car bumper-sticker-er theory

Spending the majority of my time in a University town, I am privileged to see an usual variety and large number of bumper-stickers. Perceiving a distinct absence in the literature of serious philosophical and moral analysis of bumper-stickers, I have the somewhat modest hope of beginning such an endeavor here.

People like bumper-stickers for a number of interesting and contradictory reasons. Perhaps most noble goal of the car-bumper-sticker-er is to provoke thought. A witty turn of phrase might rouse an otherwise idle mind. And who knows where that will lead!

Bumper stickers are also a way to publicly display your affiliation, akin to a team logo or mascot. Bumper-stickers foster a certain solidarity - a "yeah, that's so true, I'm with them there." In turn, bumper-stickers also identify potential enemies: Yankees fans, liberals, neocons, anti-choicers, hippies, whatever. This affiliation also has the psychological benefit of making you feel like you have more friends than you really do.

Finally, perhaps the real reason people use bumper-stickers is to publicly demonstrate their moral or intellectual superiority. This makes car bumper-sticker-ers something like a self-conscious peacock. Maybe it's just the location and environment I'm in, but a large number of people I meet are convinced that everyone else is stupid. What better way to let those stupid people know they're stupid than to write it on your new Saab!

And so with that I would like to explore some of the sentiments of my favorite bumper -stickers seen around town. The bumper-stickers can often be understood in two diametrically opposite ways - positively or critically. I will attempt to fairly represent the thought process behind each reaction here.

Recently, I have seen what is perhaps my favorite bumper-sticker:

Positive reaction: I respect that driver's commitment to pacifism and general attitude of opposition to the military-industrial complex. Critical reaction: Really? No matter what? Why do you feel the need to tell us this?

Another popular one around campus is

Positive reaction: It's true! All religions say the same thing and so we should all stop disagreeing because disagreeing necessarily leads to fighting and violence. Critical Reaction: What? Not all religions are the same, and it certainly is possible to disagree with someone without fighting!

And I cannot forget the NH classic, the pie-chart

Positive reaction: Yes, of course! The federal government should spend all that money on war educating people and feeding poor people! Critical Reaction: In the first place, a pie-chart is not an argument, and in the second place, I'm not even sure that's a correct pie!

And finally, perhaps the most telling sticker of them all,

Positive Reaction: All I really want to do is smoke weed. Critical Reaction: Thought so.

(disclaimer: I write this as someone who has, in my life, put 1 sticker in the rear view window of my car. It is a regret of mine.)


Dave said...

The pie chart is my favorite.

If you totaled up what every town, county, and state spent on education, these people would be surprised how much we actually spend on education and what poor results we get.

Besides that, it doesn't even include Medicare or Social Security spending (so-called mandatory spending).

Jay Anderson said...

What? No "Mean People Suck" or "Hate is NOT a Family Value"? Or maybe those aren't as prominent now as they were a decade ago when I saw them around all over the university town of Charlottesville.

I have 2 bumper stickers on the gas-guzzling minivan in which I carry around all my little carbon footprints:

"We Vote Pro-Life"


"Abortion is Mean"

Zachary said...

Haha! Oh, the "Hate is not a family value" sticker I see around quite a bit. That one really confuses me. In all seriousness, who thinks hate is a family value (pathological types excepted)?

Kudos on the bumper stickers. I was perhaps overly critical here - they're not all bad. I especially like the "abortion is mean" sticker, I imagine it really confuses some people.

Thanks for the comments and stopping by!

Darwin said...

I have thus far held out against bumper stickers -- on the theory that there are better places to advertise my opinions than my rear end. However, I could be tempted if I found one that said:

Don't immanentize the eschaton.

Zachary said...

Funny you mention that slogan. I was just attempting to find the book in which Eric Voegelin coined that phrase!

I am to understand it is "the New Science of Politics" published in 1952. Have you read it?

In the future I hope to spend a good time studying his work.

Darwin said...

Yes, it is The New Science of Politics, and I did read it back in college -- though I really need to read it again one of these days. It's a very good book, as I recall (though I believe Henry Karlson insists it is Gnostic -- which may actually be some argument in its favor), but I have the feeling I didn't get as much out of it as I could have, given that I read it at a time when I didn't yet have as much experience with the world and with other thoughts.

Which is, of course, one of the frustrating things about college: one reads a lot of very good things which one is not yet in a position to fully understand.

On the bright side, it provides and assurance one will always have more to learn in the years to come -- if only one can find the time.

Lisa Brandos said...

I know this is kind of late, but my husband has always said, "All you ever need to know about a person is on their bumper"

Meaning, you can learn all you need to know about a person's religious, moral, political, musical likes and agendas. People are more interesting without bumper stickers than with, because at least you can learn things about them. Plus, what if their beliefs change, they're stuck with the regret of publically parading their old beliefs.

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