has been referred to as “stodgy” for centuries.  The dish was totally lacking in creative use of herbs and spices.  It featured heavy salt instead.   And it had been done by one of our great catering firms here, obviously with an old, cherished recipe.

 

In fact, I remarked that, had I made the Beef Wellington and Yorkshire pudding, I would have flavored it with herbs and spices and turned it into a totally different dish.  It would no longer be Beef Wellington.

 

Remember, Britain was not part of the great exploration of the Western world initially.  After the Spanish Armada was destroyed, yes.  And remember, too, that Britain is the country from which we took most of our customs.  And still do.  Despite our centuries of serving as the world’s melting pot, we still have a rather British default setting in the U.S.

 

What does that mean?  It means that we have many traditional British dishes, not just a few.  Probably most of our unembellished everyday recipes are British in origin.  We have the good, the bad, and the ugly from Britain.

 

By way of comparison, our dishes from other cultures are usually carefully selected to be the best that culture has to offer.  Ethnic restaurants featuring Ethiopian or Peruvian cooking do not, by definition, offer the food that the majority of the people in that country eat on an everyday basis.

 

See where I am going with this?  We have always judged British cookery as stodgy because we are most exposed to it, all of it.  It is easy to have familiarity breed contempt, especially for the motherland that we left behind.

 

And that leads to today’s strawman statement:  When we are comparing two cultures, we can do it three different ways:  1) compare all features of both cultures  2) compare the best of both cultures 3) compare the worst of both cultures.  But it will not do to take all aspects of one culture and pit them against only the best aspects of another.  It is not good logical reasoning to take a culture we know well and focus on its stodgy aspects in comparison to the best aspects of a culture we don’t know as well.

 

That is the essence of creating a strawman:  taking certain features of a person, culture, etc. and having them stand on their own to represent the entire being.   If we do that, we have to specify that we are doing it, and make it apply equally to every person or culture we are examining.

 

We constantly reduce people and cultures to only some of their traits.  We do it subconsciously.  That is why it is important to study logical reasoning.

 

If not, we will misrepresent more than just British cookery.  We will eventually misrepresent the gospel of Christ, by not understanding the cultures to which we take it.

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