Boycott America: Whole Foods and Half-baked Ideas

by A. Jay Adler on August 22, 2009
Read More: , ,

Clausewitz’s famous proposition that “War is merely a continuation of politics by other means” might often reasonably and descriptively be turned on its head to state: “Politics are merely an enactment of war by other means.” Absent an attack of some sort on the “homeland” – and for some, not even then – domestic political opponents provoke a greater, more righteous ire than any perceived foreign enemy. One way to cope with the dissonance this reveals, as we see currently on the whacked and not as whacked out right, is to hyperbolically and emblematically transform the domestic opponent into the foreign enemy. Then one can fully embrace all of the embedded metaphors of war – attack and assault, offensive and defensive – in the attempt to destroy the political enemy who is either robbing us of our liberty or denying us our rights.

The campaign to boycott Whole Foods hardly reaches the extremes we see now in the phony town hall rebellions against changes in health policy, but it does evince the general whole_foods_450intolerance for opposing views that feeds the current mania on the right and sustains the domestic political wars. Keep in mind, I’m not a libertarian, as is John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods. I think libertarianism a splendid ideal of human liberty and integrity that is at least two centuries removed from its proper sphere, and I’m not invoking the future. Still, unlike most on the right, Mackey in his Wall Street Journal Op-ed did offer real ideas for health insurance reform. Equalizing the tax benefits of employer and individually paid health insurance premiums, higher deductibles along with what Mackey terms (employer funded) Personal Wellness Accounts, and repealing the bar to health insurers competing across state lines are all reasonable ideas. They are all possible band aids, even soothing balms to a painfully dysfunctional health insurance system. (On the other hand, repealing government mandates on what insurers must cover is just one fine example of why the vulnerable of any society should never want a libertarian to occupy any influential political office. Ron Paul gets to opine and cast a fortunately diluted vote.)

Mackey is honest, too, about his philosophy: he may feel human sympathy, but he does not believe in a right to health care. He doesn’t find it in the Constitution. Of course, it is not in the Constitution. Proponents of such “rights” do not mean Constitutional rights; they mean it is a human right, which is a whole other argument. And the word it translates into once legislation is passed – “entitlement” – is equally problematic for the right, and I think misguided. I prefer my own neologism: “enlightenment.” Do we wish to be an enlightened society, providing adequate and life-sustaining health care to all, or do we not? That, too, is another argument, and argument is good. But the subject, instead, is boycotts.

A popular motto of the “enlightened” left for many years now has been “Think Globally, Act Locally.” How does a proposed boycott against Whole Foods for being, in the minds of many ben--jerrys-half-baked-26672of its customers, impolitic (he could have kept his mouth shut) on the subject of health reform fit into the holistic notion of global consciousness enacted locally? You find out the local grocer has some different politics from yours and you – seek to put him out of business? Seek to damage his business sufficiently that he “gives” and purports to believe or even acts to support a policy in which he does not believe? And when your neighbor learns of your progressive leanings and organizes a boycott of your ice cream shop? When and how would an expanding conflagration of boycotts, the war of mutual ostracisms, end? These are not the makings of healthy communities, in which respect for people’s rights are married to tolerance for their differences. You don’t get punished for being unenlightened, if that’s what it is – you get to live in the darkness. That’s your right. And if you wish to promote your views, we argue about them (not shout each other down) at town hall meetings, and I still buy your organic steaks and you still read my blog because there’s value in knowing what a reasonable person who disagrees with you thinks.

Now, there are, in fact, a range of issues on which Mackey might make his progressive customers unhappy. Michael BlueJay runs a very fine sight detailing them, including Mackey’s aggressive anti-unionism. Still, BlueJay doesn’t support boycotting Whole Foods. He cites Doug Muder at The Weekly Sift:

In the ideal boycott, you temporarily stop doing business with an organization until they change some particular practice. The classic example is the Montgomery Bus Boycott that ended the segregation of city buses. But a boycott is on shakier ground when you’re trying to punish somebody for their personal political beliefs rather than what their organization does.

The boycott coming now is clearly intended as punishment for personal political belief. The anti-labor activities are a different matter, but that (ahem) battle is being waged in proposed “card check” legislation. To oppose boycotts, however, is not to deny a legitimate role for measures of community censure – not for belief, but for actions thought harmful to the community. The subject of community harm needs, itself, to be considered with care, though, as history teaches us how varyingly and liberally the notion may be understood. At the most fundamental level, in addition to one’s own political actions in support of health care reform, or the benefits of organized labor, one can enact community censure on a fundamental, individual level – by simply choosing not to patronize a local, or not so local, business. One’s neighbor might not do the same, and continue to patronize the offending merchant, but sometimes – most times – it’s probably better if we just agree to live in peace with our disagreements.

AJA


12 comments

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: