The Starbucks Stupid Red Cups Uproar Is Trivial, But The Growing Cultural Insanity That Caused It Is Not


On one level, the angry protests by some evangelicals and others regarding Starbucks’ eschewing the placement of snowmen, Christmas tree ornaments, reindeer and whatever other holiday kitsch they have festooned their coffee cups with in past years is too stupid to waste time discussing. Here, read all about it if you have a strong stomach. It appears to be yet another of those issues that deserves the George S. Kaufman rebuke. [ “Mr. Fisher, on Mount Wilson there is a telescope that can magnify the most distant stars to twenty-four times the magnification of any previous telescope. This remarkable instrument was unsurpassed in the world of astronomy until the development and construction of the Mount Palomar telescope. The Mount Palomar telescope is an even more remarkable instrument of magnification. Owing to advances and improvements in optical technology, it is capable of magnifying the stars to four times the magnification and resolution of the Mount Wilson telescope.Mr. Fisher, if you could somehow put the Mount Wilson telescope inside the Mount Palomar telescope, you still wouldn’t be able to see my interest in your problem.”]

Yet the fact that not just a few recently escaped inmates of a mental institution would make an issue of the design of Starbucks coffee cups, but lots of people, is significant.

This is a democracy founded on the principle that people can indulge their own tastes, needs, desires, businesses, faiths, hobbies, art, styles, modes of expressions,  political preferences, sexual preferences,  dress, way of raising their children,  risks,  holidays, expressions, modes of speech, jokes, and yes, biases, thus pursuing their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as they damn please, as long as it doesn’t materially interfere with anyone else indulging their  tastes, needs, desires, businesses, faiths, hobbies, art, styles, modes of expressions,  political preferences, sexual preferences,  dress, way of raising their children,  risks,  holidays, expressions, modes of speech, jokes, and biases. This is a unique, courageous and inspiring social experiment, and has been a rousing success to this point.

I will attempt to keep my terms ideologically neutral here, because as the red cups idiocy proves, neither end of the ideological spectrum is immune from the charges. The popular accusation of political correctness is associated with the left end, but what the right has done with everything from coffee cups to accusing two strangers who love each other and want to get married of upsetting the cosmos, to attacking hair styles, hip-hop and videogames is indistinguishable. Some of it this always going to be with us, some of it we grow out of and look back on later like we do a bad hangover or momentary fever. The current culture, however—I will, for once, try to avoid assigning blame as well—is hurtling—and accelerating– in a direction that threatens our freedoms, expression,  society, and our existence as a nation.

Everything can’t be total war. Everything can’t cause sharp divisions, headlines and hateful words. There are always issues worth fighting about, and democracies are a terrific forum for such fights. If every single variation from the norm, every choice, every idea, every mistake, every chance look or ill-chosen word, or perception of such, right or wrong, is immediately going to spark a protest, however, and social media mobs, and vicious attacks on the web, and news media freak-outs along with threats, and demonstrations and boycotts, then there can be no liberty, and more important, it’s no way to live.

We are seeking to destroy businesses, communities and lives because things happen that we don’t like, or that actively make us angry and feel bad. We now have the tools to destroy, too. Doing so leads to power, power turns us into monsters, and monsters cannot co-exist in a peaceful society.

Clarence Darrow, 90 years ago in his epic opening argument in the Scopes Trial, explained what I am talking about eloquently, as usual:

“Ignorance and fanaticism are ever busy and need feeding. Always they are feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lecturers, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, Your Honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until, with flying banners and beating drums, we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted torches to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.”

Today Yale and the University of Missouri, two institutions that are supposed to be passing on our values and ideals to the upcoming generation, are exploding in racial discord. Administrators are facing demands, boycotts and demonstrations because somebody used racial epithets on one campus, and an administrator on the other dared to suggest that if a Halloween costume might seem offensive  to a group or individual, students should have some sense of proportion. The escalation  among students on both campuses was immediate and irresponsible. There the provocateurs were black activists, who in other settings have condemned police for escalating tense or ambiguous encounters into violent ones.  Do the self-righteous protesters at Yale and Missouri—and Starbacks!—not perceive that they too are recklessly escalating, when escalation guarantees more and worse to come?

The remedy to this is old, well-known and obvious—it was also one of Clarence Darrow’s favorite tools of persuasion: The Golden Rule. Do you like being pushed around, criticized for every choice you make, condemned as evil for every mistake or every action that someone doesn’t like or agree with? Of course you don’t. So de-escalate. Think. Communicate. Be fair, be responsible. Don’t pull at the loose threads that hold together our precious society and the nation—try to fix them with reason and understanding.

