Essay: ‘Question Authority’ – and Bumper Sticker Morality

<p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt"><img src="http://media.eyeblast.org/newsbusters/static/2009/07/Coexiststicker.jpg" vspace="3" width="240" align="right" border="0" height="180" hspace="3" />The other day I was driving behind a car with a “Friend of Tibet” Virginia license plate. That’s great and I’d like to be a “Friend” myself, but with the job and the family and cutting the lawn … Can I just become a “Facebook Friend of Tibet?” If so, am I entitled to the same preening as Tibet’s actual Friends?</p> <p>It got me wondering whether we’d see “Free Iran” paraphernalia anytime soon, and whether we’d see it on the same Volvos and Priuses as those “Free Tibet” bumper stickers. Somehow I doubt it, since Obama could barely fit any “concern” for Iran among the puffs of “hope” and billows of “change.” If he doesn’t care, the media doesn’t care, and the bumper sticker-industrial complex can concentrate on that cuddly Dalai Lama. </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt">Not that freeing Tibet isn’t desirable. It should be free. In fact, we should also help free China (and Cuba and North Korea, while we’re at it), and make sure that Taiwan remains free. You don’t see many bumper stickers about those countries, though. And small wonder – if they really expected anyone to care about their plight, they would have had the foresight to stock up on skinny bald guys in saffron robes.<!--break--></p> <p>But that’s the great thing about bumper sticker morality – it’s uncomplicated. You can register your concern for countries with mind-expanding Eastern philosophies, and ignore more icky places and issues. The same is true with the really big stuff. When the driver in front of you commands you to visualize world peace while you’re sitting in traffic, he’d rather you didn’t contemplate the holocausts, world wars and bloody subjugation necessary to achieve it. </p> <p>And it’s safe. While it takes the courage of your convictions to demand a free Tibet in Beijing, or that people “COEXIST” (written with religious symbols standing in for letters) in Islamabad, the risks are considerably lower in Fresno. Here in the United States, it amounts to nothing more than advertising your virtue. </p> <p>And that’s mostly the point. “I’m Straight, but I’m not Narrow.” Congratulations! I’m angular but I’m not obtuse. Can I have a bumper sticker? </p> <p>Another car seen on my commute is one of those new Honda Insight hybrids. It has a license plate that reads “OIL – ANON.” Smug wafts from that car like patchouli from a college dorm room. And more power to her – let her enjoy the moral high ground while she can. “The Times” of London’s auto reviewer recently called the Insight “biblically terrible,” and “hairy-shirted eco-ism at its very worst.” Maybe that “Darwin Fish” she has next to the license plate will negate that Old-Testament judgment, but I sense a Prius in her not-too-distant future. </p> <p>And bumper stickers go through straw men like scythes. “Hate is not a Family Value.” I checked the Family Research Council’s Web site. Sure enough, hate’s not on their advocacy list. Ditto the Heritage Foundation, and every other conservative organization.</p> <p>“God Bless Everyone – No Exceptions.” Who excepted anyone? Exactly which church is it that hates the sinner as well as the sin? And yes, God, please bless everyone. Bless gays and lesbians and trannies and the bi-curious. Bless liberal motorists with the understanding that if a phrase fits on a 10” X 4” bit of adhesive-backed paper, it’s probably not really profound. Most of all, bless terrorists with the peace and wisdom not to want to murder infidels. If that doesn’t work, Lord, please guide some heavily armed special ops guys to their cave.</p> <p>One achingly stupid bumper sticker favorite is “Endless War” with the “less” crossed out and “this” penciled in. Not even Dick Cheney at his snarling, spit-flecked, kitten-chomping worst has suggested he favored war for any longer than needed. “War is not the Answer.” It is if you ask the right question. </p> <p>It must be nice to have a pre-packaged world-view that can be read, understood and categorized in between adjusting the seat belt, changing the radio station and sipping coffee at a red light. You have to envy the certitude. Although sometimes it can be, well, foolhardy.</p> <p> “I’m Already Against the Next War.” Are you sure about that? What if the Dear Leader – er – President Obama decided war was necessary? What if it was to free Tibet?</p>

Matthew Philbin
Matthew Philbin
Matt Philbin is Managing Editor of MRC Culture