Why Aren’t People Ashamed To Ask A Question Like This?

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Kwame Anthony Appiah, aka. “The Ethicist,” received this question three weeks ago. He answered correctly and excessively nicely, as I would expect him to, but my concern is with the question and the questioner. “E.K.” asked,

My husband and I employ a local dog walker….She is an excellent dog walker: reliable, responsible and kind. A friend told me that throughout the fall and after the presidential election, she frequently posted rants on Facebook about liberals and immigrants, pro-Trump messages and falsehoods about how the election was stolen. We are disgusted by the postings and now wonder if we should use her again. On the one hand, we respect people’s right to their opinions and appreciate the good service she provided. On the other, we do not want our money to go to someone who supports viewpoints that we believe are hurtful and detrimental to our democracy.

This is why I’m not an advice columnist, I guess. Here is how I would have answered that question:

YOUR viewpoint is detrimental to democracy; indeed, I glean from your question that you do not know what the principles underlying democracy and pluralism are. You would apparently be far more comfortable in a system with enforced beliefs, where individuals who do not conform to the “right” views are ostracized and persecuted until they capitulate. You say you respect people’s right to their opinions, but you obviously do not. When someone’s opinions do not agree with your own, you want them to suffer for it, to be punished. You say you respect the right, but don’t respect an individual who exercises that right sufficiently to be willing to associate with her. That means you don’t respect the right either.

Do you require all service providers and vendors to provide full statements of their political and social views before you engage in commerce with them? I expect not. Nor are you accustomed to businesses and establishments demanding that you subscribe to the proprietor’s views in order to be served, and would presumably be angered should that become the case. Not only are you ignorant of the Golden Rule, but you are a bully, choosing to punish, of all people, a dog-walker for expressing her opinions to others. What she says, write or expresses to others are none of your business as her employer. They do not reflect on you, and do not affect you in any way.

You don’t even know what she wrote! Your friend relayed hearsay, which unreliable as evidence of anything, but you are willing to take away a modest job from someone who is, by your own assessment, reliable, responsible and kind. Rather than firing her, you should learn from her, for you are not responsible or kind, at least as your character is revealed in this instance.

I would suggest that you carefully consider how you got this way. People like you are tearing society apart, while making the public square an ugly, mean and uncivil place. You need to broaden your circle of friends, learn to have discussions with people like your dog-walker while listening to what they have to say, and open your mind.

8 thoughts on “Why Aren’t People Ashamed To Ask A Question Like This?

  1. Jack, I completely agree with your response to E.K. But it brings up a question I’ve been meaning to ask in your open forums for feedback, but keep forgetting when they arrive. It fits perfectly here, so I’ll posit this to the group:

    I have drunk Coca-Cola since I was twelve years old…40 years. It’s pretty much the only soda I drank – until March of this year, when you published the story of their General Counsel and the desire to have racial quotas in the law firms with which Coke dealt. That, along with employee videos that were released showing racist training sessions, caused me to quit supporting them. I, too, respected Coke’s right to have an opinion and appreciated the good service they provided. But, on the other hand, I didn’t want my money going to a company that held such viewpoints and tried to foist them on its employees.

    But are my actions at odds – or hypocritical – with my agreement to your response? Is there any difference in these situations?

    My thought is that E.K.’s response was to a dog-walker’s opinions, and my response is to actual actions taken by a corporation that seem illegal, but I am open to correction.

    • Joel
      I too share your thoughts. I do think however there is a big difference between a corporation imposing an indoctrination on its employees whereby you choose to not patronize the organization and this case. I could not care less what the CEO of Coca Coal’s politics are but when that CEO attempts to force an inculturation of those beliefs on its employees it changes the value proposition of all its products and consumers have the right to make other choices. Every product we buy is a collection of attributes that raise or lower the perceived value. How many corporations play up their profit sharing with charities that are likely favorable to their target demographic? They do that to virtue signal for themselves, provide a sense of giving for the consumer, but most of all to increase the relative value if their product to all others and increase sales.
      In this case the dog walker has no ability to impose her beliefs on anyone nor does it appear that she is badgering her clientele therefore her opinions do not affect the value proposition. More to the point the person asking the question seeks to economically harm the dog walker for the sole purpose of limiting the speech to which they disagree. It is simply a power move.

    • Bank of America and several other big players can be added to that list:
      https://nypost.com/2021/08/19/toddlers-are-racist-and-other-insights-from-woke-bank-of-america-training/
      With employees being “encouraged” to participate in a three week course encompassing some of the worst anti-white crt tropes as “training” exercises, Lowe’s, Truist Financial, Duke Energy, and Ally Financial (and maybe American Express) are also involved in this nonsense.

    • Joel,

      I have to admit that I was in pretty much the same boat with Coca-Cola. I have been a Coke drinker since probably at least 1970, and only reluctantly would even drink Pepsi at restaurants that only offered that choice.

      Since this March, I have been liberated from these shackles. If Coca-Cola thinks I am a menace to society, I don’t feel obligated to partake of their beverages. I won’t say I stopped buying Coke — I almost always go for whichever brand is currently on sale. However, I now have no hesitation about getting Diet Pepsi if that’s what’s cheapest — which is a sharp change from my previous practice.

      But I don’t seek out confrontations on political grounds. Generally speaking, I don’t care what someone’s or some companies politics are as long as they don’t try to force it down my throat.

      One other company that has earned my lifetime boycott (not that I ever did much business with them) is Ben & Jerry’s. If a company broadcasts that it’s anti Semitic, I will cross them off my list.

      • That’s kind of weird, considering the founders were both Jewish (Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, although they may have been Jewish in name only), and, while they were still in control, were supporters of Israel. Otherwise, though, they never met a liberal cause they didn’t like and never met a conservative they didn’t want to annoy. At 50+, the days when I want candy or other novelty confections in my ice cream are long past. So, I usually do my specialty ice cream buying at local creameries. I get my ice cream which is just as good, I support a local business, and I don’t get a side of liberal politics I don’t want with my ice cream. #holdthepoliticsplease

  2. In a country where it’s considered a funny and witty meme to ask a fictional bakery for a fictional same-sex wedding cake, then, upon their replying in the affirmative, saying that actually it’s a birthday cake for your son, but you had to make sure the baker wasn’t a POS first, and it’s considered unironic to cross-examine and badger someone until they utter the phrase “black lives matter,” it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a question like this gets asked. At this point everyone seems to be considered to be selling politics first and goods or services second. Before you buy, presumably you are supposed to check up on the vendor and make sure his/her politics match up with yours, or match up with the set that’s considered correct. If they don’t, then choose another vendor. Somehow you have some moral obligation to deny your business to the wrong-thinking vendor and put him out of business.

    I don’t give a damn if the barber is old school and believes Ike was the last president before this country went wrong as long as he cuts my hair right. I don’t give a damn if the bookseller is an old hippie in peasant top and Birkenstocks who still talks about Woodstock as long as she can point me to the book I want and the prices are not out of line. I don’t care if the two guys running the tailor shop are obviously a couple, as long as they do good work. I’m buying goods and services, not politics. I do care if any of these people start pushing their politics on me along with what I’m buying. I really don’t want a sneering comment about millennials as I take my ice cream cone across the counter, though I may agree with it. I really don’t want a lecture on police brutality on black bodies, which I definitely don’t agree with, as I get my coffee.

    It’s just that this nation has reached a point where politics is the end-all and be-all, and it leaches into everything. We have competing anthems, competing holidays, etc., etc., and if you don’t choose the right one, you are scum.

  3. I think there is a significant subset of Democrats (and, presumably, a subset of Republicans behave in an analogous fashion — most of the people I know are Democrats) who attempt to categorise everyone they interact with as either generally favouring their point of view or as one those icky Trump supporters. They are constantly on the lookout for clues that will help them make this determination. So, I hear such things as: “I overheard my mechanic say something derogatory about Biden — I think he’s probably a Trump supporter — yuck, I’m not sure I should keep bringing my car there…”.

    I confess that if I knew as a fact, perhaps through social media posts, that someone shouted “ACAB!” while attending an anti-police rally, or was one those deranged individuals who shouted obscenities right up in an officer’s face during a protest, I’m not sure I could bring myself to hire them to do anything.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with your proposed response, Jack.

    Having said that, I wonder if we haven’t missed the driving force behind this kind of thinking — social media. I remember a time not so long ago when people were largely ignorant of the social positions of their acquaintances. In that time, it was usually considered gauche to discuss politics among people you didn’t know well, or at friendly gatherings or dinners. People were willing to allow others to have their own beliefs and the conventional wisdom was that sharing it unbidden with someone you didn’t know well was undesirable. There was always gossip, of course, but humans gonna human.

    Now, we cannot avoid political opinions, because if we use social media at all, they are thrown in our faces. Too many people seem willing to puke their most absurd thoughts out there for consumption, something that only a decade ago would’ve drawn criticism. Now, it’s encouraged by a system of “likes” that can wind up validating even the most vapid and ill considered comments and opinions.

    Social media (albeit via hearsay) is at the root of the instant case. First off, the dog walker could not restrain herself from posting political opinions all over social media for general consumption, if the second-hand informant is to be believed. Then, the couple who hired her decided that even the possibility of “wrongthink” is sufficient to consider no longer doing business with the dog walker.

    Is it any wonder society is so divided? If a second-hand report of “wrongthink” is all that it takes to end a relationship, a first-hand experience seems likely to provoke a much stronger reaction. Make no mistake, this new puritanism is driven primarily by irresponsible social media interaction, and social media’s disproportionate influence on opinions has resulted in a new groundswell favoring dissociation from anyone who’s opinion is sufficiently divergent from yours on a wide range of issues.

    Society cannot, and will not, continue this way. Either we will find the strength to reign in this insanity, or a bitter, possibly violent divorce is coming.

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