Of course racial prejudice is objectively more important than commercial Christmas trappings. But in both cases, gunning the protest engine from zero to 90 guarantees that opportunities for dialogue, consensus, understanding and solutions–aren’t they the objective?—will be left standing hopelessly on the curb, while liberty and democracy are run over.

This is irresponsible and dangerous.

It has to stop.

45 thoughts on “The Starbucks Stupid Red Cups Uproar Is Trivial, But The Growing Cultural Insanity That Caused It Is Not

  1. I haven’t heard of the Starbuck’s cup fiasco and it appears this is just some guy looking for publicity. I can see a lot of people deciding to go along with it because they are tired of having to apologize for Christmas. This guy is being childish, but I could see where going into Starbucks, writing ‘Merry Christmas’ on your cup could make you feel like you are ‘striking back at the forces of forced secularization’. I’m not sure I see that it is a big deal. It wouldn’t surprise me if this Joshua Feuerstein (fire stein?) was being paid by Starbucks to do this, since it looks like a great promotion for them.

    This strikes me more of the media-created phenomenon like the Westboro Baptist Church. If you listen to progressives, you would think this is some massive religious movement. In fact, is is about 3 dozen people, mostly related to the pastor, in one little church in Kansas. I wouldn’t be surprised that there are fewer people in the Westboro Baptist Church than there are SUNY and CUNY professors who believe that all white people were created by an evil black scientist named Yakub who with 59,999 followers through 600 years of forced breeding and killing of the darkest babies. Further beliefs about the results of Yakub’s experiment are that the white devils were exiled to Europe, some tried to become black again, and became the gorilla and monkeys, and that Moses blew up several hundred of them with dynamite. Thousands of times more people believe this than the tripe from the Westboro Babtist Church, but the media would make it seem the other way around.

    • “I wouldn’t be surprised that there are fewer people in the Westboro Baptist Church than there are SUNY and CUNY professors who believe that…”

      That’s a easy call as the so-called “Westboro Baptist Church” was something like 3 dozen people last I checked…mostly from a handful of extended families. It would be better termed: “The Phelps Family & Associates Litigation Company”.

  2. Jack: it’s too late for the Golden Rule. That rule is dead. The rule now is go-get-it, whatever-you-want-you-deserve, anyone-in-your-way-must-die. It is total war; EVERYTHING is TOTAL war. It’s all political and it’s all personal – and, it’s all business. This society is NOT a democracy; it is a dictatorship of the craftiest who care the most – and of the luckiest of the craftiest. Soon, it will be a dictatorship of the most effectively violent of the luckiest of the craftiest. Starbucks is unlucky, and not very crafty.

    An attempt at an analogy, from a familiar movie: You, and the ethics you promote, are the bullet-riddled “Godfather,” barely hanging on in his hospital bed. I am “son Michael,” prodigal in some ways, a guy who insists on things going his way, but loyal to a kindred spirit. I can move your bed, for a night, to protect you. I can take some punishment for looking out for you. But for your survival, you’re going to have to let me be me. Not only am I capable of dealing with your enemies and mine; I am Lucky.

    “I’m with you now.”

    Of course, that isn’t to say “I’m with you” in the ways you might hope for.

    It won’t stop. You know it won’t. So don’t waste your time calling for a meeting of the heads of all the business families, and expect to make some infectious promise on the souls of your grandchildren that you will not break the peace, to polite applause. The peace is broken, and it’s going to stay that way until the most effectively violent of the luckiest of the craftiest get things back under some semblance of order (Note: I did not say “under control.” That is the Left’s great folly: to keep pressing for control, ever more intoxicated with its illusions of having gained power, i.e., “control,” until its enemies rise to control the Left.)

    Order shall return; order shall be restored. You might not like that order, but you’d better learn to live with it. Or hope that you don’t live to see it restored.

  3. There’s a closed group on Facebook called US Navy Uncensored that Ive begun spending more time on recently. I love it, simply because it is chock-full of offensive, gutter humor that would absolutely horrify to the point of epilepsy your typical butthurt pantywaist professional offendee-waif. It’s such a welcome respite from the insanity. I don’t know what form it will take, but the pushback is coming. It has to, or the universe is going to collapse in on itself in one massive, discordant whine.

