Should I regret when readers explain my positions better than I do? I don’t. It is one of the great advantages of the Ethics Alarms symposium format: very smart people often refine my views and make them clearer for me, as well as others.
An example is Glenn Logan’s Comment of the Day, on a topic that has come up her before, boycotts. Every time it has, someone has countered my ethical conviction that boycotts are intrinsically wrong with the argument that we all have a right and often good reasons to refuse to patronize a business, so why is it unethical to urge others to follow our lead? Glenn does a better job answering that question than I ever have.
Here is his Comment of the Day on the post “Unethical Website Of The Month: #GrabYour Wallet.”
This is how I see boycotts, and I’ll explain by responding to parts of [reader Spartan’s] comment:
Assuming people have X amount of dollars they are going to spend, those X dollars will just go to other companies. Every time I buy a GM car (I only buy GM cars), am I hurting someone from Ford, Nissan, BMW, etc.?
Are you buying the car for its value, or in order to hurt other companies? Presumably, most people buy cars for their perceived value, or their styling, or some other characteristic that pushes the correct buttons of their personal taste in cars.
But if the only button GM presses is related to politics/religion/etc. then yes, it would be unethical.
I have a Mormon colleague who will only stay at Marriott hotels because it is a Mormon-owned chain. Is he boycotting other hotels?
Let me answer this question with another question: Is it ethical for a white person to patronize white-only restaurants because of the race of their ownership? Is it ethical for a gay person to patronize only gay-owned establishments? How about Catholics using a religious test for their patronage?
This can be a closer call, because the motivation is not hurting, technically, but helping, particularly in the minority context. However, I still think it’s unethical in the main. I don’t think an ethical company would want their politics or beliefs, let alone race or sexual orientation, used as the only reason people patronize them over others. Hence, I deem your friends actions to be unethical, if not as bad as other boycotts.
… am I also boycotting other hotels because I book the same hotel as him to make our travel logistics easier?
Absolutely not. Apparently, you are motivated by a reason other than the politics/religion/belief/association of the hotel, at least in part. You want to be in the same hotel, and your decision is therefore driven by a more important motivation than hurting the business of other worthy companies.
In my view of the matter, beliefs etc. are not an invalid consideration unless they are the overarching or singular factor in a buying decision. That’s no less true for patriotic-only decisions to buy Ford or Chevy over Japanese or European brands. If we are to be a free and ethical people, we must think and act like free and ethical people, not slaves to our ideological yokes.
When I refused to buy French wines for a short while during the Iraq war, I was acting unethically because I was trying to punish the French for their position, not because I preferred wine from other regions. Fortunately, I quickly came to my senses and realized I was an idiot, and don’t intend to repeat that mistake. Besides, I like French wine, and I was mostly hurting me. 🙂
I wouldn’t think of boycotting Google by not using the more useful Chrome just because of their politics, or Starbucks just because of their stupid nonsense. Now, if there is a Starbucks competitor nearby who offers quality coffee, I may use Starbucks’ politics as one factor in my coffee purchase, but not the main or only one. If I know Starbucks tastes better and the value relationship is not too far out of whack, Starbucks gets the nod.
Speaking only for me, politics/religion/beliefs/etc. are ethical as a comparatively minor factor in a buying decision, but when it becomes the only or most important factor, we have veered into the land of an unethical boycott, even in a personal decision and without group action.
The simple ethical analysis boils down to the Golden Rule: Would you be okay with people boycotting your company because of your political/religious etc. beliefs, or those of your relatives? Of course not. Therefore, you shouldn’t do so to others.