"[T]here are, at bottom, basically two ways to order social affairs, Coercively, through the mechanisms of the state -- what we can call political society. And voluntarily, through the private interaction of individuals and associations -- what we can call civil society. ... In a civil society, you make the decision. In a political society, someone else does. ... Civil society is based on reason, eloquence, and persuasion, which is to say voluntarism. Political society, on the other hand, is based on force." ~ Ed Crane
Annoy a Liberal, Annoy a Conservative
Since I moved to the big city, I've picked up the peculiar habit of reading the stickers people affix to the back of their cars. Because of more traffic and more opinions, there is a wealth of reading material to be found at most red lights. Since I exist outside the 'Flock A' or 'Flock B' mentality, I more often find humor and indifference, rather than agreement, with the tailgate philosophies that momentarily dot my field of vision. On some occasions, though, I do come across a message that strikes a nerve, not necessarily for me, but for how I might react if I was being targeted by the message.
For whatever reason, no matter where you go, there's always a legion of drivers who insist upon telling everyone behind them that their child made the honor roll at some insignificant institute specializing in the promulgation of illiteracy, group-think, and historical ignorance. Some drivers have taken to proselytizing, advising the rational-minded to seek Jesus. A few are more thoughtful and specific, choosing to challenge those who follow to ponder some economic, political, or social problem, such as poverty, the electoral college, global warming, abortion, deforestation, etc.
Magnets have replaced bumper stickers as the trendy way to express the latest in group-think slogans; 'God Bless America ,' and 'Support the Troops' are two that stand out the most. I'd consider the appearance of either of these as a means by the operator of the vehicle to deflect any criticism for brandishing contrary stances on the economic, political, and social issues. This technique can be a very effective way of negating pro-Kerry or pro-Bush stickers left over from the last election. Perhaps Rodney King would be happy, now that people in motion have discovered a way to encourage us all to just 'get along.'
Recently, I saw an interesting bumper sticker that read: 'God Bless the Whole Wide World. No Exceptions.' Thoughtful to some, fightin' words for others. After all, God can't bless the whole wide world because he's on our side. Our president prayed and God done told him to rain fire and brimstone down upon evil across the entire globe, especially in middle-eastern Ay-rab countries where there are more heathens than anywhere else on the globe, at least for now. In the future, when the Middle East might be completely safe for evangelical Christians and other imperialists, the next bunch of heathens will be all those little yellow guys who chant and hum at statues of smilin' fat guys.
A few months ago a teaching colleague asked me if I had ever seen one of those bumper stickers that read: 'Annoy a liberal: Work. Succeed. Be happy.' Yes, I told him, but not for a few years. He said he got stuck in traffic behind this particular car for several miles and was forced by concerns for safety to read what he considered an offensive message. Even at the end of the day, he was still annoyed and talking about that 'damn bumper sticker.'
Not ever being a liberal, I wasn't bothered by that quaint little phrase. From a marketing standpoint, especially in our highly polarized society, 'Annoy a liberal. Work. Succeed. Be happy,' if nothing else, is a very effective way for the pole that currently controls government and heavily influences social institutions, to provoke the minority into periodic fits of apoplexy. In spite of the wit some believe it conveys, that phrase is more an indication of the elitism, stupidity, and juvenile tendencies of those who advertise their concurrence with such sentiment.
There's really nothing ingenious in that phrase. In fact, it comes close to expressing the sentiment of Will Durant who said, 'To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves.' Implied in those words is the notion that liberals hate work and probably find it completely exploitative; failure is preferable because success might mean destruction of the environment, the working class, and unions; happy people only care about themselves and not about their fellow man. As a result, the rich will get richer, the poor poorer, the hole in the ozone bigger, the polar ice caps smaller, etc., etc., etc. In effect, narrow-minded conservatives are patting themselves on the back by kicking their polar opposites.
My colleague is like most teachers in this country: liberal. Only he's more than just a liberal; he's a self-professed communist and proud of it. He thinks that the rich aren't taxed enough, the poor are not subsidized enough, and our economy has become completely WalMartize, to our detriment. He thinks health care and higher education should be completely free to the consumer, paid for by government. For those who resist 'sharing' the fruits of their labor with those less fortunate, charity should be forced upon the reluctant and 'selfish' according to community standards.
Maybe some liberals do get annoyed by people who work, succeed, and are happy. What bothered my colleague most about that bumper sticker was the notion that he despises those components of life. He works to provide himself with basic necessities and to be successful. Why wouldn't most people strive for success? After all, success breeds material comfort, even for a communist. If he fails, he doesn't have a place to live and he doesn't eat. Without success, he's not likely to find companionship. Happiness is important here, too. He told me that a contributing factor to his recent divorce was that his ex-wife was always unhappy and that he couldn't live that way anymore.
Now, I get to see that bumper sticker every day. There's a guy in my community who has that very same sticker in the back window of his pickup truck. Every time I see it, I have to laugh. 'Conservatives' think they are making some sort of moralistic statement about themselves and how they live their lives, but they are really reminding all honest and principled people the complete moral and intellectual vacuousness of the conservative movement.
When once in the minority, seemingly so long ago, conservatives could at least make a claim to the philosophical and intellectual high ground: less government, lower taxes, less regulation, respect for property rights, rule of law, checks and balances, federalism, etc. No longer. Nearly five years of GW and over ten years of Republican congresses have demonstrated that all that philosophical talk was just that, talk. Conservatives are spiteful, vindictive, and condescending tyrants--everything they once said about liberals. They have become what they claimed to despise.
That being said, I believe it is time that a new bumper sticker is configured, one that conveys the sentiment that conservatives are no different from liberals, except that the message that annoys them is reflective of their statist-oriented values. I think the following would strike an appropriate balance to the ongoing effort to annoy liberals and also keep red light reading interesting and humorous for drivers who do not associate with the philosophy of either flock: 'Annoy a conservative: Use profanity. Burn a flag. Criticize the military. Think for yourself.' While waiting at red lights, look in your rear view mirror for shaking fists and obvious shouting from the driver behind you; that will be a sure sign that the message is working.