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~By Steven Bradley Scott
After writing The Unethical Boycott of Whole Foods Inc., I received a lot of feedback.
In this article I seek to clear up any confusion I have caused and respond to some of the critiques. In this way I seek to get to the bottom of my points and, if at all possible, give credit to my critics who I feel ask important and fundamental questions regarding the nature, not just of my article, but of the issue at hand.
I also, admittedly, seek to verbally abuse the boycotters out of their idiotic stupor. I can only hope they are not so terrified by privatized healthcare that they will miss my points. Oh, and a final carrot before the steak, I feel that public healthcare system would be a huge step forward for the United States – don’t confuse my critique of your mass-hysteria with delusion.
“I think that consumers should have the right to decide where to shop based on whatever criteria they choose. If the shareholders/board of directors fires him or tells him not to talk about it, then yes, that’s an issue. But, the consumers who are choosing not to shop there are entitled to do so. To me, it’s the same as choosing not to donate money to a company who openly supports apartheid in Palestine. I’m not suggesting that they stop talking about it, I’m just choosing to spend my money elsewhere. Although, I have to say that the fact that this happened at Whole Foods seems painfully ironic.” – Alex Taylor
Alex, I agree, consumers not only should but do have the right to decide where to shop. In the United States, they have the right to make such a decision based on the criteria they choose; I would not take that away. In this case, they have decided shun a store because of the expression of a political opinion by a CEO. There is an attempt here, as there is in other critiques of the article, to draw a parallel between the current boycott and one of a company for its official practices - this is something I resist.
As you point out, “…that this happened at Whole Foods seems painfully ironic”, I couldn’t agree with you more. From this we can derive something very important, that this opinion is likely counter to the business. As such, this is not likely an official position, making this boycott different. It is different because it is not the company’s practice which you are protesting against, or its political position, and that makes the boycotters ignorant. They are ignorant because they are not affecting the entity which has offended them.
However, that is not their only transgression against reasonable conduct; they are also repressors. What makes them repressors is their lack of self-discipline. Their decision is an emotional one, based out of a lack of a disciplined approach to a complex issue, an over simplification of the situation which is simply dangerous for those involved. It is an oversimplification because its motives do not take its implications into account.
Nowhere is there a consideration that the boycott could result in negative consequences for Mackey. In fact, I would suggest, if such a result were the result the boycotters would be pleased. Does that sound unfair? Well, then I’ll never shop at your store again.
Nowhere is it taken into account that the result of such a boycott could stifle communication and dialogue. If it does either, either, then it has suppressed opinion. In either case, it does nothing less than jeopardize those innocents which work at the stores.
The pawns of this debate, on both sides, are those with much to lose. The boycott has attacked the employees of the store while claiming to defend them, the relatively poor and the uninsured. Every disciplined reader of this should divorce political opinions they oppose from the people that harbor them. Act on actions, incitation, but not opinions. Note that I continue to use the word “opinion”; note the significant difference between this and action.
It would appear, based on this and other feedback, that I have not done a good enough job of understanding the “point” of the boycott. So, let me elaborate on my position, to try and determine the point. The action is a boycott of Whole Foods Inc., immediately after the publication of an op-ed, which expresses a political opinion of the CEO. However, the purpose of the boycott is supposedly not to suppress the speech of the CEO, but to express their right to choose a supplier of food, because they disagree with John Mackey about a political point.
So, come with me down the rabbit whole, will ye? What, exactly, separates the obvious implications of your actions from the actions themselves? Very little, I would say. The point of something can be derived from the consequences of it, what better way to judge an action is there? Here I would say the hearts are in the right place, but the brain has not thought enough about how to get there, so it loses every time. What is the point of the boycott?
Here are the options:
1. It will result in the repression of the CEOs free speech
a. Through stockholder insistence
2. It will result in the loss of jobs at Whole Foods Inc.
a. Through lost profits and closing of stores
3. It will result in increased profits for local groceries
a. Through boycotters switching (a potential bonus?)
