THE GREAT BEYOND

Although the clamoring has died down, we all will mentally associate Chik-fil-A with either "Hates the gays" or "Good, God-fearing Christian business to support" (depending on our perspective) for a long time. Those of us who are conscientious about such things now know better than to give Chik-fil-A our money.

I struggle with the logic behind that. Stick with me for a second.

The only difference between Chik-fil-A and any other fast food chain – or any other large corporation for that matter – is that we know exactly what objectionable cause our money is being put toward. The CEO has chosen to be explicit about the ways in which he is using his obscene wealth to advance a specific right wing jihad. "Unfair" is the wrong term because it's entirely fair to criticize him for whatever opinion he chooses to express if you find it offensive. But why single them out just because you know while continuing to spend money that ends up funding equally objectionable causes without your specific knowledge?

In our plutocracy corporate-dominated economy we dump our money into black boxes all day, every day without any knowledge of what happens to it down the line. Can you even imagine what the money ends up doing when you buy gas? Coke? Anything from Wal-Mart? A car? Clothing? You're funding everything from gay-bashing to Koch Bros. style Teabagging to environmental degradation here and abroad to ethnic conflicts in underdeveloped countries to child slavery. The CEO of Chik-fil-A is either brave or dumb enough to have told you the specific ways in which he is a loathsome person. But you're not naive enough to think that the others about whom you know nothing (Quick! Name Target's CEO. You can't. His name is Gregg Steinhafel and he hates the gays too) are using your money to plant flowers, feed the poor, and teach blind children how to read.

I question the logic or effectiveness of targeting a specific fast food chain with a loose boycott (which is unlikely to accomplish much) when it is merely a symptom of an entire system that is rotten to the core. Unless you're living the college activist completely-off-the-grid lifestyle you are going to continue to funnel money to awful, awful people. Most of us deal with that through willful ignorance. Can you even imagine what oil companies and their executives are doing with the billions they've made? I don't want to know, and if it's anything less than murdering endangered seals with weapons fashioned from the bones of slightly less endangered seals I would be stunned. I don't say that to guilt anyone into feeling bad about their buying habits; it is only to emphasize that cutting one head off of the hydra isn't going to kill it.

Ultimately we all do what our conscience permits in these matters and social consciousness not high on the priority list of many Americans when they spend their money. If people could learn one thing from the Chik-fil-A ordeal, "Don't eat there because they hate the gays" isn't bad, but "Oh my god, our society concentrates wealth into the hands of an implausibly small number of completely amoral people who have no sense of social responsibility, place no value on human lives other than their own, and use the money they siphon from us to make our lives more miserable" would be superior.

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43 Responses to “THE GREAT BEYOND”

  1. Dr. Mac Says:

    Ed.. either the "either" or the parenthetical in the first sentence is not needed, yes?

  2. Jer Says:

    I dunno Ed. At the very least the Chik-Fil-A episode has made it slightly less fashionable to flaunt your anti-gay hatred, which is a positive in my book. I've never liked the "other people are doing worse stuff so why are you focusing over here" argument.

    People do awful stuff everywhere, I try to mitigate it with the level I'm comfortable with. Not eating at Chick Fil A takes almost no effort on my part.

  3. Jer Says:

    Ugh, my kingdom for an edit… "to flaunt your anti-gay opinion"

  4. Daniel Says:

    Great post. Who the hell wants to know what is going on at the sausage factory? Not me. Does everyone want to know what someone thinks of them when they leave the room and are out of earshot?

  5. argh Says:

    Well said. By all means, boycott Chick-fil-A, but let's not pretend that that's going to accomplish much.

  6. mbl Says:

    My feeling on these things is basically "you don't want none, there won't be none." Cathy showed his stupid in public; my reaction is to not buy any more of his books. Similarly, Dan Simmons, a writer whose work I greatly enjoy, made damn sure I found out what an incredible asshole he was a few years ago. Sorry, Dan, no more money for you. Do I happily read work by writers who are bigger assholes than Simmons is? I'm sure I do, but I don't know who they are. Do I eat at restaurants run by bigger assholes than the Cathy family? Maybe. (The Sunday thing has annoyed me forever; the gay thing was icing on the cake.) But they haven't shown me their corporate asses in public yet. Once they do, things might change.

