Rising Above

“Not wrong, just different” is a phrase that one is likely to encounter when studying foreign cultures. Table manners fall under this category. Habits such as eating loudly, slurping noodles, or eating with ones hands may be different from place to place, but they are not “wrong” in any absolute sense.

Even in the cases where an absolute wrong is committed, it tends to be a wrong that is committed universally and differs only superficially from place to place. All around the world, the man’s sins are the same, they simply have a certain local flavor. In Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon, a character notes that the difference between scalping an enemy and beheading him is “a mere matter of fashion!”

In the same way, the brutality and viciousness of war differs but little whether it is carried on with missiles or with spears. The biggest differences are the sheer scale of the suffering that these weapons are able to inflict and the ability of the missile to offer a sort of anonymity and distance to its user. An earnest examination of exactly what war entails could hardly fail to render it utterly unpalatable. “Could the great captains of the world float above the scenes of their exploits, they would at last, perhaps, conceive a disgust for blood and conquest.”

Beer of the Week: Hackenberg Premium Export Pils – Hackenberg, brewed by Martens in Bocholt, pairs very nicely with this reading. For one thing, a Belgian beer seems to be exactly the thing when considering the exploration of Central Africa. And Martens Brewery is known for its pioneering technologies, not unlike Dr. Ferguson’s magnificent balloon Victoria. The beer is light gold in color and has a slightly malty aroma. The flavor is surprisingly creamy with just a hint of the typical pilsner hops. All in all, Hackenberg is a fine beer.

Reading for the Week: Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne, Chapter 20, Excerpt – Verne’s first novel describes the trans-African journey of three intrepid explorers in a hydrogen balloon. In this short excerpt our heroes get a birds-eye view of tribal warfare and compare the barbarism of Central Africa with the barbarism of Europe.

Question of the Week: Is there any sin unique to a specific culture, or are all of the world’s vices variations on universal themes?

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