Bumper Sticker Stupidity by
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?
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.