No lover of liberty will deny that every person has a right to choose how to spend their money. Or that one of the ways that we can influence people to change what they do – to do what is right (at least in our eyes) – is whether or not we do business with them: whether we buy their products and services, or get them from someone else.
Refusing to do business with someone, voting with our dollars, seems to be a very good way of dealing with political and social opponents. It is a form of the religious idea of withdrawing fellowship – interactions – with those who cause dissension and offend against others.
But at what point does this action become intimidation? And is intimidation acceptable?
Is not intimidation a type of aggression, maybe even physical aggression, against someone? Not a matter of responding defensively, but actively attacking? Initiating a form of force against them?
On Monday, 19th November 2019, activists for homosexual and transgender causes were crowing over the announcement by Chick-fil-A that the firm was ending its donations to evil, anti-diversity religious groups including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army. (Pun intended.) Since 2012, the family-owned firm has been viciously attacked for its stand against so-called homosexual marriage, which is now the law of the land in the Fifty States and elsewhere.
The action, despite efforts by Chick-fil-A to spin it, has been condemned as Christians caving to pressure by LGB+++ groups, through boycott and political action to deny the firm a presence on college campuses and even in entire cities. One critic said the company’s changes sent a clear message. “They surrendered to anti-Christian hate groups” in a bid for more money, the critic wrote on Twitter, as reported by the BBC.
The various activists seem to not be satisfied with this mea culpa, pointing out that the chain still has ties with anti-diversity groups, has not publicly affirmed its support for the various issues, and of course, continues to close on Sundays.
This is one of the more recent examples of how boycott, divestment and sanctions force individuals, organizations and even entire nation-states to cave in on various political and social issues. Another example is the Boy Scouts of America. Although the most prominent, the Palestinian BDS movement, has failed (so far) to bring the Israelis to heel, it is a favorite and often successful tool of “progressive” governments such as California, New York, and the European Union.
California, in particular, has used this tool against other States which do not have the same view of various matters, such as manmade global warming, transgender privilege, and such things. Many local governments denied the BSA traditional privileges and even rights until the BSA started “affirming” homosexuality. There are many other examples.
University administrations and airport management (almost always government agencies) have banned Chick-fil-A (and other businesses) from opening locations in their jurisdictions because of the behavior of the chains. Even though that behavior is exercising free speech and freedom of religion on the part of the owners and management of those firms.
Is this a legitimate and moral use of governmental power? Is it right for government to take such action on the part of some of the citizenry which they supposedly serve and represent? Or it is yet another example of government bullying and denial of fundamental human rights to certain persons and groups. Persons who express opinions (and act on their opinions) which are not politically correct?
Is there a difference? Can you and I, as individuals, tell someone, “I’m not going to do business with you until you ‘clean up your act,’ buddy,” and be right? But are we wrong, if we get together with our friends to push government into taking action? “Until you agree with and affirm our political positions on X, we aren’t going to allow you to do business in our jurisdiction.”
To state it in another way. If it is okay to say “I won’t buy anything from you until you stop saying or doing this,” then is it okay to say “I won’t let anyone else buy from you until you do,” as well?
How is this different from preventing someone from saying something that we don’t agree with? We call that prohibiting free speech, and believe it wrong. Is it not also wrong for governments (not individuals) to discriminate against someone – even a corporation – because they disagree with what they are saying?
Did not the campaign against Chick-fil-A cross over that line from exercising our freedoms to denying those freedoms to other. From legitimate actions to acts of aggression. Just as California crossed that line when the state government apparently prohibited its agencies, employees, and perhaps even ordinary residents of California from doing business with firms located in states which have laws or policies which do not agree with those of California.
It seems that, at least in the case of Chick-fil-A, intimidation works. It may be because the owners of Chick-fil-A do not hold as firmly to their convictions, to their faith, as they should. Perhaps their greed for profit has pushed aside the firmness of their beliefs. Does that make it right? Even if the outcome of the intimidation is “good” – we know that the ends do not justify the means. Will that work again? Should it?
This comment was received from another reader of TPOL who did not want to post directly. So I am forwarding it to you:
This intimidation vs. boycotting article was intriguing.
By the time I finished it, I felt I knew the difference better than I had previously.
Now, so far anyway to me, intimidation is a more “in your face” type of communication during which someone who disagrees with your point of view and Wants You To Change To His Point Of View tells you over and over, perhaps, why you should change your view to his. Sometimes, they add an “or else” to it.