  7. mbl Says:

    Well, hell. Looks like everybody wants an edit button today. :-) "Food" and not "books" in that second sentence; obviously I was already thinking about the next line when I wrote that.

  8. anotherbozo Says:

    @ Dr. Mac: Ed's parenthetical can be justified as providing emphasis, not redundancy. I would recommend your scrutiny be applied to other blogs, but I'm afraid you'd be overwhelmed.

    Target: I just yesterday spend $125 on a wedding gift, though the couple was also registered at Macy's. This came too damn late.

    Having what I think is the long perspective that comes from being offensively old, I believe that this interest in CEOs' political views, and their interest in expressing them, are relatively new things. As is the reporting on uses for corporate profits. There was some in the past, but not nearly on this level. Though Ed's doubtless right that it's going to result in some idealists' returning to cave dwelling, making their own clothes, burning wood for warmth, etc., I can't believe there's a downside to the politicization of consumerism. Ethical quandaries? Sure. A choice between paying slightly more and supporting slave labor? Show it to me; I'll try to deal with it. Didn't Nike clean up its act, at least slightly, as a result of the bad publicity a while back?

    I can't control where my heating oil comes from, and I'm not going to pay 50c more per gallon because the oil supplier supports good causes. But there are so many tweedle-dum/tweedle-dee choices out there that I can be influenced by political knowledge, if the facts I can find are verifiable. My conscience is pretty dingy from the mere fact of being an American, but to be functional in our society at all, politically and otherwise, means being able to distinguish various shades of gray. Even, ultimately, gray plaids. Bring it on.

  9. c u n d gulag Says:

    Yes, the many-headed corporate hydra is wrapped around his country like a constrictor.
    But this country has always been pretty screwed-up – in one way or another. And right now, after a period of some progress, we're economically reverting back to The Gilded Age. An electronic "Platinumed Age," if you will. A 1% coating of rich platinum, over a core of 99% poorer metals.

    But look at the progress we've made since that last Gilded Age.

    And what do we do?
    Let the hydra continue to constrict?
    Or do we try to lop-off a head or two, hoping that if the other heads don't get the complete message, maybe they'll lighten-up for awhile on the constricting? Long enough for us to catch a breath, and take another small step forwards.

    We've got to fight. Although it seem that almost half of our citizens seem to support the hydra, even if its bites them in the ass. Again.
    For a lot of these people, their very existance is centered around pissing-off the Liberals. That's what they live for.

    MLK once said, "The moral arc of the universe is long but it always bends toward justice."
    Sometimes it bends faster than others.
    Sometimes, people want to try to bend it back.

    And that's the point that we're at.
    Forces want to bend it back. And a lot of our fellow citizens want to help in bending it back.

    What do we do?
    We continue fighting.
    In small ways every day – and large ones, if/when the opportunities present themselves.

    That arc won't bent towards justice on its own.

  10. Tim H. Says:

    In the case of Chick-Fil-A, it might be better to snow their PR office under with snail mail protest letters, than to boycott local restaurants. As for your larger issue, I haven't a lot of hope that empathy will re-appear in the .01%, the churches mostly won't shame them anymore, for fear of their building fund, seems like we have to wait for either the collapse of society, or "The golf buddies" becoming disenchanted with Ayn Rand..

  11. Castello Says:

    I think (hope) that eventually there will be a push to force these corporations to tell us where their money goes. When that happens, some enterprising activist (a liberal, no doubt, but could go either way) will set up an easy-to-reference list of corporations and how they spend their money. It would be child's play to make a phone application that could scan a barcode and tell you whether the company that makes it hates the gays or is desperate to get the government into your vagina.

    That's the short-term goal anyway. Long-term, any corporation that donates to any political cause should be stuck with the fringes on either side. So most conservatives and like 6 liberals.