4. It will result in increased profits for groceries with less stringent ethics
a. Through boycotters switching
5. It will result in the increased purchase of fast food
a. Through boycotters potentially breaking their habits
6. It will result in the intimidation of other well-known individuals
a. Through fear of repercussions of the expression of their opinions
Please note, only 1 and 6 have any impact on the bill, and even then it is limited. If they do occur, I would (as is likely obvious by now) deem such impacts negative. Note that I do not generate this list with the assumption that it is complete, and its accuracy may come into question, but I challenge the reader to add a point which conflicts the points above.
I also challenge those who claim that, if the bill to fix current health care crisis is passed, such a boycott was ethical.
Please, post a comment with an effect which negates the above, or an effect which supports the bill in an ethical manner.
Also, while you do so, bear in mind the controversy around the bill and the importance of libertarianism (if you share such a philosophy, which Single Payer Action assumes its members do). Have I missed something?
You are not funding a political campaign, you are paying someone to run a store. Or, as Single Payer Action garbles, “…we are responsible for putting money into his Whole Food bank account so that he can continue his campaign without resistance.” Despite the fact that Mackey clearly has resistance, what else is wrong with this statement? Probably that you paid him for his services which, I assume, he performed for you admirably. Obviously, this criminal and his unethical organization must be stopped.
“Interesting article. I wonder if your position sustainable though. If I’m convinced by your argument, should I withhold my contribution to Single Payer Now, to discourage their interference with free
expression? The boycott itself is a form of expression. In calling to boycott the boycott, you seem to violating the free speech (as you define it). I see your point that we should resist having ideas
silenced by consumer boycotts; it would be a bad thing (e.g.) if publishers were boycotted for printing the Mein Kampf. But on the other hand US politics– and the debate over health care particularly– is so utterly corrupted by money politics that can hardly blame the Single Payer movement for fighting fire with fire. The single payer option has completely shut out of the debate– despite its being the option most favoured by >50% of voters. Matt Taibbi has speculated that Obama may have made a secret deal with
private insurers to take that option off the table…
…Another point, which I didn’t raise, is that the constitutional right to free speech really does not apply to this matter, because this is a conflict between private actors (i.e., Whole Foods and Single Payer Now). The Charter applies only when *government* interferes with basic rights and freedoms.”
- Bryan Thomas
“While I think that it’s unfair to punish a corporation for the political opinions of its CEO (for comments that were not meant to be representative of Whole Foods), I do agree that American liberals need to start fighting fire with fire in this debate. As Bob Cesca recently wrote, taking the high road may be the admirable thing to do, but when up against such corrupt (and in the case of the moralized health care
debate, irrational) foes, fighting with everything you’ve got may be the only way to get results. Bush may not have had the public’s best interests in heart, but he was able to push through a lot of legislation by taking this road – and certainly, this is an issue that has much more popular support. I’m inclined to think that in this case, the ends justify the means.
Not that a boycott of Whole Foods will have any sort of substantial impact on this debate nationally, but at least it’s encouraging a political dialog.” - Amanda Caswell
Two friends, I thank you for writing me.
In terms of calling to “…boycott the boycott,” I am not suggesting violating free speech. Such individuals do have the right to express their opinion, they should be expressing it, and they should not be punished for or stopped from doing so. However, their boycott has the intent of suppressing other individual’s opinions; in their objection they have chosen to suppress and punish, that is the difference. Expression can take many forms, it is true, but when one’s infringes on another’s, it is inherently unethical. Its intent, in this case, is to repress rather than to express. I am calling for reasonable discourse and an expression of all opinions without fear of repression, what I deem to be one of the fundamental components of any democracy, which the US claims to be. As Alexander Meiklejohn once said:
Whatever the immediate gains and losses, the dangers to our safety arising from political suppression are always greater than the dangers to the safety resulting from political freedom. Suppression is always foolish. Freedom is always wise.
