Thursday, January 29, 2009

Boycotts and rights.

There can be no question, in my mind, that any individual has the right to boycott any business or any other individual for any reason they wish. These reasons can be rational or irrational, motivated by hatred or motivated by a more nobler feeling.

The right to boycott is the right of free exchange. Individuals ought to be free to make exchanges with others. But “to be free” means the individuals involved make the decision. All participants to an exchange must be willingly involved. I have the right to decide how I will spend my money and with whom.

Every day I neglect spending my money on millions of products and neglect purchasing from billions of people. It is a basic principle of freedom that one may exchange with others freely or neglect to do so.

When the morons and the Mormons pushed through the bigoted Proposition 8 in California some people angrily responded by boycotting contributors to the campaign. Conservatives, always willing to stab their own principles in the back, denounced such boycotts. Some went so far as to claim that a boycott violates the rights of people -- as if some people have the right to force other people to exchange with them unwillingly.

People are free to boycott if they wish. So no one’s rights are violated by a boycott. Some on the Right wept crocodile tears from a woman who managed a family owned restaurant. She is a Mormon and gave money to take away marriage rights from gay couples because the church told her to do it. Many of the customers of the restaurant stopped buying there because they were insulted by this woman’s actions. She was not some lowly employee, as some right-wing pundits pretended. Her mother is the primary owner and she was the manager running it for her mother.

Enough customers decided to boycott the restaurant that business was hurt. The woman resigned her position at the restaurant in the hope of attracting back the business she had driven away with her donation.

That conservatives attacked the customers was rather astounding. Freedom of association includes the freedom to not associate. And conservatives have pretended to defend that right. They don’t want anti-discrimination laws because they say people ought to be free to associate or not as they choose. Now are they doing this on principle or not? If on principle then the right of gay customers to boycott a restaurant is not in dispute.

The customers had a simple position. The woman in question, as the manager, received a fairly decent salary from the restaurant. As a Mormon she gave 10% of her earnings, pre-tax, to the sect in question. Mormonism is a very bigoted religion and the customers felt they didn’t want to support it indirectly. Now you might fault the reasoning if you want, but you can’t fault the right to boycott. As I said, since people can boycott for any reason the reason need not be one you consider rational. It can come from entirely irrational motives.

Of course because it was gay people and their friends who were engaging in the boycott conservatives, ever the paid whores of the American Taliban, lined up to condemn the boycott. Now, we see yet another of the hundreds of boycotts which the fanatics in the fundamentalist Right regularly launch taking place and not one conservative seems to have a problem with it.

Rev. Don Wildmon (who really does look like Donald Duck) and his American Family Association has organized a boycott of Pepsi. They are protesting a television commercial that Pepsi used in the UK. Its not even available in the US market except through the wonders of the internet. (I have the commercial above if you wish to view it.)

I’m sure Pepsi thinks the commercial funny. It’s not really that clever and barely amusing. But because it implies that one of the people in the commercial is gay Rev. Wildmon is having fits. Wildmon says it “promotes the gay lifestyle.” (Hint: anyone who uses the term “the gay lifestyle” is clearly brain dead and conversation with idiots is counterproductive.)

I support Wildmon’s right to boycott products for any reason he wants. But what interests me is that none of the conservatives who argued the Prop 8 related boycotts were wrong have come out in condemnation of Wildmon’s proposal. The only thing I find annoying about Wildmon’s boycott is that his stupidity makes me feel obligated to drink Pepsi and I’m not that fond of Pepsi.

The problem with modern conservatism, or perhaps I should say one problem with modern conservatism, is that it has double-standards. Conservatives are hypocrites. They support freedom sometimes but for only some people. The freedom which they demand for themselves they are unwilling to grant to others, especially to those they consider sinful.

They would argue that students in public schools have the right to form Bible Clubs. Then they would turn around and prevent students from forming a Gay/Straight club. When an entertainment company has a product they consider sinful, then they defend the right to boycott. When gays are the ones boycotting then they attack the right to boycott. When a Republican conservative senator, who was married, had illegal sex with a prostitute they defended him. When a single (at the time), gay man admitted to a legal relationship with another man, they demanded his resignation.

Conservatives want to market themselves as defenders of liberty. Yet they regularly work to restrict liberty. What it comes down to is that they are not advocates of individual liberty at all but collective liberty. If you are a member of a group which they approve then you have liberty. If you are a member of a group which they dislike they you don’t have liberty.

While they despair over the concept of “group rights” when it comes to issues like affirmative action they promote group rights in other areas. Their entire campaign to “defend marriage” is built on the idea that certain rights are only given to certain groups. In this case the right to marry is restricted to opposite sex couples only. Even more bizarrely they will call the granting of equal marriage rights to same-sex couples “special rights”.

One reason that conservatives are having trouble attracting support is that people see them as moralistic hypocrites. It is simply difficult to inspire people with slogans like “freedom for some”. As long as conservatives are willing to compromise freedom because of their religious fantasies then conservatism will NEVER be the friend of liberty.

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