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Boycotts in the Free Market

When society is corrupted by politics.

by James Leroy Wilson
May 15, 2003

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Boycotts in the Free Market_James Leroy Wilson-When society is corrupted by politics. Before I found myself here in the Swamp, there were many things that I went along with, and sometimes even defended, yet still felt uncomfortable about. Something smelled. These included boycotts, gender-inclusive language in the Bible and everyday writing, and judging superstar athletes, Hollywood celebrities, or CEO's by their social activism (or lack thereof). And fining or firing people for telling the wrong jokes or invoking the wrong stereotypes in passing while in conversation with a journalist.

These are all non-violent activities, and people are free to choose to do what they want. If some people want to be bothered by what other people do or say, they should have the freedom to do something about it. And I fully understand that the "freedom of speech" of the First Amendment is only a limit on the power of Congress, and not something that people in civil society are obliged to respect. If you don't like someone for any reason, including his political beliefs, you should not be forced to associate with him. And you should also be free to fire him if he's under your employ, or be free to launch campaigns of economic shunning (boycotts) against him. If people aren't free to do any or all of these things, if people don't have the right to discriminate or choose, there is no freedom. But still, something smells. Something's wrong.

William L. Anderson's article "The Boycott Mania" provides illumination. Mr. Anderson writes:

"The modern boycotts come about precisely because modern society has been poisoned by politics, and a politicized society is inherently not free. In such a society, every choice—and I mean every—is examined not from the perspective of the individual, but rather from the collectivist viewpoint."

The heat of politics is so strong that it can create opposite reactions. I'm not much of a fan of contemporary country music, but I was tempted to buy a CD or two of the supposedly unpatriotic Dixie Chicks. I was also tempted to look at the list of French-made products we're supposed to boycott, just to start buying French as often as I could afford. But that just plays into the same sick game. That would be as ludicrous as buying a pack of cigarettes every day, even though I don't smoke, just to protest the government's cynical persecution of the tobacco industry. That would defeat the libertarian purpose, which should be to de-politicize personal and social life, and not to throw more logs into that fire.

We live in a society in which a father is free to go home after work and, reacting out of stress from the work day, gets drunk and releases his anger by insulting his wife and kids - but he isn't free to go home, smoke a joint, and mellow out. Why? Because marijuana is enjoyed by the counter-culture, and not by decent Yankee culture, and therefore should be banned. We live in a society in which the unemployed single mother isn't free to legally run a hair salon out of her own home, or put a sign on her car and become a cab driver charging her own rates. Why? Because we must "protect the consumer" instead of maybe letting the consumer, through trial and error, decide which businesses serve his interests, and which to avoid. We also live in a country governed by people who seem to think that ruling the world is their moral obligation. Why? Because what's good for us must be good for everyone else.

We do live in a politicized society, not a free one. One hundred years ago, many people's only contact with the federal government was through mail delivery. There wasn't even an income tax. Today, telling an inappropriate joke at work is grounds for a Justice Department prosecution. And federal taxes alone swallow, among some of us, nearly 40% of personal income.

Some may ask, why is this so wrong? If I may may borrow from Hans-Hermann Hoppe and turn the tables: if this isn't wrong, why shouldn't we have a democratic world government, dominated by Chinese and Indians, to correct every single social injustice and vindicate every single wounding of feelings for all 6.5 billion of us? And transfer all of the wealth workers of the United States earn, to the rest of the world?

That is the problem of politics. Its reference point, the State (or in our country, the United States), is a self-contradiction. It insists on its own sovereingty, yet it also insists on destroying the sovereignty of local political units and, ultimately, the freedom of the individual person. The State doesn't make any sense, which is why it justifies its power through *spiritual*, not *logical*, means. It can't argue against the mind, so it goes after the soul.

And it's done a pretty effective job. Americans don't think, "God," they think "God and Country." American flags appear in church sanctuaries. Americans view their prosperity and power as the triumph of God-ordained Democracy and Union, when closer inspection reveals that Democracy and Union have only been impediments to prosperity, and have been the chief cause of America's moral and cultural decline.

But what frustrates both socialist Democrats and nationalist Republicans is that not everyone is on the same page as they are. Everyone and everything must be politicized. Tiger Woods can't be free to play golf, he has a moral obligation to impair his game, and invite constant distraction, by speaking out on the correct side of the question of female membership at Augusta National. The Dixie Chicks must suffer worse than John Lennon and the Beatles did for Lennon's "we're more popular than Jesus Christ" statement, because speaking against the President is a far greater sin, especially in a time of War.

The only effective rebellion against this politicization would be to ignore it as much as self-interest allows, and live our lives as we see fit. And when it intrudes, to mock the self-righteous busy-bodies who want to live our lives for us. I can understand being concerned by the non-violent behavior of other people, especially a compassionate concern over self-destructive behavior. I could also understand prohibiting offensive conduct on my own property, and creating covenants with neighbors so as to disallow particular behaviors and practices, whether it be to keep cocaine out of the neighborhood or prevent a porn shop from opening. Protecting - literally "sheltering" - children from the exposure and allure of dangerous, self-destructive activity is completely reasonable. But none of this is "political."

Politics assumes that coercion, not voluntary choice, is the best and only means to create a "sum," the nation or society, that is greater than its "parts," that is, individuals. It is a faith, and completely at odds with both history and reason. While decent religion preaches love for neighbor as one would love oneself, politics teaches both the voluntary sacrifice of one's self and the involuntary sacrifice of the neighbor to the altar of the State. This is what motivates thoroughly politicized persons.

Such people want to hurt others, because they believe that's how social progress is achieved. If unable to do so through political power and governmental machinery, they will act through boycotts and similar threats. Boycotters and their ilk - those whose personal happiness depend on how other people, even strangers, live their own lives - are not friends of liberty. They're only trying to achieve in the free market what they have not or can not achieve politically. And for that, they deserve only criticism, ridicule, and contempt.

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