July 13, 2008

A new study finds that drivers with bumper stickers on their cars tend to be more prone to road rage.

This should come as no surprise. Independent of its message, placing a bumper sticker on a car indicates a willingness, even a determination, not only to allow a piece of personal belief to emerge and express itself, not only to advertise that belief, but even to symbolically 'moon' those behind with that message. By itself these factors indicate, shall we say, a competitive personality. (The second place is the first to lose?) The bumper sticker flashes its message best into the eyes of the driver just behind.

If this explanation is true, then what is said on the bumper sticker ought to be completely independent of the link to road rage, but more bumper stickers would likely correlate with a higher chance of road rage ... and this is exactly what is found. (The article itself suggests instead a heightened sense of territoriality: but road rage is not so much an expression of territoriality as of assumption that the actions of others ought to fall completely within one's expectations.)

A next logical step might be to compare different types and locations of car expression: ie. does it make a difference whether the message is on the side or back of the car?

But if we allow one such message, why not all such messages? Free speech is a curious thing, its advocates fierce to defend her when it supports them, and just as fierce to tear her down when what she speaks is not so pleasant to the ears. The same people who will vehemently defend the right to assail pregnant women at their most vulnerable will just as vehemently oppose any display which seems anti-patriotic.

If a person is allowed to project their love for their team to all and sundry, or show the world that they are a veteran, or tell the driver behind them to live well and prosper, why not Christianity? The legal argument against allowing "I believe" licence plates hinges on two points: a determined (and artificial) separation of church and state, and a belief that those with such licence plates would receive preferential treatment. But is that not the case for any in-group? Does anyone realistically think that a team fan would not think a bit better of someone who also supports that team? or that anyone who supports our troops would not be biased toward veterans?

And yet no one seriously suggests that veteran or team licence plates be banned.

Which suggests strongly that the real opposition is to any overt expression of faith. But if a person is secure in themself and their belief structure, why should expression of another's faith -- any faith -- disturb them so? Are we so determined now in our view of the world that we feel threatened even by another's overt belief? The Christian fish may be far more common a displayed symbol, but is even it too entrenched to be challenged next?

Conversely, is Christianity so societally entrenched in South Carolina that its society is just that short step away from finding it objectionable, not only not to be Christian but also not to express it? (Rather like the "support our troops" magnetic ribbon, that.) And is it so much of a stretch, then, to take a second tiny step to mandate it?

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