You are right to point out that the definition of freedom of speech, in American law, specifically relates to government suppression; all of which is covered under the First Amendment.
This Amendment prevents Congress from passing laws which infringe upon free speech.
Naturally, subsequent decisions would be based primarily around this amendment and its focus on the role of government.
So, obviously, American courts would not rule that a corporation, pressuring an individual to silence, on pain of firing, would be violating freedom of speech. Indeed, employees have no legal protection for freedom of speech and may be terminated at any time. Think now of a business, anywhere in the world, and ask yourself if that employee should have the right to speak their mind without being fired. Think of an employee in China, who speaks out against their repressive regime while making the shoes you wear, and ask yourself if they should be fired for presenting a political position. Think of them arriving home, their face wet with tears, to tell their family that the one large employer in the city has fired them. Think now of their family’s reaction, the fear that they cannot support themselves, the concern that they will soon be on the streets.
How is it different?
How is it defensible? It is not, sir. It is never defensible to use local laws to justify your position. To say that killing is wrong because it is illegal is as base a defense as any. To say that freedom of speech only protects those against government suppression completely misses the point.
You’ve both touched on something which, I think, is central to the current thinking of the health care “movement” (if it can be called that), the concept of “fighting fire with fire”. Without going into too much particular detail on why I disagree with this approach, I would like to offer some perspective on the history of this phrase. US settlers in the 19th century used to light fires to create a break in the burnable foliage. As a fire has nothing to burn, when it reaches a line of ash, this prevented its spread to other areas.
Though I acknowledge that analogies are often inaccurate and misleading, I find this one illustrative, so allow me to continue. In the case of fire, for it to properly fight fire, it must burn. Fire has two fundamental natures: to burn and to spread. In its wake it leaves ash. In its spread it can be uncontrollable. Frequently, due to their own lack of control, the settler’s fires created more harm than good. Of course, you could find all that out with a simple Google search, but search around yourselves and see the signs.
Perhaps “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (my apologies for such a cliché Billy Joel reference), but it IS raging. It is raging all across the United States, blowing up into Canada and across the pond to the UK. Some are taking sides, calling the others out, and sounding the alarm bells. Now, this is a crisis, health care in the US has been a crisis for a while, they need change immediately. However, not everyone agrees on its nature, or on the nature the bill has taken. If you hadn’t noticed, the Single Payer option has already been dropped. I would like to see it come back, perhaps it has since I started writing this response, but in either case let us push for it in a respectable way.
What actions justified may also be held accountable for. I do not envy those uninsured Americans, forced to choose between fingers (i.e. Moore’s film “Sicko”), or placed in debt for a heart transplant. My heart cries out for them, but they will not hear my call, they will only know when this bill is passed. Of course, that is assuming I am right, which is to say that it will lead to an improvement in the system. I do not doubt that it will, but many do, even if they have simply been lied to.
Lies spread, but eventually are vanquished… the fires of precedent are harder to quell. If we boycott, harass, or take any other action to suppress dialog, we are sanctioning the suppression of dialog in any case. We are calling any future, similar actions, by either side (right or wrong), acceptable by proxy. Worse, you are validating the harassment of democratic representatives. You are saying that this is acceptable behavior, because you would engage in it too if provoked.
Take this energy you have, take it and spend it on writing letters, holding demonstrations, picketing; these are all acceptable. But when you do it, do it where it matters. Do it outside the local hospital; do it outside the insurance companies’ whose practices you so resent; do it outside your local government office; do it at the White House! As Howard Dean once put so eloquently, “YYAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG”
Where, oh where, have the hypocrites come from? Calling out names and burning down houses; spreading fires in all directions. Now they loot and kill, calling for retribution, but finding only the death of honest and questioning men. Committing suicide to get health care, killing themselves to shut out those who would deny them. Even as an atheist, I can only pray that they will come to their senses; before history is written by them, all over again. I can only pray they will come to their senses, before they perform some action which justifies the other.
Fear the righteous man - for he is ruled by fear.
~Steven Bradley Scott
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