Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What Is The Right Amount Of Moral Outrage?

For those who haven't been paying attention to the news, Dan Cathy, President and COO of  the fast food restaurant Chick-Fil-A, made some comments during an interview that showed his opposition to same-sex marriage. 

This has caused a great hue and cry from both sides of the debate.  It has lead to opponents calling for protests and even boycotts of the chain.  Supports have called for rallies of people to buy massive amounts at the chain to show their support.  In at least two major cities (Boston and Chicago) there have been moves to bar new Chick-Fil-A restaurants from being opened.

Because of all this, several Chick-Fil-A restaurant owners have come out in favor of same-sex marriage.  The one here in Chicago tried to defend her store from politicians by claiming they have several gays working for the store and that she has no problems with gays or lesbians.  Other store owners have come out in  defense of Mr. Cathy's views.

I'm not going to bother discussing the whole same-sex marriage debate at this point.  That could easily take up a couple blog posts on it's own.

For now I'd like to address how one should respond to the remarks of one person who may be highly placed in an organization.   

As an example, I'd like to point to Marge Schott.  For those too young to remember (or too opposed to sports to have noticed the story at the time), she used to be the majority owner, managing partner and CEO of the Cincinnati Reds MLB team from '84-'99.  She was a very controversial figure for much of this.

In 1992, she was sued, in part, over her alleged racism.  That suit was lost, but the allegations kept up.  Aside from claims of using the "N-word", she was also accused of antisemitism when she said she felt that Hitler had been good for Germany in the beginning, but went too far.     

Many people were very offended by her.  In  the end, the league commission  would suspend her from her day-to-day managing duties twice (apparently it was almost three times, but she sold her majority share before anything materialized).

Now without speaking on the validity of the claims against her, I can at least appreciate the appropriateness of the response the commission took.  They penalized her, not the team, since she was the one that had offended them.

So in a case like the current Chick-Fil-A debacle what would be a reasonable response?  I think taking out one's outrage, or support, of the COO's comments on the individual restaurants of the chain  is unreasonable.  If I was upset enough about his comments, I'd call him an idiot, maybe send him a letter or something expressing my disagreement.  If I agreed, I might send him a letter of support, maybe speak out in  his defense.

What I wouldn't do was buy or not buy their food based on his opinions.  If I'm going to patronize or boycott a business on moral grounds, it will be based on their corporate policies and practices.  If Chick-Fil-A was like the Boy Scouts, with a stated policy banning hiring of homosexuals, I could see taking direct actions towards the restaurants. 

There are businesses I like to patronize and others I avoid at all costs because of their policies and practices.  Personally, I've never eaten at a Chick-Fil-A, mainly because I've never lived near one, and I'm not a huge fan of fast food chicken anyway.  So boycotting it would be pointless for me anyway. 

Let me put this another way: I really hate many of the policies and practices of the American recording industry, from their outrageous punitive lawsuits against illegal downloaders (with penalties far in excess of any actual damages done to the company in individual lost sales, that don't even go to the artists they claim to be protecting) to their contracts that often treat the artists (especially songwriters) as work-for-hire (so the company owns the copyright, not the creator).  However, if I follow the model of the Chick-Fil-A protesters, I should boycott buying anything from these major labels.  So how do I support my favorite bands?  How do I get their music, other than hoping it comes on the radio or illegally downloading it (even using a service like Spotify is indirectly supporting the record companies)?

Why should I penalize these bands by not buying their records just because I think they're getting screwed by their label?

And that's when I do object to a corporate policy.  It makes even less sense when I'm just objecting to something some idiot at the top is spewing.  If the CEO of Wendy's made some outrageously offensive comment in an interview, would I stop eating at my local restaurant?  Probably not.

Does that make me a moral coward?  I don't think so.  I think it means I'm making a measured response, directed at the person that offended me, not waging total moral war with a complete disregard for casualties.

So, anyone out there disagree?  Or maybe even someone agree?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.  But let's keep to the issue of response, and not fall into arguing the same-sex marriage debate.  Maybe I'll address that later on.

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