Sometimes, at a red light, I have time to whip out my phone and get a shot of a bumper sticker or something in front of me that I want to share. Over the weekend, I’m sorry to say, I never got the chance. I wish I could have.
I found myself in traffic behind an SUV with a large variety of bumper stickers on it, positing the kinds of juxtapositions of attitudes that leave me scratching my head. There was a Romney/Ryan sticker, which is pretty generic. Then there were the Confederate flag stickers, combined with a couple of different Christian symbols.
And I found myself wondering for the thousandth time at least why those particular things go together in some people’s minds.
Then there was the below sticker, which starkly displays one of the unpleasant characteristics of modern political argument: the assumption that if your adversary hold attitude A, he also embraces completely unrelated attitude B.
My own answer to the question, apparently posed by this website, would be “no.” First, I couldn’t be any more opposed to abortion on demand than I am already. And second — well, clinical killing makes my blood run cold more than gun violence does. I’ve written in the past that if I were to be executed and were given a choice — two things not likely to happen (I hope), but bear with me — I would opt for firing squad. That would not be nearly as horrifying to me as lethal injection, the most cold-blooded manner of killing humanity has ever devised, because it is so clean and clinical and dispassionate (and also because it perverts procedures that should be about saving lives).
Finally, there was the bumper sticker I really want to write about. Unfortunately, although I was able to find the abortion sticker online, I can’t find this one — although I’ve found some similar ones. (Fortunately, after I wrote this, alert reader Scout found the one at right, which I think is the one I saw. If not, it’s very close.)
It had far too many words jammed into way to small a space (maybe 6-8 inches wide by 4 or 5 deep). And even though, at an intersection, I managed to get within about 10 feet, I only got to see the biggest words. There were as follows: Near the top, it said “I’ve seen the village.” Near the bottom, with a bunch of tiny words in between, it said “Homeschool.”
Since nothing else on the sticker was legible at a pretty close distance, one is left to assume that to its author, and to the person who chose to put this on the back of his or her vehicle, the words I quote were sufficient as a message. (The similar stickers and T-shirts I’ve found simply say, “I homeschool because… I’ve seen the village and I don’t want it raising my children!”)
And of course, in their minimalist way, those few words speak volumes.
Hemingway has been quoted as saying the key to great writing is knowing what to leave out. And that’s where the power lies here. The village is not described. The speaker doesn’t bother to tell us what his objection is to the village. We are left to assume that the objection is something fundamental, something that lies on a lowest-common-denominator sort of plain. Something you could tell at a glance, and know you don’t want to have anything to do with it.
There’s an implication of “‘Nuff said.” You, the reader, are supposed to know exactly what the sticker’s writer means. And of course, if you are “right-minded,” you are expected to respond with some family-friendly version of “Damn’ straight.”
There is an assumption here that certain things are just to be understood, things that fully explain why this African proverb is being so categorically rejected. One is invited to speculate that this parent only had to walk into a public classroom once, and then walked out knowing he didn’t want his children being a part of that.
We all know what that sounds like, don’t we?
But aside from the assumption to which we are invited to leap, the thing that really gets me is the extent to which this utterly and absolutely rejects the very notion of a community, a place where we share our lives and share some responsibility for the environment in which all of our children grow up. In other words, another way to read it is that the parent didn’t even bother checking out the public school, but simply looked around at society — at all of us reading the bumper sticker — and rejected us all.
I’m very, very accustomed to the fact that in this world, in this village, the libertarian messages — those that reinforce I, me, mine -outnumber the communitarian ones a million to one. In fact, “It takes a village to raise a child” is just about the only communitarian message that nearly everyone has heard. (Probably the only one better known would be “We’re all in this together.” Which, as you’ll recall, I was pleased to hear Bill Clinton say in his speech at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte last month. It’s one of those truisms we don’t hear nearly often enough.)
So that puts this sticker in a very special category. Most statements in support of radical individualism tend to ignore that such a thing as a community even exists. This is the only sticker I think I’ve ever seen that specifically says, I’ve seen the community, and I am categorically, absolutely rejecting it.
So it was my very first truly anti-communitarian bumper sticker, to the best of my recollection.