  12. Eric Titus Says:

    I'd strongly disagree here–boycotts of specific companies tend to be much more effective than boycotting, say, the whole capitalist system.
    Singling out companies forces them to change and makes others worry they will be next. That's why practically every social movement, from labor to civil rights to christian fundamentalism has gone for this approach. The likely ineffectiveness of the Chick-fill-a boycott is because of the disorganization of the "movement" rather than a problem with tactics.

  13. buckyblue Says:

    I think I've made this exact same comment on several other posts. But if you're going to stuff your right-wing ideas down my throat, then I'm not buying your shit. Here in cheeseland with the Walker recall, many businesses put the 'I Stand With Walker' sign in their store window. No chance I went in there, nor will I ever go in there again. One was a local plumber I had used on several occasions. Sorry, not calling when the faucet leaks. One was a bar I would frequent, and got into a 'discussion', totally unwelcome on my part, with the owner. Haven't been back since. His point was your point, that all of the business people are giving to the repugs anyway. I just said, if you're going to stick it in my face and make me make a choice, then I will. I can't imagine why Chikfucka would do this. Why alienate a portion of people who might walk through your doors and buy your shitty shit? Terrible business practices.

  14. CaptBackslap Says:

    I am in awe of "murdering endangered seals with weapons fashioned from the bones of slightly less endangered seals." That's just fantastic phrasing.

  15. Heidi B. Says:

    Four words to inspire some hope: Bill and Melinda Gates.

  16. acer Says:

    I agree that anyone who buys a gallon of gas probably has reserved parking in Progressive Hell. And that protests are largely about making protestors feel better about themselves. How many things do we do for any other reason?

    Still, I can find a lot to smile about in the Chik-Fil-A debacle and even in this Akin bullshit. A lot of people – a lot of people – stood up to declare bigotry socially unacceptable. People who may not have had their insane views publicized before the internet and the 24-hour news cycle were put deeply on the defensive.

    I enjoy the half-steps forward despite the cross-country sprints backward.

  17. anotherbozo Says:

    @ Heidi B.: Funny you should mention the Gateses. Their charitable work is epic, but I have trouble with the way ol' Bill made his gazillions: the bullying tactics, quest for absolute monopoly, thievery, law suits designed to bankrupt, etc. Though I understand Jobs was no saint himself, I would have been inclined toward Apple even if my profession didn't favor it. I have WORD only because it beats the hell out of AppleWorks.

  18. JazzBumpa Says:

    Not quite on topic, but here is a different reason to hate CEO's and corporation. And it's from the god-damned Wall Street Urinal.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444375104577593700457223914.html

    WASF!
    JzB

  19. Spiffy McBang Says:

    This brings Kobe Bryant to mind. Bryant is a rapist. No, he wasn't convicted, but he went so far as to acknowledge this in the public statement that his accuser demanded in order for her to drop the charges; thus, as far as I'm concerned, he's a rapist. Whenever his name comes up in a conversation about basketball, I very freely call him a dirty scumbag motherfucker, which you can imagine goes over well here in California.

    There was a pretty major study done that showed approximately 7% of men are the source of all rapes. Apply that to the NBA, even without adjustment for the entitled stature of star players (and they were all stars at some level), and it's entirely possible I'm either a fan of a player who's raped someone, or a team with at least one such player on its roster.

    Does that mean I should refrain from caring about pro basketball at all? That would seem insane. But at the same time, if I were to cheer on Kobe Bryant, that would display a greater regard for wins and losses than the despicable behavior all those wins and losses help to protect.

    So, yes, the decision to bash/boycott someone due to known awfulness is different than partaking in a system- especially one as unavoidable as the entire economy- with the potential to support someone awful while not knowing anything about them for certain. Maybe the former won't do anything, but performing a moral act that may have no real effect is part and parcel of acting morally. The latter, being so untargeted, is simply pointless.

  20. Elle Says:

    I think that the publicity around boycotts can be a useful way of drawing attention to the practices of a company or organisation, but that often the boycott part is a not particularly effective way of generating that focus and attention.

