Cringe Factor

We have a game called Cards Against Humanity. Some of you may be familiar with the game Apples to Apples and you play both games a similar way. The winner of a round for both games is the person whose answer card best matches the question card in the opinion of the judge for that round. The difference between the two games has to do with the nature of the question and answer cards. In Apples to Apples, the communal question cards (green apple cards) are mostly adjectives and the answer cards (red apple cards) are generally nouns (underlined in the following examples). You may end up with winning combinations such as Handsome Michael Jordan or Handsome Meatloaf depending on the particular sense of humor – or hunger – of the judge for that round.

In Cards Against Humanity, on the other hand, the question cards are statements with blanks to be filled in with the answer cards. This is an adult game and some winning combinations are, “And the academy award for Not giving a shit about the third world goes to White people,” or “I drink to forget drinking alone,” or “Rumor has it that Vladimir Putin’s favorite delicacy is Poor people stuffed with A lifetime of sadness.” As you can see, you get some interesting combinations and it is reasonable to expect that some people with whom you are playing the game may feel uncomfortable with some of the answers. There is a cringe factor to the game which makes it fun for some and disturbing to others. I believe most people who are willing to play the game fall into the category of considering it fun.

I thought of this game in relation to the current rebellion against political correctness in the U.S. presidential campaign. This is more than just a passing occasional statement by the supporters of one or more candidates. On December 21, Mr. Trump tweeted “THANK YOU Grand Rapids, Michigan! Time to end political correctness & secure our homeland!” Political correctness has been targeted as an enemy to be defeated by several republican presidential candidates and their supporters. They want to be able to say and do things in public that cause some people to cringe, and they feel that it’s not their problem if those people feel uncomfortable – it’s the insidious tendrils of political correctness ruining our society. It’s as if they want to play Cards Against Humanity with the whole country everyday instead of with a small group friends and acquaintances at a party.

It seems that we are becoming a country of extremes. While we have this rebellion against political correctness, there are also protests against things which, in my opinion, really don’t warrant protests. The most extreme case I have found is a protest against a yoga class at the University of Ottawa. (Yes, I know that Ottawa is in Canada so I’m not talking about the same country, but it’s such a good example, I decided to use it anyway.) Some students recently protested a yoga class because it is a case of cultural appropriation. To me, yoga is a beneficial practice that came to the attention of Western countries through practitioners and India. I don’t believe yoga’s adoption by people in the West has caused harm to the Indian culture from which yoga originated. On the contrary, a sharing of beliefs and experiences with people who are not “like you” can help build connections and foster understanding that may make future political conflicts less likely.

There are plenty of examples where the people from the original culture suffer when wealthier countries enthusiastically adopt one of their practices, but yoga isn’t one of them. Food, on the other hand, is. Quinoa is the perfect example. It has been a staple of the native diet for the people of Andean Mountain communities for centuries. Years ago, NASA scientists identified it as the ideal food source for long-term human space missions because of its essential blend of amino acids, but it remained largely unknown outside of health food stores until about the middle of the last decade. I remember first running across quinoa as a free sample at Costco and no one even knew how to pronounce it correctly. That certainly has changed. Quinoa is everywhere, it seems, and that has resulted in a problem in the poor rural communities from where the plant originates. Between 2006 and 2011, the wholesale price of quinoa tripled and its consumption in those impoverished Bolivian communities dropped 34%. Many of the people who have relied on this perfect plant food for centuries could no longer afford to purchase it and malnutrition had become a real threat.

That situation may be worth protesting, but then again, market and social forces offer hope for a solution. The increased worldwide demand will encourage more production and expand farming in other areas of the world with similar climates. Production will probably increase and prices will come down. That’s the market solution. The social forces will come from people concerned about the plight of those who are negatively impacted by these changes. That only works, of course, if they can get significant media coverage. There was a New York Times article from March 2011 which first brought the changes occurring in Bolivia to the world’s attention. Since then, there has been periodic attention paid to the plight of the people living in the Andes, degradation of the soil due to overproduction, and the benefits of quinoa for farmers in Bolivia and foodies in New York.

The jury is still out, so to speak. Perhaps we Westerners are negatively impacting the poor people of Bolivia and Peru. I cringe a bit about the harm that I may be causing those less privileged in the world, but for Christmas dinner I made a delicious shredded Brussels sprouts and quinoa salad as a side dish. Does my feeling bad about about it make everything okay? Would it help if I provide the link for the salad recipe?

About tonyj126

I'm a 50+ married man who always seems to have a large backlog of work to do, but also a lot of flexibility in my schedule. Much of the work I do is volunteer or taking care of extended family members. I suffer from, as my priest calls it, "the sin of self-sufficiency," which means I can figure out how to do most things myself, and consequently, reduce the need for community to solve problems. As a logical extention (at least to me), I find myself called to comtemplate the country's and the world's woes and offer my observations. I hope someone out there will find them useful.
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