The straw man July 2, 2011Posted by Ezra Resnick in Belief.
As I was walking through the emerald-green woodland one day, I came across a rather odd band of travelers. They all wore identical yellow overalls, and they marched along solemnly in a straight line, chanting melodiously as they went. The men at the head of the line chanted especially loudly, and they carried before them a shabby-looking straw man.
The procession came to a halt in front of me, and the men at the head of the line asked me if I’d like to join them.
“Where are you going?” said I.
“We’re following the Strongman!” they replied, nodding reverently towards the straw man they were holding aloft.
“What for?” I asked, rather skeptically.
They gave me a pitying look, and explained that (as everyone knows) the Strongman is great and powerful; he is the source of all good things; those who do not follow him will surely be lost; and he has promised immeasurable rewards to his loyal followers. “Why, just last week he gave courage to a coward and wisdom to a fool.”
I took another look at the ragged and limp straw man, and noticed that the people propping it up were busy stuffing straw up its sleeves and patching holes in its trousers. When I tried to move closer, I was sternly rebuffed: “Pay no attention to those men back there! Are you with us or not?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but your story doesn’t make much sense. It seems to me that your Strongman is just a straw man.”
This made the men at the head of the line very mad indeed, and they began yelling at me: “Who are you to criticize the great and powerful Strongman? What arrogance, presuming to know everything! You can go on wasting your time, wandering around with no purpose — we have important orders to follow. Get out of our way! Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Strongman!” Muttering something about a flying monkey, they raised their straw man high and marched on.
As I was about to be on my way, one of the men from farther down the line called me over. In a low whisper, he beseeched me not to judge all followers of the Strongman by those overzealous men at the front. He was certain that our whole disagreement was just a misunderstanding.
I told him that his group seemed to believe some rather strange things about this so-called Strongman, which looked like just a ragged straw man to me.
After checking that the head of the line was out of earshot, the whispering man laughed, and said that I mustn’t take what I’d heard about the Strongman literally. While he acknowledged that some of the less sophisticated members of the group might be a bit simpleminded about the subject, he claimed that many had a far more nuanced view: they understood that the Strongman was really just a metaphor. He also informed me that he and his fellow sophisticates completely opposed the war against the followers of the flying monkey.
Puzzled, I asked the whispering man why, if he thought the Strongman was just a metaphor, was he nevertheless marching behind the straw man together with the simpleminded folk? Why did he keep using the misleading term “Strongman” at all? And why was he wearing yellow overalls?
The man seemed insulted by my questions: he told me there was no need to be so rude and hostile. He would have me know that he chooses to wear yellow because it symbolizes warmth and light, and looks pretty; and at least he had a clear direction to follow, instead of wandering around aimlessly like I was. He turned away from me and fell back into line, picking up the chant of the great and powerful Strongman.
The straw-colored band marched off into the dark depths of the forest, never looking back; and I headed home.