    I'm struggling to think of a boycott that worked because it deprived a business of income, that wasn't also the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Nestlé products are somewhat anathema in my social circles, because of the Nestlé boycott, which is upheld by quite a lot of universities, schools, and colleges across Europe. Despite a really quite impressive level of product-shunning, the Nestlé corporation continues to turn a solid profit (CHF 9.487 billion last year), and has not satisfactorily evidenced that it has ceased and desisted the baby milk practices that kicked the whole thing off in 1977.

    I can see the seduction of ethical consumerism, because it does seem almost impossible to have any effect on the practices of large corporations. I think organising around specific, focused campaigns is more effective, though, for the reasons articulated in the post above, in Naomi Klein's No Logo, and elsewhere. Ultimately, I favour regulation over opaque corporate social responsibility activity, and waiting for companies to respond to shareholder activism, activist activism, or ethical consumerism.

    I feel similarly about the Free Trade movement. There has been practical criticism thrown at it almost from its inception (it privileges richer farmers; very little money finds its way to the producers; it actively disbenefits poorer farmers in product markets where demand is inelastic), but I also find it distasteful that the labour rights of workers be realised through a price premium paid as part of the conspicuous consumption of 'ethical' Western consumers.

  21. mwing Says:

    Looks like Chick-fil-A is a franchise operation, a boycott might mostly affect the individual franchisees, who of course had no control over the owners comments. Mr. Cathy's comments were, among other larger things, kind of unfair to his own franchisees.

  22. Chicagojon Says:

    This post is a well-formed version of my banks vs. credit unions argument. After occupy wall street & bank transfer day there was a sense that if one took their money out of a bank and instead put it into a credit union then all of their money would go to local projects and not be overly leveraged. In reality credit unions leverage the money as well and with the influx of new users and $$$ promptly started to lobby to change the regulations so they could leverage more. Looking even closer it's a lot easier to find disclosure info on big banks and where their investment money is spent than some credit unions as they're not-for-profit and regulated differently. In fact, it's easy to argue that credit unions are a sham because it's just manipulating a not-for-profit loophole in the US tax code.

    Potato/Potatoh in my world.

    This is why I try not to draw hard lines in the sand on too many issues. Of course I know I shouldn't shop at X, Y, & Z or eat A, B, & C but the bigger issue to me is to be aware on the macro level so that a (vast?) majority of my decisions are things I can live with. My only strict one is that I don't eat veal because I think baby cows are cute and older cows taste just fine. Oh, and I don't vote…but that's more because I'm an asshole.

  23. mothra Says:

    Definitely I agree that it is well-neigh impossible to make sure your dollars only go to causes you support. However, you mention Target and its gay-hating CEO. It is worthwhile to point out that due to protests, Target issued an apology for donating to that anti-gay politician and spent a good deal of time engaging in damage control. So protesting DOES have an effect on a corporation and its behavior–sort of. Because they could have learned their lesson and now only donate to these shadow right-wing organizations who are able to conceal their donors' identities. Therein lies the rub.

  24. mothra Says:

    Yep. Looks like everyone needs the edit button. "Nigh." Shit.

  25. acer Says:

    "Mr. Cathy's comments were, among other larger things, kind of unfair to his own franchisees."

    Yeah, interesting point. Seriously, if anyone hasn't read Fast Food Nation…

  26. J. Dryden Says:

    We might look at such boycotts in a positive way thusly: No, they probably won't have a significant economic impact on the company in question (Elle quite rightly points out that Nestle is doing just fine, thank you–and I admit that even I am torn between the fact that they're pure evil and the fact that Nestle Crunches are just insanely good and do not have an adequate analog in the pantheon of other confectioners.) And it's quite true that, dear Lord, our money is probably going to men and their causes that are just as bad when we shop at any one of a hundred other corporate-owned retailers. (You just *know* that Ben & Jerry are secretly funding Operation Rescue, and Paul Newman funneled most of his profits into creating Neo-Nazi cells throughout the Northwest.)

    But.

    We might consider that as a result of the idiot's statements, and the subsequent uproar, and the backlash against the uproar, that we have reignited a national argument (it's more of a fight at this point, but fights can be good, too, if the cause is sufficiently just), one that requires people to lay their cards on the table and let others know exactly where things stand on this issue.

