The "Bumper Sticker" Debaters
Clichés are tired, trite, generally miss the point, and deserve to be mocked, especially when used as substitutes for a real argument. To some degree, all ideologies use slogans or clichés to make a point, but peacenik clichés are notorious-perhaps just because they are more famous and used more often. Regardless, it is a shame.
"Make Love Not War," "Violence Doesn't Solve Anything," and "Global Justice" are cute and simple and are easy to chalk on pavement, but they are no more an argument than "I Want Steak For Dinner."
Arguments require substance and should be used to make others question their beliefs. None of the aforementioned statements do, at least to anyone who has thought about an issue for longer than it takes to tie their shoes. No doubt, when plastered around campus, these statements are usually intended just to raise awareness, but even this is a failure; without more to back them up, people are bound to ignore them, or merely echo them, without an understanding of what they mean.
When used as an argument, such clichés represent intellectually lazy people letting prefabricated phrases do their thinking for them. It really is a shame because most people I see who do this are quite smart-Bowdoin caliber, after all. They could probably offer a post-modern deconstruction on anything from Hegel to a Dominoes take-out menu, but they rely on statements with all the depth and originality of "Yankees Suck" to make their arguments for them so often that they cannot be taken seriously.
The "Does Might Makes Right?" argument is a perfect example of a clichéd phrase intended to substitute for clear thought.
"Does Might Makes Right?" usually shows up shortly after a statement along the lines of "The United States can and should prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons, even if it requires us to go it alone."
"So, we can impose our will on Iraq because might makes right?"
The "Does Might Makes Right?" question is intended as a rhetorical device to essentially end the conversation. It is one of many debater's tricks used to confuse and confound, and ultimately to change the subject. When confronted with such a statement, one is expected to stutter and grasp at thoughts for a minute before stumbling back to the conclusion that no, might does not make right, but what was I saying?
The observant reader will note the subtle switch in the debate, of which sometimes the initiator is even unaware. The debate has moved from the relative threat of Iraq or the morality of unilateralism to whether might, in fact, makes right. This is an entirely different topic.
Fortunately, there is an easy answer to anyone who uses this approach; No, might does not necessarily make right, but we are lucky that in this case might is on the side of right.
Consider if the United States dismantled its entire military and was even less mighty than Superman in a Kryptonite prison cell. Would this in any way change the morality of allowing Saddam Hussein to bully, blackmail and murder his way to greater power with the backing of a nuclear arsenal? No, the only thing that would change would be our ability to put a stop to it.
In fact, one could make the opposite argument, that right makes might. Perhaps America is the mightiest nation in the world by sheer happenstance, but perhaps it is because our policies, institutions and politics are better than anyone else's. That is not to say perfect, just better.
Is it so hard to believe that a country which values academic freedom, freedom to engage in the market and to live in the manner of one's own choosing would have a stronger economy, civil society, and therefore, a greater influence on the world? And not just in terms of greater military influence, but a greater cultural influence as well?
There are interesting questions that can be raised if one takes a critical eye to clichés. Are there times when it is better to make war than love? Might war be the least bad solution to a problem? Might trying to love our enemy get us killed? Does violence really never solve anything? Did a willingness to use violence not save Jackie Chan's butt countless times?
People can disagree on what kind of threat Iraq poses, or whether the U.S. needs the United Nations approval for an attack, but both sides need to present real arguments for their case, not something they cribbed off the bumper sticker of a '91 Honda Civic.