2017-02-09 – I’m seeing a lot of calls for boycotts these days. Good luck with that!
It’s not that there’s a shortage of good causes. The problem is that there are too many. Even before Donald Trump came on the scene, boycotts had proliferated so much that you needed an app to manage them. I have Buycott on my phone. Post-Trump, it’s unmanageable.
It’s like the reality-based world of center-right to center-left is suffering from attention deficit disorder! (Those on the extremes probably have it too, but I’m not going to tell them how to manage it.)
There’s several problems with boycotts I’d like to talk about today. The first problem I just mentioned. There’s way, way too many of them. People can’t keep them straight. Not enough people know about them. And so on. No boycott will affect a corporation’s behavior if they can’t detect a significant drop in sales resulting from the boycott. Fragmentation lessens the impact of boycotts significantly. Furthermore, when you and I boycott a company, the opposition starts buying, too. The anti-boycott can cancel out the boycott.
With rare exception, boycotts have only minor and transitory effects. Before you start writing me, please note that I acknowledge the exceptions. But don’t tell me that the huge database of boycotts I have on my phone are having an impact. They are not.
They just enable us to feel morally superior. I know it’s a rush to feel morally superior. But it’s addictive and rots your teeth.
The second problem I have with boycotts is that they divide the world into us and them. This is insidious. Commerce brings people together—at least potentially. I may hate your politics and you hate mine, but I’ll buy a video game from you and you’ll buy a tractor from me. And for a moment, we “care” about each other. (Please note that I put the word “care” in quotes. I don’t want to push this too far, but I don’t have a word for the attenuated level of interest buyers and sellers have for one another. But it’s something.)
It’s this kind of “caring” that got the NBA to move its All-Star game out of North Carolina because of its laws that discriminate against LGBT people. If the LGBT community had been boycotting the NBA, do you think that would have happened? It would have been us against them. It would have been game on in Charlotte.
Oh ho, you say, there was at least an implicit threat of boycott that pushed the NBA to do this. I don’t really think so. I really think that people who care about LGBT issues (or, at least, people who were disgusted with the measures the State of North Carolina took) are regular customer of the NBA and the NBA “cared” in the corporate way that corporations “care” about anything.
But this brings me to my final point: the need to focus your activism.
There’s too much going on. Each issue is a shiny object that commands our attention for 30 minutes. The Trump administration knows this. So, if they are getting killed on one issue, they launch a new one to distract us.
And suddenly we’re out boycotting the world. Stop boycotting everybody. It doesn’t send a clear message.
Instead, pick a couple issues and dig in. Even a half-dozen issues is okay. There are millions of us. You don’t have to do everything. The rest of us got you covered. Get involved. Make calls to your representatives every day. That’s what I do. Organize a community group. Or just join one. Treat your neighbors well.
And once in a while a truly organized, broad-based boycott will come along. Then, by all means . . .
. . . Uh oh! Late addition: Apparently, some of you folks out there are now threatening to pull your kids out of public school and homeschool them . . . because Betsy DeVos. C’mon folks. They want you to pull your kids out. That’s how they undermine public schools. They want you to back away. Do the opposite. Send your kids. Get involved. Do something real.
(In case you are wondering if I would do what I am urging you to do, the answer is yes. Twenty years ago, we did one year of homeschooling, but we went back and got involved. Our kids did fine—better than they would have done if we would have kept them out. They did fine academically. They have a great and diverse group of friends. And they know that sometimes you have to work for something, that a person can make a difference.)