  4. Thank you, Jack, for a post I can forward to everyone I know — and many I don’t, personally — without stiffening my defenses for the blowback or knowing I’m unlikely ever to hear from that person again. First, though, I have to think up a good subject heading.

  5. Jack, I can’t see where some evangelical tricking a Starbucks employee into writing “Merry Christmas” on his coffee cup is really a big deal and a threat to free speech. I rarely buy coffee at Starbucks because of the snotty attitude of some of their employees and their high prices. If I need a cup of coffee on the road, I’ll just go to MacDonalds.

    • If you catch McDonald’s coffee at exactly the right time in the brew process, their coffee is phenomenal. If you miss that window though it’s like rot gut.

      But I will say, to the frustration of baristas and Seattle-ites word-wide, that best coffee I’ve had was the coffee Douwe-Egbert subcontracted to Fort Benning during my time there.


  6. “So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. ” — Gary North

    The fruits of their labour.

    “The taste of political victory is sweet. The New Christian Right has had some victories. They have developed satellite television networks. They have created newsletter and mailing networks. In short, they have the means of achieving victory. What they lack is: 1) eschatological dynamism, 2) a program of social reconstruction, and 3) the willingness to abandon all traces of the myth of neutrality. When the taste of victory finally overcomes a century of pietistic retreat, the humanists will see their civilization salted over; a new society will replace the collapsing social order of today. If the New Christian Right abandons its schizophrenia – eschatological pessimism in the face of victories, antinomianism in the face of the power of biblical law, an outmoded “common ground” philosophy (neutrality doctrine) in the face of a consistent presuppositional biblical philosophy – then the humanists will at last have a real fight on their hands.” – Ibid.

    Very Leninist.

  7. Wow. All this about a red cup.
    I want to throw a hissy fit myself but, I’m sure it would offend someone. Probably my cat. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

  8. I know not one single person who cares about the Starbucks cups. When I first heard about it on Facebook, it seemed like just a fun jab at Starbucks for being so schizo about not wanting to say out loud what holiday it is that they are clearly capitalizing on. There is absolutely nothing culture-war-ish about that. You don’t even need to be Christian to see the appeal in needling a big company this way.

    Now it looks more like a manufactured story about some invisible “outraged evangelicals.” I think from my vantage-point, I’d see some of them around if they existed in any significant numbers. I have a good cross-section of Christian friends of all persuasions from the Bible Belt and in California.

    If there are any Christians who are actually upset with Starbucks…just don’t go there. Their CEO hates you anyway, and their coffee lost in a blind taste test with Dunkin Donuts.

      • Maybe by some tiny cluster of people somewhere. The easily-offended–right doesn’t strike me as bearing the kinds of grudges that the easily-offended-left does. That or there’s a greater readiness to “move on” amongst the right than the left.

    • I will concur that this seems extremely manufactured. A quick survey of my Christian friends, including my own opinion, involves a lot of “oh?” And “sounds manufactured to me.”

  9. The uproar absolutely is manufactured. It’s one guy, one activist, who put up a video (I saw it on Facebook; it might be posted in other media). The activist is encouraging some kind of name-dropping game…oh, I guess when you go to Starbucks, you can have your name written on your mug (that is to say, container, not slang for face). See? I don’t go there often. Anyway, the objective of the game is to have the server write “Merry Christmas” on the mug. A gotcha against Starbucks, so the guy says. Shows ’em right, he says, for dissing Jesus. I do believe Christ Will Come again; I just can’t imagine Him Coming because of what is shown (or not shown) on Starbucks mugs. My God Is Not that pathologically petty.

    My wife is a Christian too, and she is more offended by the manufactured uproar than by anything on, or not on, or intended by Starbucks to have on, or not have on, its mugs. Give the misguided religious activist segment of the population some time; it is just getting warmed-up and practicing. The uproar at the U. of Missouri makes for a nice model for future manufacturing. So does CAIR. What I said yesterday, I still stand by. RIP, Golden Rule.

    • But to be clear though, as much as the media is trying to sensationalize this “protest” or “offense” as though it is a mass movement, it is still an unfounded grievance.

      Perhaps we’re seeing the embryotic phase of a new rationalization- “it’s not really that big of a deal”?

      Maybe a cousin of “it’s not the worst thing?”

      • Or maybe call it “they’re making it out worse than it is” (which is to say, it still isn’t good, but someone blowing it out of proportion doesn’t mitigate things)

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