Did You Go To A Restaurant? I Know How You Vote
    By Hank Campbell | October 16th 2012 10:31 AM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Are you buying Halloween candy?  Don't you know they use child labor to harvest those cocoa beans?  You went to Chick-fil-A?  So you don't believe gay parents have just as much right to be annoying at a kid's soccer game as everyone else?

    It's increasingly the case that someone, somewhere, is going to make a value judgment about you based on what you buy and where. This is the sign of a new, militant mentality made easier by the Internet, right?  No, it is American culture 101.  The first American boycott took place in 1765, because of the Stamp Act, and it so confused and was misunderstood by the English ruling class they lost a whole country 11 years later over it.  We're not as ban-happy as Europe, so we instead boycott, and always have.

    200 years after America declared independence, United Farm Workers president Cesar Chavez got 17 million Americans to stop buying grapes, claiming unfair labor practices and poor working conditions by farmers.  Chavez and his followers risked getting clubbed and the boycotters of the 1700s risked getting a .69 caliber musket ball shot into their brains but now things are safer to boycott and, because of that, efforts have become more mercenary to groups that want to exploit commerce for social engineering. The cracks had begun to show even during the time of Chavez. While his grape boycott was successful, because people cared about working conditions, later efforts to foment boycotts if all food was not grown with union labor were far less successful - because people care about people and, when it becomes just another cynical political movement, more and more tune out. 

    I didn't actually go to Chick-fil-a during the boycott.  Or after.  I have only been there one time and it was fine, I went because I liked their ad so I wanted to check out the food (1).  It was okay, like a hybrid restaurant/fast-food place and the chicken was chicken.  If you want good chicken, go to any street in Taiwan.

    People buying 'fair trade' were once quietly making a difference in the conditions of farmers in other countries, now the companies pushing it want to say you are superior for overpaying; their food is more ethical.  And everything else in the culture wars is more ethical too. "The New Normal" television show faced boycotts because One Million Moms objected to its portrayal of gay marriage and so both sides felt like they had the moral high ground.  I don't think boycotters needed to bother - the guy behind the show seems to think that in 2012 you only need to add a gay couple and a Republican saying stupid stuff and a show will be a hit.  I haven't seen less authentic writing about the right wing since whatever the last thing Aaron Sorkin did (2). Seriously, Amos 'n' Andy had fewer stereotypes than what the guy behind "Glee" produces today with a straight face so it will be gone pretty quickly unless the writing improves a lot. Controversies often settle themselves that way. 

    But these are not simply grass-roots initiatives that catch on.  A J.P. Morgan survey cited by Kristen Leigh Painter of The Denver Post says these 'impact investments' are a $4 billion-a-year enterprise. What happens when everything has an ethical statement on it, and they are all the same? What if all of the food has 'organic' and 'fair trade' and 'no GMO' or whatever other stickers on it?  People will buy the cheapest so ethics matters - but only to a point. 

    And some people are going to be resistant to getting dragged into taking a side just on principle.  Lots of people went to Chick-fil-A during the boycott not because they are against gay marriage but because they resent having their fast food be a 'you are with us or against us' choice - not everything is a culture war, sometimes it is just a piece of chicken.  

    I don't expect a huge drop in candy sales this Halloween either.



    (2) For good comedic writing about right wing people by a left wing person, see Saturday Night Live when Tina Fey was head writer and the first six years of her television show. They are also examples of good comedic writing about left wing people by a left wing person. Her heyday was also the last time SNL was funny.


    Hmmm, child labor or child starving to death. I'll pick child labor. I never quite understood the ethical dilemma there. If you don't like child labor, then do something about the actual poverty problem - taking away their jobs only makes the poverty worse.

    Hmmm...this came out of left field, but let me help:

    a) child labor
    b) child starving to death
    c) wait a second...the choice between child labor and starvation is a pitch-perfect example of a fallacy of false choice, or, if you'd prefer, a false ethical dilemma

    What is the other choice and why isn't it being taken if it is such a valid choice?

