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On the Subject of Bullying, and Protesting

Michael Patz wrote a nice little piece on why it’s un-Christian to decry homosexuality as sinful, particularly in light of the whole Chik-fil-a kerfuffle that’s been going on lately.  I suggest you check it out; as one tolerant and educated in Christian values, I was agreeing with all of his points.

Up until one, minor, albeit very important, bit (which is entirely tangential to the post, but… well, I’ll get to that):

Will people be staging protests and kiss-ins to protest Chick-fil-A? Maybe. But the way of Jesus is to “speak evil of no one”.  Has Chick-fil-A been bullied? Yes.  But the kingdom of Jesus response is to “avoid quarreling.”

(Emphasis added.)

I like the response from the kingdom of Jesus, by the by, so don’t think I’m disagreeing with the conclusion here.  I’m arguing the point of the language here – particularly with the definitive and unequivocal way that the good pastor says that Chick-fil-A has been “bullied.”  Because, apparently, people are “staging protests and kiss-ins to protest Chick-fil-A.”

This misuse of the word “bully”, and its various conjugations, is not singular to Mr. Patz.  That I have selected him is only because I happen to actually very much have liked what he wrote, with but that one nit to pick.  But the misappropriation of the word bullying to mean any type of disagreement is dangerous, wrongheaded, and diminishes and insults anyone who has ever been a victim of actual bullying.  It equates a person who has faced a lifetime of derision and hatred pointed specifically at them, usually for something they had absolutely no control over, to – in this particular instance – a multimillion dollar corporation being boycotted.

What is the difference?  Oh, where to begin.

Merriam-Webster defines “bullying” in two ways:

transitive verb
1: to treat abusively
2: to affect by means of force or coercion

I think it’s clear that no one who is protesting Chick-fil-A is treating CfA “abusively”.  So far, the protest has extended merely to a boycott, a little bit of extended air time on the radio waves (so to speak), and, in future, a kiss-in.  These are all legitimate uses of free expression in the marketplace of ideas.  (Note: there’s probably someone out there, yes, that has has personally attacked Dan Cathy as being a bigot and hateful.  This is the internet, after all.  But – and intelligent minds will differ whether or not this is calling a spade a spade – calling someone a bigot is, also, not abusive.  Simply because someone calls you a mean name in response to something you said – something which someone will find hurtful, in point of fact- is not an inappropriate response.  It’s measure for measure – you cannot on the one hand defend the right to call me a jerk and say I cannot call you an asshole in return.)  In fact, our very country was founded on the idea that I get to buy – or not buy – whatever product I wish.  If I am dissatisfied, for whatever reasons, legitimate or not, with a particular provider of goods, it is my right as an American and capitalist to tell you that I will no longer be providing my custom to you.  And I can take my money to KFC.

Aha, you may say to yourself if you’re wishing to defend the statement – are the protestors not using “force or coercion” to get what they want (namely, change)?  Well, no.  They’re using a version of “force” – called “market force” by economists – yes.  But the force that bullying contemplates is illegitimate – “coercion”.  Let’s look at some of the words related to bullying: “brutalize, abuse, ill-treat, ill-use, kick around, maltreat, manhandle, mess over [slang], mishandle, mistreat, misuse“.  And its primary synonym, “intimidate”: “to compel or deter by or as if by threats”.

Thankfully, we live in a country where it is a legitimate use of my personal authority to not buy your products.  Capitalism is a dog-eat-dog world, and if I disagree with you, I won’t be giving you my money.  In fact, it would be coercive if someone – you, the government – were to force me to give you my money.  We call that “theft”/”taxation”.  (I kid!  Sort of.)  No one here is “forcing” Cfa to do anything.  Mr. Cathy is free to spend his hard-earned (and I have no doubt that it is in fact hard-earned) money wherever he wishes – hookers, blow, pro-hate groups, puppies and unicorns; I don’t care.  But there’s nothing that allows him to say that he is entitled to my money – and there’s nothing that anyone can say to entitle him to it.  Now the man makes a fine sandwich – I had the opportunity to sample them when I lived in Indiana.  But so do his other market competitors.  If, given a choice between supporting someone who publicly supports what I am against, and someone who doesn’t – why is it suddenly “bullying” for me to support the second person?

If Chick-fil-a wants to continue to support groups that are against marriage equality, they can continue to do so.  I think they’ve shown in the last week that they can continue to be a profitable business in this fashion.  Mayor Menino’s strong language notwithstanding, he cannot actually physically bar you from entering Boston.  (Nor legally, as others have touched upon the subject before.  That would be coercive, anti-first amendment, and un-American.)  But you just have to accept that your customers are entitled to give you their custom – or not – as they see fit.

If you’re going to enter the marketplace of ideas, be sure that you can stand the heat.  And if you’re selling ideas alongside your chicken sandwich, make sure you can afford to do both.

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