As I was driving down to Menlo Park the other day, I waited at a stoplight behind an old Honda Insight. This was the 2000 Insight that looked a little goofy – in the best way – got great gas mileage, and didn’t sell very well. This Insight had a bumper sticker that said Al-Qaeda hates this car and I thought, That’s wrong, Al-Qaeda loves that car. The bumper sticker was strangely annoying.
At first, it struck me that our different reactions were based on how we see Al-Qaeda sees us. That the bumper sticker indicated that Honda Harry thinks Al-Qaeda hates us because of who we are and I think that Al-Qaeda hates us because of what we do. I think that, if we all drove cars that got great mileage, if we didn’t need middle eastern oil, if we didn’t have troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, Al-Qaeda would be happier.
I understand that Al-Qaeda hates us and if we pulled our troops out of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Yeman, Egypt, Libya, and – especially – Saudi Arabia, they would still hate us. We have poisoned that well. I understand that if we didn’t reflexively back Israel, they would still hate us. Still, I don’t think that they hate us for who we are, I think that they hate us for what we have done – stationing troops in Islamic countries, their countries, among other things – and that has informed what they think of us.
I also think that we all make ad hominem arguments where we argue that the person is wrong because of who they are, not what they have said that might be wrong. I get five emails a day telling me about some stupid thing a Conservative has said like Obama being wrong about Libya because he is a Muslim. Aside from the fact that Obama isn’t a Muslim, why can’t a Muslim be right about Libya? But of those five emails, usually in one or two of them, it seems to me that what the Conservative is saying, maybe inexpertly saying, is sensible. The assumption of the email is that what is being said must be wrong because the guy saying it is a Conservative.
The ad hominem argument that the bumper sticker tries to make – the guy who put it on, really – is that My Insight is good because Al-Qaeda doesn’t like it. Of course, everything that Al-Qaeda doesn’t like is not necessarily good. A-Qaeda doesn’t like killing male babies, that doesn’t make killing male babies good. Saying Al-Qaeda hates this car is not really an argument and looking at it angered me.
We all see ourselves in others. Sometimes we see what we know about ourselves, sometimes we see what we didn’t notice or have forgotten, often we see what we find hard to see in ourselves. I am a big believer that projection is a way to look back at the projector. Why I was angry over Al-Qaeda hates this is, eventually, more interesting, enlightening, and – surprise – more disturbing than if the bumper sticker is accurate or why the Honda guy put the bumper sticker on in the first place.
In this case, what bothered me is the assumptive superiority of the Honda guy. The assumption that what he had to say about Al-Qaeda and his car is of interest, or, even, importance. It was much easier to see that assumptive superiority on the bumper of the Insight than in myself and turning that thought back on myself gives me the shivers. The self-reproach of that assumptive superiority makes it hard to accept it in myself and easy to be irate with the Honda guy. That is the yin.
The yang is, if I didn’t have that assumptive superiority, I wouldn’t have a blog and I probably wouldn’t even pick up a camera. That yin and yang are the struggle when doing this blog and showing my pictures. I think it is a struggle we all have.
Even with all of that, I don’t think that Al-Qaeda hates the Honda Insight, and yeah, they probably do hate the guy driving it.