Sunday, August 19, 2012

Who Should I Boycott?

I stayed out of the whole Chick-Fil-A brouhaha because I thought first that it was overdone by people on both sides, and others were making much better comments than I ever could.  Rachel Held Evans might have summed up the Christian perspective best when she said that showing up to eat a fast food chicken sandwich in order to prove what a good Christian you are = Christianity Fail.

Of course those in support of Dan Cathy's quote against gay marriage said they were supporting his right to free speech, and those in opposition said they were fighting against his infringement on the rights of gays and lesbians.  That's an argument that neither side is going to win, and both sides said the opposite party were wrong.  Of course here is the irony.  Now the same thing is happening with Amazon, although the news has not been as big, except that the roles are totally reversed.

Jeff Bazos, CEO of Amazon, has come out (no pun intended) in support of gay marriage, and is putting his money where his mouth is.  This has led some conservatives to call for a boycott of Amazon, because, I guess, Dan Cathy has the right to free speech but Jeff Bazos does not.  And now progressives want to buy from Amazon, not that they weren't already, in order to show support, even though they were quick to say how ridiculous it was for Chick-Fil-A supporters.

Now this is obviously not the first time these things have happened, nor will they be the last, and the ironies never stop.  When Rush Limbaugh made his typically ridiculous and slanderous comments about Sandra Fluke, people called on sponsors to cancel their support or they would be boycotted.  Many of them did, to which Rush said it was "economic terrorism" and an attack on his free speech rights.  Which, of course it wasn't.

Somehow we have lost the connection that with rights come responsibilities, as well as the understanding that there might be consequences for our actions.  Simply because a sponsor stops their support, or customers stop coming, or start coming, because we said something does not mean that our rights are being infringed upon.  It simply means that there are consequences for what we said.  We still have the right to say it, and others have the right to be offended and act accordingly.  As Gregg Easterbrook said, and this could apply to all such situations, "that's the free market in action!... Isn't refusal to purchase a free-market choice? Like many, Rush extols the free market when it favors him, then wants special exemptions when the market's verdict is negative."

But here's is the biggest problem.  When have boycotts actually worked?  Sure there are some examples, but most have not made the changes they sought.  The UMC once called for a boycott of Taco Bell because of the treatment of people working for their tomato supplier.  Ever hear of it?  Didn't think so.  Many "family" groups have called for a boycott of all Disney products, which you probably have heard of, but it has not been successful.  The other problem is that if you followed all the boycotts that people you support call for you wouldn't really be able to go anywhere or do anything.

There are some companies I don't like and I try and stay away when I can, but sometimes it's hard.  When we were in Boston we never shopped at Wal-Mart because we don't like them as a company and there were alternatives that allowed us to go somewhere else.  But these companies were not always better.  Now that we live in the middle of nowhere we shop at Wal-Mart not because we are suddenly happy with the company but because there are little alternatives for some of the things we need to get.  Sure we could get some of them from Amazon, but what about their treatment of people working in their warehouses?

The simple fact is all companies fall short in one way or another, regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, somewhat because companies are not people and they are also not Christian.  They are corporations whose purpose is to make a profit for their owners and/or share holders.  Some do better ethically than others and some do worse, but they all fall short.

I want to spend my money in responsible ways and I try, but it's really hard to try and keep track of everyone that you don't like, and as soon as you think you know, something else will change, and when your options are limited it becomes even harder.  I can say I am boycotting Chick-Fil-A but the simple truth is there is not a location closer than 2 hours (and really 3 with the time change) so any statement I would make about not going would be disingenuous at best and so I really choose to just ignore it.

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