Saturday, March 14, 2009

Democratic Discourse: Nuke Their Ass and Take Their Gas?

I was in northern Florida last week and saw a beat up old pickup truck go by with a bumper sticker that said “Nuke Their Ass; Take Their Gas” (don’t recall for sure whether there was actually a semicolon; my guess is no). Dang, I thought, that’s pretty harsh. In my native lands of Ithaca and Jamaica Plain, you’re more likely to come across bumper stickers of the “No-one is free when others are oppressed” or “If you love somebody, set them free. If they don’t come back, they were never yours” variety. Well, I guess each of us is entitled to our own opinion. And, in this democratic country we live in, we get one vote apiece. And that’s all good. Right? I think so. Still, Nuke Their Ass; Take Their Gas? Maybe I’m just thinking like one of those liberal elite types I keep hearing about, but man, is that really an opinion that should get as much consideration as my own?

First off, let me deconstruct the bumper sticker to be sure I’m correctly interpreting what this guy is advocating. Who exactly is it we should nuke and take their gas? Gas is what you find at a service station. Maybe this guy had some kind of beef with the night manager at the Pump-N-Go over on Elm and 22nd Street and just wants revenge? Maybe the night manager gave him the wrong change or looked at his girlfriend funny? If that’s the case, nuking the guy seems a little overkill. The whole town and all its residents would be obliterated. The earth in the surrounding hundred square miles would be radioactive for centuries. Seems like it would be easier to go shoot the gas station manager in the face with a shotgun or something. Or just give him an old-fashioned ass whooping. So that’s probably not it. I’ve got to assume then that “gas” is supposed to mean “oil” – the tasty-sounding “light, sweet, crude” whose trading price you always hear about – and that gas just rhymed better with ass (“Nuke Their Soil; Take Their Oil” comes across as a bit highbrow).

Assuming it’s oil we’re talking about, then who should be nuked? Alaska maybe? With its big pipeline and negative income tax? That sounds weird. You don’t usually hear even the most off the chart domestic whackjobs talking about dropping a nuclear bomb on their own country. Brazil? They have a lot of oil. I don’t know. That doesn’t sound right either. Everyone likes Brazilians. They’re just fun and musical and always dancing or laying around topless on the beach. I don’t think folks generally want to nuke them and take their oil. By process of elimination, that leaves the OPEC nations. I’m guessing that’s who bumper sticker guy is talking about. The Arab world does control a lot of oil, and they get a lot of press whenever oil is being discussed.

It is my hypothesis, therefore, that had I had the opportunity to engage in a dialog with the driver of the Nuke Their Ass; Take Their Gas truck, he would have articulated a proposed U.S. foreign policy paradigm whereby this country would drop nuclear warheads on the primary oil-producing nations in the middle east and, upon extermination of all inhabitants of the region, we would assert control over the land and expropriate any oil extracted thereafter.

I believe this strategy to be flawed. I am generally opposed to killing people and stealing. Just on principle alone, I don’t think we should take anyone’s oil, much less nuke them. I’ve even met people from middle eastern oil-producing countries. They were nice. I wouldn’t want them to be vaporized. Plus, there are some treaties out there that I learned about in a college international relations class – the names escape me at the moment – that I’m pretty sure would be violated by this kind of thing. There would probably be some ramifications, even with our allies, in the political realm. Distilled down its essence, you could summarize my opinion on this issue as: We Should Neither Nuke Their Ass Nor Take Their Gas.

So, the scene is set. There are two schools of thought. To nuke and take gas or not to nuke and take gas? How are we to resolve this difference of opinion, this interesting subject upon which reasonable people can disagree? In this country, we all get to vote. Our forefathers fought hard to give us the right to vote without a poll tax or a literacy test. And that’s the way it should be. You shouldn’t have to be rich or educated to have your opinion considered. But what about the unavoidable reality that money and education are powerful ingredients in having a broader understanding of the world? Should my opinion, based on a college education and on reading The Economist, that we should not bomb asses and take gas, carry more weight than a contrary opinion that is based solely on some kind of general feeling and maybe a little urging by Rush Limbaugh?

Maybe the answer is that, yes, everyone should get to weigh in equally, but that particularly extreme points of view will be mitigated by the relatively blunt instrument of electing a handful of individuals who are tasked with representing their constituents on a wide range of issues. Nuking a country is, I assume, one of those government actions that can’t be done without complying with a whole big set of protocols. So even if bumper sticker guy were able to organize all his friends and elect a guy running on the Nuke Their Ass; Take Their Gas platform into office, that rep would still have to do some maneuvering through the political channels.

Or maybe, even before the issue made it up into the ranks of elected officials, our difference of opinion could be hashed out in a dialogue. If there were something inherently better about my Neither Nuke Ass Nor Steal Gas platform, I should be able to state my argument and convince a rational individual in the competing camp of its superiority. Having emerged from the marketplace of ideas as the more worthy philosophy, such philosophy will be even stronger yet, tested and proven to all. And the newly enlightened convert will be able to proceed on his way and disseminate the idea to even more people.

OK, never mind all the intellectual angst. I guess it’s all good. I think I’m on the right side of this issue. And I’ll rest better knowing that my more worthy opinion on this subject will, in the end, prevail. And next time I see a big scummy mean-looking dude with an offensive bumper sticker, I’ll make sure to flag him down and engage him in a principled discussion of the merits of our respective points of view – a battle of the minds, a stimulating intellectual discourse.

Hmm. Or maybe I should just keep on driving.


Mitra said...

I tend to agree with you, particularly given that is a beautiful sunny day here in Paris and I am reading your exellent piece while sitting in a cafe having tea.

Tracy Zager said...

I hate to burst your bubble, but on our lovely JP street there is an "I (heart) Gitmo" bumper sticker. The same SUV (ahem) is sporting an "Obama's Last Day" sticker (like the Bush's Last Day ones) as well. That one I am fine with, but the Gitmo one stopped me in my tracks.

Not to dissuade you from coming back--there are still 25 "Yes we did" type stickers to this one in our block. Just wanted to reassure you you can have a stimulating intellectual discourse right here in JP.