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Bumper Sticker Stupidity
by Scott Shore
2 June 2003 

Let us start with the most asinine bumper sticker, "Visualize World Peace." Would someone please tell me what in the name of Heaven that is supposed to mean?

Bumper stickers have replaced thinking and slogans have replaced coherent policy. For some, politics has become merely a form of self-expression or, more accurately, moral exhibitionism. A well-adjusted good person doesn’t go around with signs saying, "I’m a good person." When people have stickers stating their good intentions, it makes me wonder if they have a clue about policy. Being in favor of full employment is not a daring position but coming forward with concrete ideas about job creation opens one to meaningful criticism. I have yet to hear a candidate speak in favor of war, poverty, declining educational test scores, crime or expensive health care. This does not mean that many government policies (with the best of intentions) have not led to all of the above negative consequences.

Besides the normal perils of navigating traffic, the modern driver must also remain centered and focussed while being bombarded by a plethora of moronic bumper stickers. Bumper stickers supporting one’s favorite candidate or political party before an election do not particularly irk me. That’s normal electioneering. What is annoying however are the numerous empty slogans which car owners wish to impart to the public. The scary thing is that this is indeed what our politics has become: one set of slogans against another.

Let us start with the most asinine bumper sticker that reads "Visualize World Peace." Would someone please tell me what in the name of Heaven that is supposed to mean? Is this pap supposed to mean that if we all just thought or imagined world peace hard enough, we could wish away evil regimes and military activities. Are we all to join Shirley MacLaine in a "channeling" session? Even if such hocus-pocus magic thinking were correct, why show the drivers of Providence, Rhode Island this message? Is the average family guy in Rhode Island a threat to world peace? Shouldn’t people be sending these stickers to Iran or North Korea? Maybe Kim Jung Il or Yasser Arafat could just visualize peace and our problems would go away. In any case, what’s the reverse of this sentiment?  "Just Visualize Global War" or "Let’s Just Drop the Big One" or "Make Iraq a Parking Lot?" Most sane people don’t relish war and resent having self-righteous, self-appointed "preachers" telling us how to think properly.

No discussion of stupid bumper stickers would be complete without that classic "Perform Random Acts of Kindness." This would appear to be merely an empty message like "Be a Nice Person" or the actual bumper sticker that reads "Mean People Suck". The apparently harmless "Perform Random Acts of Kindness" is actually a sign of a deeper pathology. In essence, it says that performing kind deeds is a "random act" and that the object of this kindness is beside the point. Our contemporary society seems to support this concept that receiving benefits or "value" from another is not related to the merit of the recipient. Randomness and inappropriateness of recipients seems like the perfect description of our welfare society. True kindness is not random but a thoughtful act and is generally counterbalanced by the concept of justice. To the extent that giving is not intentional and unrelated to beneficiary, there is no true virtue in it.

Then there’s the sticker that reads "No War in Iraq!" Isn’t it a little late for that one?? Take it off your car, you noodleheads. The war is a done deal. Live with it. This is similar to people who keep their "Gore/Lieberman" stickers on their car. What statement could this possibly make? Does anyone care that complete strangers wished that Bush had lost? What are they protesting at this point? Bush’s foreign policy? Bush’s proposed tax cuts? Or simply the existence of George W. Bush? Do these folks suppose that such a protest sticker puts them in the ranks of the intelligentsia or will suggest that they are "caring, compassionate" people?

One often sees "Hate is Not a Family Value." Gee, and all this time I thought it was. What this really means is that NO value judgments should be taught at home lest one’s children learn "good" from "bad" and become a bigot. There’s also the mandatory "Gay Pride" or "I Am A Lesbian" stickers. Does anyone REALLY want to know this much about some anonymous fellow driver? Do you care how other drivers have sex? What’s next? Perhaps people will proclaim the particular sexual acts they enjoy and display that fascinating bit of news on the public highways. Were a person to place a bumper sticker that said "Straight Pride" or "I Am A Heterosexual" they would be branded as crazy by normal people and as a fascist by the Left.

I have a larger question. Since when did "tolerance" become such a virtue? Tolerance is certainly a necessity in a pluralistic society and a degree of open-mindedness toward other cultures and people is a good thing. On the other hand, when tolerance means that we are all required to accept any lifestyle and that all value systems are equal, that is not tolerance but either indifference or nihilism. This concept of Tolerance as an absolute "good" seems to be leading us into the kind of "value-free" society that the Left is promoting. It is the overuse of Tolerance that paralyzes our ability to fight real evil both at home and abroad.

I am fascinated by some people who plaster their car with dozens of bumper stickers so that we can all know their Weltanschauung. Usually the array of stickers is drearily predictable. People who are insightful enough to know that war and violence is a bad thing will also let us know they don’t much approve of killing whales, (although this doesn’t preclude them from being human abortion advocates) polluting the rivers, eating meat, pesticides on crops, endangering the Brazilian rain forests or endangered species…etc. Seldom will the reader be surprised by seeing an NRA membership displayed. To be fair, the same can be said of people who display huge Confederate flags on their pickups. They are just as likely to have an interesting cluster of associated causes to advertise.

The troubling thing about bumper stickers is that generally they pretty much sum up the level of thinking of the drivers. This should send chills down the spines of those concerned about the future of democracy. Public discourse has been reduced to slogans like KFC’s "Finger lickin’ good" or Mountain Dew’s "Do the Dew." People like their food quick and the same goes for political messages. If people weren’t convinced by 15 and 30 second ads, politicians would not buy them. Political advertising not only includes an easy to remember slogan but provides a "visual slogan" such as the candidate sitting with kids in class reading a book. That signifies the candidate cares about children, education, is a nice guy or lady, has a big heart and will certainly do nice things in office. Just like bumper stickers, should we care about a candidate's nice intentions? So what if Vermont Governor Howard Dean, for example, loves peace? Does that in any way mean that his policies would make for a more peaceful world? A President could "visualize peace" until he’s blue in the face but if he’s not prepared for war he only invites aggression. Conversely a misanthropic curmudgeon might usher in an era of peace simply because "would-be enemies" don’t want to mess with that Administration.

All of this "bumper sticker" discussion would be unimportant if it were not a signal of the low level to which our political debate has fallen. Political discussion seldom gets beyond these feeling-fragments and gets into a thoughtful discussion of social causality, purpose and value definition. It is precisely this kind of discourse by an educated public that is necessary for the long-term survival of a free society.

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