    After having a few hours to reflect on my comment, I see that I was mostly making a snarky comment rather than just making a point. I apologize for that (now I see how it happens all the time on comment boards so easily). My point was this: do you actually believe there are only 2 choices or was it more of a rhetorical post or something else, etc.? Sometimes I get confused by what people's beliefs or comments are or mean. Basically I am objecting to the ethical dilemma your comment is about, that its either child labor or starvation. Your suggestion that poverty is one of the causes (of the dilemma) proves that there are more than 2 choices - poverty alleviation is a categorical example leading to an untold number of other choices (c,d,e,f,g...) regarding the dilemma (rather than the dichotomous choice of [a] child labor and [b] starvation). Anyhow, that's what I meant to say the first time. Therefor, I'm not sure why I would have to actually list an alternative because that would imply that there are only two options possible - the two that you cite: child labor or starvation. If you were looking for alternatives all along, your argument is still fallacious, but it is also rhetorical with the purpose of eliciting additional choices regarding the dilemma. Wow, what a mouthful.

    It annoys me when people imagine this perfect world where people never have to suffer. A terminal cancer patient often has the choice of refusing medicine and dying quickly or accepting medicine and dying a little more slowly. You don't like that because it isn't fair, but it IS reality for many people (and yes, there are "technically" other solutions like suicide). The same can be true for children in extremely impoverished nations - at least in the short term. There is no quick fix. For those children, they can either work or go hungry. Of course I think it is horrible that children are subjected to working 12+ hours a day in dangerous situations. I also recognize that pretty much every industrialized nation in the world had a period where it practiced child labor. The US did and Europe did. But when we see another nation that is forced to do this, we stand by in judgement. Just because you don't like the two options doesn't mean there is a viable alternative (yes, we could give never-ending handouts or practice genocide or any other number of ridiculous alternatives, but those aren't really viable).

    I think I see. We may have a cup half full/empty situation here. Some crude examples:

    -This is the way it is. It's better to accept reality, no matter how much suffering there is, than to live in denial of it. To suffer is to be human.
    -This is the way it is, but it doesn't have to be. It's better to reject the status quo, because of how much suffering there is, than to live in complicity with it. To struggle against suffering is to be human.

    -It annoys me when people imagine this perfect world where people never have to suffer.
    -It pleases me to imagine a perfect world where people never have to suffer.

    -Medicine allows cancer patients to die a little more slowly.
    -Medicine allows cancer patients to live a little longer.

    -Child labor is part of our (US and Europe) history and there is no quick fix.
    -Current efforts and laws banning child labor are part of the very same ongoing historical struggle to alleviate suffering, which is, indeed, not a quick fix.

    -The reality is "for those children, they can either work or go hungry." "Just because you don't like the two options doesn't mean there is a viable alternative."
    -There are countless policies and programs and initiatives from companies and governments and ngos and charities and volunteer organizations in play right now making a huge difference in the lives of children living in poverty, i.e. viable. To be resigned to the Manichaean false choice of child labor or starvation or that any single "viable alternative" would suffice, is antithetical to the complexity of reality and an illustration of an excluded middle fallacy.


    Fair enough, but you are a little "glass is half empty" yourself. My original premise is that child labor in a very impoverished nation may have a net benefit to children and when you jerk those jobs away from children, they often just go hungry, ie, the jobs are a "glass half full" kind of thing. When I made the statement, I was thinking about examples where it was discovered that an American factory in a very impoverished country was employing child labor and the solution that was always employed was to shut the factory down, thus putting a lot of people out of work and causing significant greater suffering to the very people we were supposedly trying to protect. It could be compared to one saying "it isn't right that cancer patients with certain types of cancer can't be cured with medicine and will die while taking that cancer medicine, so we should ban medicine for those people so they don't have to suffer that" with reckless regard to the suffering that decision will cause.