Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bumper Stickers

I like bumper stickers. I've been known to fly a few over the years. My zeal for presenting a message to the world at large from the surface of my car has waned in the past few years, considering I sold my car and get around mostly by bike.

However, I must admit the impact of bumper stickers is not lost on me. In fact, the more I cycle the more I realize the mindless beings trapped behind the wheel are fodder for AHA! moments when a lucid message can make some real impact for better or worse. In my observation, most people are not paying much attention to their driving, so why not suggest some social change amidst their profound dis-engagement?

There are categories of stickers for me. I admit I am a bit polarized. I believe there are worthwhile and useless bumper stickers. I'm not partial to the conservative or christian ones in part because they tend to show little creativity or intellectual depth. Then there are the obvious contradictions -- some of my least favorite are pro-environmental stickers plastered on cars. And I must admit pro-bicyclist stickers affixed to cars ('My Other Car is a Bike!' or 'I SHARE the road') that pass me too close, cut me off or treat me like a mere bug on the street get on my nerves. We're all human though and prone to forget what's hanging out of our garments, let alone stuck to our bumpers.

But I am not here to split those already frazzled hairs or dissect previously mutilated science projects. I wish to address a new sticker I saw this morning while driving the kids to the baby sitter. (Yes, driving ... it's a long story.)

Crossing a quiet neighborhood street in S Mpls, there was a smallish car parked with a brightly contrasting sticker stuck top and center of the trunk hatch. I particularly take notice when an automobile owner has chosen to adhere a sticker to the paint of their car, not just the plastic or metal bumper. This one was stuck smack on the paint of a newish car, high and proud. It read: Cats NOT Kids. The caps are not added for emphasis, that's how it read.

I am not the world's poster-child for Buddhism, but I am a Buddhist. I don't hate animals, but rather recognize everything from cows to cockroaches as sentient beings. I also happen to believe pet culture in our country is over the top. We've divided our country over socialized medicine while millions of Americans spend billions on their dogs and cats for everything from organic food to shrink sessions. We smash and poison insects, neglect destitute people on the street (they ought to know better, right?) but we extol the merits and rights of our domesticated pets. How bizarre.

As a Buddhist I believe in reincarnation. If you don't understand reincarnation, it is based on karma (merit of deeds) and presents a certain hierarchical order to why you end up as the being you are today. To be reborn a human is an extra special outcome -- a treat of merit. You've done a lot of good things in the past. Not only do you have sentience, you have reason, choice and the ability to further advance your presence (and help others) in this go-around. You have a choice to overcome instinct with reason and intellect.

Helping others means all other sentient beings -- animals, humans. That's cool. I don't kill bugs and I teach my children the same. Yes, we eat meat sometimes; I realize that is not ideal. I don't agree with war. Aspects of socialism appeal to me because they present a more level access to basic services that preserve a healthier state of human existence.

I was married previously. My partner and I both agreed having children was out of the question. That's lucky since we split up and I happen to think that kids caught in divorce have a really tough time. I endured it myself. At the time of my previous marriage though, I was even more convinced not to procreate from a philosophical viewpoint of zero population growth.

However, my viewpoint softened somewhat as I found myself partnered with someone who was confident and resilient beyond the call of social convention. I listened to friends who told me what a good father I would be. I pondered the possibility of raising offspring who are taught more than the empty urge to breed others to join the status quo (whatever the parent/society defines that to be).

What if the ultimate act of parenting is to raise kids who will question and cry bullshit at the norm?

That is my goal as a parent. I can imagine, but not actualize, the pain I'll feel the first time one of our daughters tells me, "Fuck you, dad." But I will revel in the realization that I have helped guide a free-thinking being who can discern shit from shinola.

To espouse a doctrine (Cats NOT Kids) of breeding animals over humans, however, is ludicrous to me. Sure, it echoes a statement against human overpopulation but it reflects an inability to relate to the dynamic human element that is necessary to make our world a better place. I'm not saying cats and dogs don't matter. We host a cat now. I have partnered many cats and dogs (not to mention hamsters, mice and rats) over the years and I've been seriously attached to them. They were good souls. I carry their presences with me now; I remember them fondly. But the bumper sticker "Cats NOT Kids" irks me.

I took some time off from work recently. As I am wont to do, I spent a lot of that time in the garage where my shop is. One afternoon I heard through the window a surreal hissing sound below the open window. I popped outside to discover our cat in a face off with a neighborhood stray. This critter was lean and mangy. I positioned myself between them, charged at him shouted, "Get out of here!" He not only didn't budge he stared up at me with a piercing gaze that said, "I'll just as happily fuck your shit up, too." I've stared down plenty of wild animals from skunks to bears and boars. But I have never felt as chilled as I did when challenging this cat. It took a foot and a grill cover, twice, to get him out of our yard.

Cats (nor dogs) are not going to change our world, our society, our government for the better. Not in the sense that they can begin delivering speeches, running for office or affecting policy. Perhaps I'm missing the point -- the person who bought the bumper sticker thinks otherwise and believes cats can bridge this gap of communication and reason (i.e. they can talk to certain people). In that case I should stop typing now.

If you believe you relate better in cat or dog language, you're probably not reading my blog anyhow.

Pet people, love your pets. But don't neglect, dismiss or hate your human co-inhabitants.

No comments: