Your Yard Sign Isn’t Helping
In this house we believe heterodox things you can’t mass-produce for yard display
I posted the above photo on Facebook and opened up a can of woke backlash. I assumed nearly everyone had seen the original “In this house we believe…” signs that were being riffed on. I also figured they annoyed plenty of people as much as they annoyed me. The response sign, as I see it, is a funny and inoffensive prodding to both recognize the division the original signs breed and move beyond catchphrases about contentious topics toward critical thinking and real discussion. How can we know if we’ve let ideology trump critical thinking? Is there a mass-produced sign, detailing your position on various political/social issues, that you’d happily place in your front yard for all to see — and does it conveniently line up perfectly with the current platform of one of the major political parties?
I like when my beliefs are challenged. I see it as an opportunity to learn and grow in my understanding of the world. Last year, for example, I thought Universal Basic Income was one of the stupidest and most ill-conceived ideas on the planet. Give people money for doing nothing? Who could think this was a good idea?
No, really… who? Because it was such an unconventional, counterintuitive idea, with a surprising number of diehard proponents, I felt like I owed it to myself and them to find out more. Within two weeks of doing a deep dive into presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s UBI-heavy platform, I was up in New Hampshire knocking on doors and spreading the word. I love when I’m forced to change my mind about something important. It’s a cool and humbling experience to realize you were wrong about something, and that questioning was the key to becoming right. Have you noticed, though, how some people legit lose their minds when anything they believe is poked fun at or questioned?
Back to the signs. In Massachusetts, at least, they stand embedded in yard after yard, proclaiming value judgments cloaked in pithy phrases that only a blockhead or Scrooge would dare argue with: Black Lives Matter, Love Is Love, Science is Real, No Human Is Illegal, Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, and — usually at the bottom, standing rear sentinel in case someone dares question the validity of its companion values — Kindness Is Everything. To question any of the underlying values obscured within the rainbow of platitudes is, apparently, to be unkind. There seems to be very little acknowledgement that the signs are a subtle antagonism — a micro-aggression, if you will, against today’s marginalized critical thinker.
Don’t get me wrong; I actually think most hearts are in the right place here, and empathy is likely a hallmark of the personality type drawn to displays like this. I can even see displaying a sign such as this requiring a measure of bravery in, say, Mississippi. In Massachusetts, though, much of the population is sure not only to agree with you but to congratulate you on your apparent open-mindedness. Sticking one of these in the ground outside your (typically, from what I’ve seen) well-maintained, roomy suburban homestead is less taking a stand on values than virtue signaling to your equally-well-off-and-educated tribe and basking in the morally superior glow of it all.
I understand the signal that they think they’re putting out there: that of a loving, accepting, open-minded, ultra-civilized citizen of the world. But what is the signal they’re really sending? What is the message being received by those who either disagree with the underlying value judgments or would never think to display them in such an in-your-face manner?
The first time I came across the “In This House…” display was earlier this spring, when the Unitarian Universalist church down the street erected a ten-foot-wide sign on their front lawn, facing the intersection. My eyes grew wide as I took it in. A church, of all places, posting something this outright inflammatory and divisive? A vigilante church board member was the only thing that made sense. I was sure there would be a community outcry and it would be removed within days.
Fast-forward to November and the sign is still there, greeting voters with its cheery list of acceptable values as they file in to mark their ballots in the church hall. Apparently there has been no outcry, or the church has stood firm against it. Outcry over what, you may be thinking… love, science and human rights being awesome? Let’s unpack the sign a bit.
The phrases vary some from sign to sign, but Black Lives Matter often claims the top spot. What’s wrong with that, you may think; black lives do matter. Of course they do, and here you may begin to see what heterodox thinkers are up against. The sign has been constructed so that each phrase, taken on its own, is impossible to argue against. One must be able to recognize the idea actually being put forth beneath each delightful, multi-colored trope. That black lives matter is obviously true; that we should all support the organization named Black Lives Matter, and accept the narrative being pushed by this group and others, not so much. Many believe that not just the idea itself, but the organization, must be supported or you can consider yourself a racist. Others fail to even recognize the distinction between the two things. You will need sleuthing skills to locate mainstream media coverage of questionable aspects of the BLM organization and its desired ends; you must be a veritable Sherlock Holmes to recognize that dissenting voices have questioned the underlying narrative of systemic racism within law enforcement altogether.
Attempting to analyze statistics or question ulterior motives is enough to get yourself called out as a racist. Watch out if you dare point to the suspicious timing of the corporate-media-backed BLM frenzy, coming as it did just as pressure was building on Congress to pass a massive, citizen-centric pandemic response. Much better (and cheaper!) to encourage social division — black vs. white, the people vs. the police — than allow a united push for broad-based economic relief. So, how’s that pandemic response coming? Oh, that’s right… there hasn’t been anything passed since March, but at least we got all that protest out of our systems. And don’t forget moral support from the oligarchy and corporate boards — yay, success! Once again, the pawns have been played and sit unknowingly beside the board, still chanting and grasping their protest signs. We should have free exchange of ideas, with the best and true rising to the top, but those ideas that don’t conform to the accepted narrative are buried; those who bring them into the light of day are “canceled.” Coming to any reasoned conclusion on your own is unacceptable; accept the pre-packaged conclusions or get ready to be shouted down and possibly lose your job, to boot. And if that happens, it’s your own fault, you racist scum, for so clearly dismissing black lives.
Similarly, Love is Love is pretty hard to argue with. It’s a literal tautology… try getting out of that one. The argument behind this one is in favor of certain LGBTQ policies, some of which are, at their core, demands for complete repudiation of the human sexual binary. Nothing divisive about that, right? In its most innocuous interpretation, it’s a call for acceptance of the LGBTQ community (on a side note, why not keep it simple with Q?). Dig a level or two deeper, though, and you uncover far more contentious issues, some of which contradict one another (lesbians, apparently, must now dig trans women or they’re branded as hopeless bigots — for all the talk of love, hate has been allowed to speak the loudest). Gay marriage is already settled — legally speaking, though the division lingers on. Around the same proportion of Americans (one third) oppose gay marriage as voted for Joe Biden for president; imagine how unifying a “You’re a fool if you voted for Biden” yard sign would be.
Because pushing the envelope is what speeds progress (add the quotation marks, if you like), they’ll throw this one up there too: All Genders Are Whole, Holy & Good. The more scientifically minded may do a double take on this one, but that’s all you’re allowed. To actually question the science behind this recent take — even if you’re a scientist — is enough to get you canceled. Gender is an infinite spectrum completely independent of sex, and kids can recognize whether they are transgender while still in diapers (or, more recently, while female, teenage and mentally ill or, often, autistic). To argue otherwise is to reveal yourself a caveperson in need of “education,” which the trans activists are more than happy to provide. To even suggest that teenagers suddenly identifying as transgender should receive counseling to examine where their feelings of gender dysphoria stem from (as opposed to immediate, unquestioning affirmation) is enough to lose one’s license to practice. The growing ranks of detransitioners and the lawsuits they bring with them are swept under the rug.
Never mind that a growing contingent of the gay and lesbian community sees this steering of gender-nonconforming adolescents toward trans as erasure, pure and simple. The exploding prevalence of trans-identification in the Middle East may raise a few eyebrows, until you realize that culturally it’s more acceptable to transition to the opposite sex than to be gay. Even in the UK, staff at gender clinics state that often, “parents appeared to prefer their children to be transgender and straight, rather than gay.” Is this the kind of “acceptance” we want to encourage? Make a peep about how regressive — how absolutely 1950’s-black-and-white-sitcom — it is to suggest to children who don’t adhere to traditional gender norms that they may, in fact, simply be the opposite sex, and you’ll be thrown into the transphobe, denialist gulag.
Coming next on the list, as it does, Science Is Real may give the nimble-minded a juxtaposition-induced chuckle, but you best not let the humorless hear you. Is there anyone who wishes to argue here? The problem, of course, is not that the concept of “Science” is made up. Science is awesome; it’s about as non-ideological a thing as you can get. Scientists, however, are people, and people are often not awesome. Along with deciding what research gets funded in the first place, they’ll misapply scientific concepts and findings, sometimes on purpose. They’ll commit outright fraud, even accepting bribes for reaching cetain conclusions the rest of us must live with for decades. They rarely get called on it, as long as their conclusions match the ends of the people with the power to call such things. They’ll use science as a cover for political maneuvering, often hurting vulnerable populations in the process, and ethical colleagues who try to stand up for the truth risk being cast out and ruined for their trouble. Science, by definition, is ever-shifting and never-settled, regardless of what vested interests may say. But, yeah, it’s real. Glad we can agree.
Continuing on our semantic adventure, did you know that No Human Is Illegal? It’s true! It is a 100% verifiable fact that it is never considered illegal to exist (at least in this country). What the sign is purporting, of course, is that, at the very least, using the term “illegal immigrant” is a faux pas of “Indian giver” proportions. While no human can be considered illegal, the point being poorly obfuscated is that human actions can be. Entering the country without express permission is, in fact, against the law. In other words, it’s illegal. This isn’t to argue that we shouldn’t have compassion for those who do it, or work to realign our immigration policies with our values and national capabilities. But the simplistic messaging has to go. Are you arguing for open borders or for sensible and compassionate reform? When you spout No Human Is Illegal, it’s impossible to tell. By the way, sorry if this bursts your bubble, but if either major party actually cared about reforming the immigration system, it would’ve been done by now.