    Controversy is an occasion for debate–even if the debate is shouted. Controversy is an occasion for honesty–even if that honesty is expressed in anger. It's an opportunity for the opponents of gay marriage to really set forth what their objections are (Bible Bible Bible, plus a soupcon of Ew Gross), and for the supporters to draw a line in the sand. A fight is an occasion for the side that's bluffing (the opponents–they really, really are, and the reason you know they are is that they are embarrassed by the Westboro clan) to cave.

    It's also an occasion for us to examine the mote in our own eye–to say to, for instance, Mayor Emanuel, "Dude, First Amendment. Seriously. Don't be a jackass. Bigger picture. Shut the fuck up."

    In short, it's a moment in which everyone is paying attention in a lively manner. Such moments, taken at the flood, lead to political progress. People will get exhausted from yelling soon enough–the boycott will not accomplish any of its direct goals–yet we need not abandon the larger goal of a dialogue that, extended long enough, *must* lead to the logical conclusion of equality under the law. (See also: what c u n d gulag said.)

    Wildly optimistic of me, but after the jeremiad I unleashed on the nature of gender politics in this country yesterday, call it a counter-balance.

  27. Dr. Mac Says:

    @ anotherbozo: First sentence is appropriate; second is not.

  28. Cartmanne Says:

    An even better reason to boycott Chic-Filet and all fast food restaurants (and most "family style" restaurants) is that they are willfully addicting this country to fat, salt and sugar and slowly poisoning us in the process. I don't eat at any of them, and I am slowly convincing my children that they should skip them at all costs.

    In any case, I do think the publicity on this has been helpful for those of us opposed to bigotry.

  29. Elle Says:

    @ J. Dryden

    [T]he fact that Nestle Crunches are just insanely good and do not have an adequate analog in the pantheon of other confectioners.

    Nestlé Crunches are the shit. Should you happen upon them, though, may I commend to you the Milka Choco and Rice, and the Ritter Sport Crisp (there is also a white chocolate crisp, and milk chocolate and cornflake, along with a kazillion other varieties).

  30. mel in oregon Says:

    no chick-a -filas here so it's easy for me to boycott them. i would even if they were nearby. the point of the article though is 99.99% of corporate america is corrupt to the core & conservative as hell, so every time you buy anything, you are contributing to these slimey bastards. that's what the hippy 1960s back to nature movement was about. there have been other similiar movements in the past like sunnybrook farm etc. but for most people you get married, buy a house for your family, raise kids. so you're stuck. you can do little things though, like if you see a neighbor's house on fire, & he's a big tea party man, don't call the fire department. you know he's against all government, & prefers to put out the fire with a garden hose. or, if you're a paramedic, & you are at the scene of a bad car wreck, & there's a guy bleeding profusely with a romney in 2012 bumper sticker, & another person with a small cut on her arm, put a bandaid on the cut, & then take a cigarette break.

  31. Leon Says:

    Our individual actions don't do a damn bit of good on a global scale. But global
    movements are made up of individuals. I will, to the extent I can, continue to vote with my dollars, even though my conscience often costs more than what I'd pay at the big box retailers. I realize it may not cause great change, but, you know, chaos theory and all that.

  32. Don Says:

    "Successful" boycotts are like killing a cockroach. There's always more of them behind the stove.

    Nevertheless one should kill cockroaches.

  33. planb247 Says:

    Bill Gates? Yeah, um, no thank you. http://www.triplepundit.com/2011/09/gates-foundation-invests-gmo-research-africa-correct/

    I agree with Ed's point that, almost anywhere your money goes, it's going to bad people. But only in the sense that most people need to be educated about that fact, not that we shouldn't boycott specific examples of bad people.

    The solution is easy (but really hard to accomplish) – quit giving corporations money, quit working for them, create alternative economies. This is where the future lies. Time to get crackin'.

  34. Patrick Says:

    I just want to note that, in highschool, chik-fil-a was awesome. They have(had?) this secret christian charity rule. If you tell them that you're hungry and don't have money for food, they're required to give you some free food. Many a free nugget was had at their expense.

  35. JoyfulA Says:

    Don't worry about the Chik-Fil-A franchise owners. Before they're allowed to buy in, they have to sign on to the corporate posture via interviews and background checks. They're owners because they agree with the corporate owners.

    As far as Target, I've known about their antigay politics since they were caught in Minnesota, but I've been boycotting them longer than that. About a decade ago, the chain was a chief malefactor in the "our pharmacists don't have to sell anything like birth control that they think is immoral." I complained politely to Target public relations, which replied with quite a nasty note.

    I also complained to Coca-Cola about their participation in ALEC and got a pleasant, noncommittal reply. A month later, Coke left ALEC, and I sent a thank-you note.

    And so on. It's sort of a hobby for me, I guess.

  36. Bentpine Says:

    I don't know. The backlash against Komen was pretty severe and seemed to cause a significant dent in their donations. And, I would guess their brand will never fully recover.

    This was direct result of their public stupidity. Of course, most of us knew they were rotten a long time ago, but the media blast helped a lot of people see their true colors.

    As for Chickie Fil A, I don't ( usually ) eat there because the robo-response "It's my pleasure" after everything you say grates on my nerves. I'm quite sure it's NOT their pleasure to serve disgusting fast food.

  37. Haydnseek Says:

    It's a long hard slog, but you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It won't happen all at once. Rosa Parks was one person on one bus in one city. The galvanizing event could happen at any moment, or never.
    Yeah, you bought something from a company that beats baby seals in their training videos. Now you know. Stop buying their shit. The more you know, blah blah blah, but it's true.
    Ed, I know you love baseball as I do. Sometimes the game is won by the buy that did his job by grounding out to the right side to move the runner to third with less than two outs, who scores the winning run on a sac fly. Sometimes a guy hits a walk-off three one homer. Which one happens more often? Which team wins pennants? Like is said, it's a long hard slog, and sometimes it seems hopeless, but one step at a time…

  38. Haydnseek Says:

    Damn, I wish I could edit that for typos, but what the hell…

  39. mbl Says:

    @Patrick: True dat; they even enforce it against your will sometimes. My local CFA has a drive-through that was configured in such a way that once you'd placed an order it was impossible to get out until after you'd gone past the window. One day a year or two ago I ordered some food and then discovered that my wallet, which I thought I'd tossed onto the passenger seat next to me, was nowhere to be found. I apologized when I got to the window, thinking I'd just drive on and not eat that day, but the guy doing the drive-through insisted that I take the food anyway.

    When I got to where I was going, I discovered that my wallet had slid in between the passenger seat and the door. I drove back to CFA to try and pay for my food. They *refused to take my money*.

    So I ordered another of what I had gotten, waited for them to take my money for that, then ran away before they could feed me. Ha! Take that!

  40. g Says:

    It's hard enough to buy toilet paper and papertowels and remember which brands are owned by Koch Industries.

  41. localnebula Says:

    My friend made a similar argument recently, and I couldn't disagree. However, I consider it more a tax on being a giant flaming wanker. I know my money is going to some awful causes regardless of which big corporation I give business to, but they can at least have the decency to shut the fuck up about it and keep it on the DL.

    Similar with ALEC. You think the same corps didn't immediately funnel their money to an equally bad front? Bitch, please. But they learned to at least keep that shit out of the public view and not stake their brand on it.

  42. cromartie Says:

    I question the logic or effectiveness of targeting a specific fast food chain with a loose boycott (which is unlikely to accomplish much)

    It accomplished plenty. For starters, it destroyed millions upon millions of dollars of brand equity. For better or for worse, a clear majority of Americans associate Chic Fil A with gay bigotry instead of bland tasting chicken.

    Some will support it, others will oppose it, but at the end of the day that is a tangible asset that the publicity ruined.

    Same with Komen. The uproar over Planned Parenthood defunding cost five people at the leadership level their jobs and donations are off 30%. http://goo.gl/Ru7V3

    So don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Consumers cannot be moved to make a moral decision if they aren't given information upon which to make that decision. And while these types of protests may not be 100% successful in driving a morally abhorrent business out of business, they can cause plenty of damage.

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