Boycotting or shunning is what the [Amerind] Reservation friends and neighbors execute so well. If they disagree with your point of view, they will tell you once, maybe twice and then disappear and not speak to you about it again. Or do business with you again. If it’s a serious subject, they may not speak to you or patronize your business again – ever! Therein lies their “or else”.
I’d be interested in what you think of my analysis! Hope it makes sense.
Pingback: Does intimidation work? – Rational Review News Digest
our freedoms are being controlled by a small group of people. “We the people and We the business” cannot do as we want, say what we want with out being condemned from one side or the other. I learned 40 years ago, be careful what you say and to whom.
“But at what point does this action become intimidation?”
When, and only when, it’s accompanied by the threat of force.
“I won’t buy from you unless X, and I will also urge others not to buy from you unless X” is not “intimidation” in any sense related to initiation of force.
It’s a choice of terms for association and an expression of intent to persuade others to make the same choice.
Threatening to burn the business down is force-initiating intimidation. Threatening to get the state to shut down the business or limit where and with whom it may do business is, likewise, force-initiating intimidation — if you don’t follow the state’s orders, people with guns show up to change your mind and/or punish you.
But threatening to persuade people to not do business with someone is just fine.
Chik-fil-A is an interesting case. They seem to have benefited at least as much from “buycott” as they’ve suffered from “boycott.” I’ve known people who’ve made it a point to support a place that shares their religious values (and even closes on the fake sabbath!) with their patronage. I don’t think I’ve ever passed our local Chik-fil-A when it was open and not seen a drive-thru line around the building.
It doesn’t hurt that their food is damn good (or at least used to be — the only time I’ve had it in the last 30 years was when someone brought it to an event where food was shared, etc.).
Tom, thanks for an excellent and thoughtful reply. You have answered the questions I pose in the commentary very well – and make some excellent points. In government, I would include universities (whether public or “private” but supported mostly by government). And it is a great point about the buycott of Chick-fil-A: which further raises questions.
Always glad for the opportunity to add to the conversation!
“Public” universities, “publicly-owned” airports, et al. shouldn’t get to discriminate on the basis of things like political and religious views of business owners.
I find the more expansive case you offer interesting.
If I’m not mistaken, there’s a grand total of one college/university in the US that doesn’t accept government money (Hillsdale, I think).
Almost all of them accept students who pay with government-guaranteed student loans, Pell Grants, GI Bill benefits, etc.
Should, say, a Christian school that accepts that government money be forbidden to discriminate against (for example) a Temple of Satan event or public orgy on its campus?
What about pharmacies that fill prescriptions for Medicaid/Medicare patients? Should their owners and/or pharmacists be able to discriminate, based on their religious views, between prescriptions they’ll fill and prescriptions they won’t fill (e.g. “Plan B”)?
My answer: I’m not sure.
My preference would be for the institutions I mention to say “OK, we’ve decided not to take any taxpayer money, period, end of story” and then do what they damn well please. And for the state to be forbidden to offer it anyway.
But if that money comes, and if it comes with conditions, those conditions should be uniform. Which would create just as much turmoil among institutions that hold this or that belief set as among those that oppose that same belief set.
Tom, there may be at least one more besides Hillsdale, but definitely almost none. Your point about money and strings is a good one. Is there an ethical difference between money coming directly from government? Is a grant to a university or even a direct payment of salary or stipend to a professor or student different than payments or guarrantees of loans for students? Ditto for pharmacies, and for hospitals and clinics?
Like you, at this point, I’m not sure, but you and I are thinking alike as far as preferences!
“Is there an ethical difference between money coming directly from government? Is a grant to a university or even a direct payment of salary or stipend to a professor or student different than payments or guarrantees of loans for students?”
My tentative answer is that no, I don’t think there is an ethical difference.
In order for a student to use a Pell Grant, government-guaranteed (or government direct) student loan, or GI Bill benefits at a school, my understanding is that that school has to both be accredited by a government-recognized body and agree to be bound by various government regulations against e.g. discrimination and such.
So when one of those students enrolls at one of those schools, it’s not so much “I am paying you to educate me, and I happened to get the government to give me the money,” it is “the government is paying you to educate me pursuant to a scheme that you actively chose to participate in.” The student isn’t the customer, the government is.
Ditto pharmacies and healthcare providers. They actively apply to be contractors for Medicare and Medicaid. The government is the paying customer for the patient’s care and prescriptions. If they want to operate according to their owners’ or employees’ personal beliefs rather than according to the customer’s requirements (where the two conflict), they should be free to do so — and the deal should be off.
And of course, I would prefer that lots and lots of institutions choose to decline government as a customer and remain free to operate however they like (other than in force-initiating ways, of course).