Saturday, July 7, 2012

You Can't Boycott The Gay Away

The recent string of gay pride support from companies like Oreo, Pop Tarts, Chevrolet and the like has inspired anti-gay individuals to suggest boycotting the companies. And in response, supporters of gay rights have taken this suggestion to its most absurd and amusing conclusion: those people should boycott all companies that support gay rights in order to be consistent, which includes Facebook where they first started these protests. The question arises, of course, as to whether political involvement by companies is ever appropriate. It goes without question that limitations on political support and funding from companies are justified. But merely taking a general political position such as supporting marriage equality or the like is distinct in the same way that churches can hold such positions, but not directly support or oppose political candidates, as I spoke about in “Where Religion and PoliticsShould Not Cross”  This sort of qualification of the degree to which a corporation, like a church, can be involved in politics, which should fundamentally be done by the public, composed of individual private citizens, enables the political process to be as fair and objective as it can with so many voices coming together about the big problems, such as the economy and human rights. To outright prohibit that interaction of private groups in public affairs stifles what should be a free market of ideas. But there should be reasonable restrictions based on considerations of the relevance of those private groups to politics. Both church and corporation can have involvement, but economic prohibitions should apply as consistently as those on houses of worship And the involvement doesn’t mean that there is any attempt to force the issue on the buyers, but merely that the company’s ideals are in line with GLBT rights. One can still shop there without aligning politically with those beliefs. Economics and politics can be fundamentally separate in practice even if they can be lumped together in principle.

Any individual can personally disagree with something, but boycotting a company because they don’t share your views, especially on gay rights and such, is not only ridiculous in that the corporation is not forcing gay rights on you, but it’s also not going to change them unless you get a large enough group. Not that the group would be terribly large or have a huge affect on sales anyway. On the contrary, the evidence is pointing towards more and more people supporting gay rights.  And if you really want to boycott all companies that support gay rights, with a bit of research, you’d find there are more companies that support GLBT than those who are more “traditional”, such as Chik Fil-et. And boycotting them as a supporter of gay rights isn’t solving the problem either, since they’re inevitably losing business anyway. A better solution is merely to not be a customer without formally boycotting them. At times, this sort of practice is more beneficial than making a large political statement, though as civil rights in the past were threatened, boycotting those establishments who were the most egregious in violating those rights sent the right message. Simply supporting “traditional” marriage is not the same as treating GLBT employees unfairly, which would be grounds for boycotting justly. While corporations shouldn’t really get into politics, especially when it comes to funding candidates and the like, stating that you stand for basic civil rights for minorities like GLBT is not bad as long as it doesn’t become intrusive. A policy of neutrality is prudent, but at the same time, it can be a business venture, but also reflective that corporations are not just focused on profits, but people as well, so it can work for both aspects.

The economic and entrepreneurial aspect focuses on the likelihood of expanding your demographics. It isn’t just the GLBT community that you’re appealing to, but those who support GLBT rights, which is fast becoming more and more acceptable to one degree or another. It makes perfect sense to state in commercials that you support gay rights. It isn’t necessarily breaching any unspoken ideas about whether companies should speak about these sorts of things. It’d be one thing for companies to start funneling in exorbitant amounts of money to radical gay rights groups (if there are any) in the same way if Chik Fil-et was funneling money to particularly mean anti-gay groups. But merely saying they offer their name in the quest for further advancing GLBT civil liberties isn’t excessive by any means. Just as other companies would have a right to make an advert saying they support the traditional family, it wouldn’t bother me. It just means they’re really hoping that the social conservatives are going to buy their stuff in lieu of many social liberals choosing not to. Either way, there’s a business risk, but that’s what you do in such situations; you gamble.

But companies are not just about advancing in the business world, but also existing in a world of people with feelings, with basic needs and a responsibility on the part of a corporation to not be greedy, but merely covetous of profit and efficiency. The notion of virtuous egotism seems contradictory with a common ethic in American culture rooted from Christianity, which is about selflessness and essentially sacrificing your ego for the advancement of a greater good. While this can be beneficial in a particular setting, it is not absolutely forbidden to be interested in one’s own good alongside being concerned for the welfare of others. One should not coddle or provide excessively for those in need, for this makes them complacent and not motivated to work for their own profits. With companies, this is a matter of moderation. Individuals can become greedy within a company, but that should be restricted as well with principles of self control and not seeking out money at the cost of those under you. The idea that they can be replaced or outsourced is not only callous, but can be considered fairly un-American in the sense of not granting jobs to those who are willing to take them in the very country your company exists. To not give those jobs to the skilled and those who even want to creates a sense of hopelessness and even could encourage the unmotivated to seek more government welfare to provide for them in lieu of gainful employment. In that sense, providing jobs and even being charitable are not signs of any sort of weakness or flawed economic logic, but simply a way everyone can benefit in some sense, though not equally, but within the means of each individual and group associated with them. Families, communities, companies, the interactions are sometimes unrecognized, but are as important as the predictions made for each quarter.

While the controversy of gay rights may eventually become a thing of the past and accepted by a majority of the world’s population, or at least the U.S.’s, corporations have their own responsibilities to consider in relation to minorities even as they progress to greater acceptance and tolerance in society. To help those less fortunate in charitable ways is a method that has been used for a fair amount of U.S. history, at least since the post Depression era. Advancing the cause of social justice by offering one’s influence and voice within the public sphere is another way. Just saying you support gays and will not turn them away is encouraging a tolerant and progressive America without giving special treatment. Keeping political involvement as a corporation to a minimum; that is, sticking to issues instead of candidates and in general instead of partisan terms, can allow a business to be encouraging of the political process, but also be considerate of the public citizens who are the true source of change in the country, not those with the greatest profits. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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