I am open to hearing good arguments for why fast-food consumers like me should continue to eat at Chick-fil-A despite the offensive politics of its founder. This, however, is not a good argument, and it’s taking over my social media streams to the point I can’t help but point out its main flaw.
Here are a few lines from the piece. I’m plucking them from context because I want to show a thread that weaves throughout:
I’m flummoxed that so many consumers are so quick these days to call for boycotts of any company that deviates from their personal or political views.
But my bigger question is this: In a nation that’s as divided as ours is, do we really want our commercial lives and our political lives to be so wholly intermeshed? And is this really the kind of culture we want to create?
On both sides of our latest culture war divide, we must learn to have level-headed disagreements without resorting to accusations of hate speech and boycotts. As Josh Ozersky argued on TIME Thursday, “businesses should be judged by their products and their practices, not by their politics.”
I agree: I don’t care how my dry cleaner votes. I just want to know if he/she can press my Oxfords without burning my sleeves. I find no compelling reason to treat sandwiches differently than shirts.
The premise is that politics and economics are separate realms, and we are “creating a culture” of division by dragging politics into such things as economic transactions. One could hardly better encapsulate the reality we live under, where economics have completely replaced politics. That’s pretty much the definition of classical liberalism: true politics, where human values are disputed, are expected to be sublimated by economic transactions. The winner is the corporation, which can now reap the profits of a society where no human value is allowed to be more important than a business deal. (If you question that orthodoxy, you’re likely to be labeled a “radical” or a “partisan,” or better yet, just “too political.”) This ideology owes its entire existence to the need for capitalists to keep human values out of the way of the market. Above all, it must keep politics a dirty word, because people who know what politics are and how to use them can cause trouble for capitalists very quickly.
So, to Jonathan Merritt, I would start by pointing out that our commercial and our political lives are already completely intermeshed, because under the current regime we basically only have commercial lives. The only political power to be had in the United States is money, and even if you don’t have enough to make a corporation hurt, how you consume is one of the few expressions of political will open to the average citizen. They may not have enough money to shake the economy, and may not even when pooled with a large group of like-minded people. But a visceral awareness that money is politics is an excellent first step toward the average person realizing his or her political agency and taking responsibility for it.
If it baffles Merritt that people expect the corporations that live off their support to reflect their political views, it baffles me that a religious person would be admonishing people to submit to a system that works aggressively to suppress any realization that economic transactions have profound implications on human values. Even if the corporatization of our society is so complete that it is objectively impossible to avoid giving money to entities that are at that very moment working to undermine our political freedoms, every religious and ethically-minded institution should be urging those under its influence to be aware and resist wherever possible. You can agree or disagree with Chick-fil-A’s stance on the rights of gay citizens to get married, but you cannot pretend it is irrelevant.
In sum, you should absolutely be supporting corporations that put human values ahead of profit, and doing your best to keep your dollars away from ones that exploit workers and try to obstruct democracy, whether directly by stripping workers of their rights or indirectly by supporting the exclusionary social fantasies of religious reactionaries. The market-ideology-generators in the media will always be there to pooh-pooh genuine political efforts, to remind Americans how powerless their protests and boycotts are to stop the almighty economy. They will call you angry and partisan and disaffected and closed-minded and illiberal. Above all, remember that when they tell you to “keep politics out of it,” they are telling you to throw away your selfhood as a citizen. When they whiningly demand if really, you have to make even this little thing political? The answer is yes.
David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and is a graduate student in the Draper Program for Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He can be reached at hdavidsessions at gmail dot com.
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