Tag Archives: logic

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.

Controversial Tuesday: Pathologizing Conflict

9 Oct

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked:  who can know it?”

I have become fascinated with logic, as used in formal debates.  Blame the election year and the presidential debates!  Actually, I am always a bit this way, so it is not Romney’s and Obama’s fault (smile!).

I am especially interested in learning to see, from a mile away, when a logical fallacy is inserted into a debate.  Yesterday, I spoke of the strawman argument.  I will come back to that one again, I am sure.

Today I want to address the “ad hominem attack.”  This is the most common feature of our debates today, especially when they are presidential debates.  This is when we attack the man (or woman) instead of the argument.  It is, in effect, saying, “You are too dumb or uneducated or uncouth or unimportant for me to even pay attention to you.  I don’t care what you have to say because it all must be incorrect, just based on who you are.”

I want to hit one particular facet of ad hominem attacks, though, and that is our tendency nowadays to do what I call “pathologizing conflict.”  That is when we actually form our ad hominem attack into an accusation that the other person is somehow mentally unstable for saying what he or she is saying.  I hear this sort of ad hominem attack a lot nowadays.  I even heard it used against me yesterday.

Since we have, as a society, largely moved from a concept of sin to a concept of mental illness to explain every aberration of the human heart, we no longer accuse people of being wicked in their arguments.  We just accuse them of being mentally ill.  Nice!

Problem is, as the above verse says, we all have deceitful hearts.  Some of us are just more aware of that fact than others.

So, you can go either one way or the other.  Either you can assume that you are both equal opponents in a debate because you are equally handicapped by living in a sinful, fallen world or you can assume that you are both equal opponents in a debate because you are both able to choose Christ as the remedy for living in a sinful, fallen world.

All other things being equal, debates should not concern themselves with character after that has been settled.  Just look at the issues.  See which side you agree with, based on the issues alone.

My example from yesterday was at the intersection of the animal rights movement with the right of humans to be treated with dignity and respect.

I spoke up in my “naval officer voice” (it was on-line, but you know what I mean).  I don’t often use that voice (forceful).  I am so much more a person who tries to gently build consensus.  But some things are just wrong.

A friend had been questioned for taking her children to the circus.  Knowing that this particular friend, a military wife, had just moved cross-country with three children and is one of the hardest working mamas I know, raising and teaching her little ones, I knew that the trip to the circus was a much-needed respite for her and the kids.

She didn’t ask to be second-guessed about the circus.  She let people know she was going in a Facebook post.  She immediately got pushback from two people who turned out to be her aunt and cousin (mother and daughter).

I pointed out the inconsistency of honoring animals by dishonoring humans.  I didn’t go into the theology of the issue there, but God clearly gave the human race a mandate in Genesis to steward His creation, including the animals.  This means that He holds us responsible to do that correctly.

I understand that some circuses have mistreated some animals historically.  I also understand that some people disagree with animals being in captivity for any reason.  However, the fact remains that God created man as the crown of His creation and there is never a reason to treat man with disrespect (publicly questioning the choice of going to the circus) in order to respect the animals.  Man comes first.  Respect animals all you want, but never at the cost of human dignity.

That position was lost on the cousin, who privately (at least that part was good) suggested that my passionate stance on all of this meant that I “had issues.”

I just kept insisting that she didn’t need to disrespect her cousin by calling her out publicly.  When she asked me why I then answered her publicly, I told her that she had already made it a public issue that needed to be answered publicly.  She didn’t get that part either.

Ah, well, it is probably good to be rolled into an ad hominem attack every now and again.  Keeps us from getting cocky, doesn’t it?

Because our hearts are deceitful, too.

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