In another interesting transition, let’s move from declaring that it’s never against the law to exist to championing the right to get an abortion — from complete bi-partisan consensus on not fixing anything, to a topic where the two “sides” couldn’t be farther apart. The sign proclaims Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, and talk all you want about equal rights in other aspects of law, the tune being whistled here is clearly the timeless “Keep Your Laws Out of My Body.” They should really just come right out and be as blunt as the t-shirts (apparently popular on construction sites coast to coast?): Abortion Rights Are Human Rights. Even if we were to concede that point, however, a bit of a sticky wicket remains. A large proportion of the country recognizes a second right being thrown into the mix here, in high tension with the first.
A right to life is not only spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, but highlighted as one of the few rights that our government is specifically called to protect. Much of the country sees two rights in conflict here, and sides with the most foundational right, the right to life. One can argue against the position, but to do so with any credibility, one has to acknowledge the rational underpinnings of the pro-life argument. To paint the opposition as misogynists intent on subjugating women for their own ends, or as hopeless lamebrains who just can’t seem to comprehend that a woman should do what she wants with her body, is just the kind of disingenuous argument that turns critical thinkers off and convinces them that you simply don’t understand the layers of complexity. In a bit of Socratic prodding, perhaps someone should plaster Life Is Life across a billboard, count backwards from ten, and greet the tautology police when they arrive moments later with the counterargument.
And that’s the thing. People play dumb, but most get the counterarguments. They understand that their household proclamations are simplistic and misleading, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the proclaiming itself that counts — being firmly on the “right” and acceptable side, and letting others know where they stand (often, that they’re an “ally”). When ideology is roused, it’s hard to get it to settle back down into unemotional analysis and critical thought. When I posted the parody sign on Facebook, I got some likes and laughs and rationality. I also got a bunch of leftsplaining and even a lecture on my white privilege from someone who didn’t even recognize the source material. In response to my claim that the signs were divisive, I got this open-minded reply: “Human rights are not divisive. Period. End of argument.” I was informed I was being judgmental, as though the original signs themselves are anything but judgment ladled upon judgment about the beliefs of others. Don’t agree? Though the mottos on these signs take the guise of banal truths, next time you come across a yard sign purporting that Kittens Are Cute or The Sky Is Blue, send it along.
So why does any of this matter? Who cares if a bunch of suburban “allies” want to feel like they’re doing something to make the world a better, fairer place? Keeps them off the streets, right? (OK, not so much…that’s fine). The problem is multifaceted. When ideology takes over rational thought, it’s a short jump to an us-vs.-them mindset, the death knell of unity and the enemy of democracy. As recently as twenty-five years ago, knowing where someone stood on abortion or gun rights, for example, gave only a vague hint as to where they might stand on a number of other political issues, both social and economic. We’ve become a country hardwired to support whatever shifting stances our preferred political party tells us we should support, even as these stances continuously evolve for political, rather than logical, reasons. Going up against the Ministry of Truth is a tough slog and only getting harder. We don’t realize we’ve morphed from rational humans to puppets, dancing compliantly to the discordant tune of manufactured conflict being played by our billionaire puppet masters and their multi-millionaire congressional lackeys.
We live in a democratic republic, where a united citizenry is the greatest threat to the current, corrupt power structure. Who, then, benefits from keeping the focus in front of the curtain, on a litany of divisive social issues and the unwinnable-and-eternal-by-design “privilege game”? From keeping us divided, distracted and powerless over everything but the policing of independent thought and speech? Let’s get out of our bubbles and interact sincerely with people whose ideas are different from our own. And not just to convert them, but to learn! Let’s unplug from the mainstream and explore alternative media, sites and thinkers not beholden to a billionaire’s agenda, but driven by a simple search for truth. It may be that the counterintuitive idea you’ve dismissed in the past makes sense to you when explained in detail and without bias. Then we’ll know for sure that what we think is really what we think… not simply what we’ve been conditioned to believe. With a pandemic-fueled social and economic collapse at our doorstep, we need to do everything we can right now to unite behind tangible solutions, not hunker in our homes, letting our signs and vetted party platforms speak for us. We can’t allow ourselves to be pawns, permitting sociopaths to use our inherent compassion and good hearts against us as they sow division in the guise of acceptance and love.