I have a problem with bumper stickers. The problem stems from the fact that I am often told I harbor some incorrect political opinion whenever I see one of them, particularly during a presidential campaign.
I can be pretty argumentative, so the fact that I do not have a chance to reply to bumper stickers as they speed down the interstate, plastered onto the backs of minivans, bothers me much more than it should.
This happened recently as I was merging onto the interstate, and once I finished voicing my counter-argument to no one in particular, I started wondering why it bothered me to the extent that I felt compelled to rant to myself on an otherwise peaceful drive.
But the more I thought of it, the more I realized that I had a valid point about bumper stickers: They silence dissent. They are authoritative in tone. They state an opinion as an unquestionable fact, framing anyone who would disagree as an uninformed simpleton. They condense complex issues that require serious, intelligent discussion down to a sound bite, a slogan, a dogma. After a while, I came to the conclusion that bumper stickers were ruining America.
You might think that is a bit of a leap, but “bumper sticker opinions” are not relegated solely to their namesake; they are stitched into shirts, printed on posters, shouted on the radio, espoused on television news programs.
We are inundated with them every time the public turns its collective eye to an issue, and they foster a culture of ignorance that encourages the mindless recitation of pre-packaged opinions over the rational examination and justification of one’s beliefs. And that makes me furious.
It makes me furious because when I see a bumper sticker that tells me I am wrong, I do not see that opinion coming from another rational, reasonable human being. I see that bumper sticker as a message all of its own, telling me that I am not worth the time it would take to debate an issue, to come together as two people working towards a common goal, realizing that although we may have different views we only want the best for everyone, including each other.
I see it as a casual dismissal of my own thoughts and ideas, equivalent to a mother offhandedly dismissing the cries of a petulant child demanding yet another cookie. I see it as a physical manifestation of its owner’s view of me as a person, and I begin to intensely dislike them for it. The thing is, I know I am wrong about that.
More likely than not, the owner of the bumper sticker opinion is not a bad person. In fact, I have every reason to believe that they are just as reasonable as I am. They are human, after all; they eat, sleep, play games, form relationships, and hope for a better future the same that I do. And with that acknowledgement, we come to the core problem of bumper sticker opinions: They are divisive.
I cannot recall the last time I became angry at the content of a textbook, or the last time I argued with the washing instructions listed on a shirt label (although that is probably happened). But I can certainly remember the last time I disagreed with someone’s opinion, and I would wager that you can, too, because such instances are common.
And although I will admit that arguments can become heated and emotions can get out of hand, at least there is necessarily an exchange of ideas when an argument erupts, however combative it may be.
Should that not be what we value as a society, the free exchange of ideas? I think it is, and I think we should condemn opinions presented in a way that discourages conversation. We as a society are never going to learn to work together on the important issues if we are too caught up in the divisive rhetoric that bumper sticker opinions bring.
I think we owe it to ourselves to be better than that, to cast aside the simplicity and comfort of the sound bite and instead take up the banner of having hard conversations, because it will be better for us in the end. I think we owe it to ourselves to be better than that because we are better than that.
That is my opinion, anyway, and I am a little disappointed it will not fit on my car.
– Welsey Traxler, Contributing Writer