Chik-Fil-Anthropy: Moral Outrage and Critical Thinking
With the emergence of the Twittersphere and the swift hand of social media justice, there is probably now an App for Right(eous) Indignation. Type in your lists of hates, likes, preferences, disagrees, desires, and beliefs, and it should be able to tell you who to support, who to fight, where to shop, what to eat, what clothes are allowable, what opinions are acceptable and what clan of subgenre of hipster you might be in. We speak up, we speak loudly, and we often don't even finish thinking it through before we fart our thoughts onto the world. Thankfully, there are paid celebrities whose farts are generally stinkier, and take up more "discussion".
However, the more we opine on every single thing that comes our way, the less we are inclined to use critical thinking. According to statistics on remedial math, writing and reasoning classes for college freshman, it's likely that many of us don't have a big handle on it to begin with. Critical thinking uses a whole set of specific criteria by which to discuss, analyze, approach a subject. One of those things is not our (emotional) opinion. And so moral outrage, righteous indignation and our feelings are not part of critical thinking, or rational analysis.
But who is right? Like the false conflation of religious beliefs to scientific method, and the suggestion that they therefore deserve equal time for "discussion", your moral outrage does not have the same weight as rational scrutiny.
This week, in the US, the current moral outrage is the Chik-Fil-A controversy. It isn't new news, in that Chik-Fil-A has been openly run as a "family centered", Christian corporation all along. People only aware of that because of the recent homophobic commentary by the owner are outraged. Outraged that he said these things, and also outraged that they were previously being duped into enjoying delicious fast food that they now have to boycott. Chik-Fil-A, in running a good business, had not previously posted a "We don't like gays" sign on their door.
Most corporations, including Chik-Fil-A, make decisions every day to maximized their profits by making economic and personnel decisions that many of us will find repugnant. Perhaps we didn't hear about how they wouldn't cover contraceptive services in their family health plans (I don't know if they do or not). I am not familiar with their policies, as I don't eat there and don't know people who work there. If I found that out today, that they either don't provide good health care much at all or that they exclude contraception, I am not sure if I would get outraged or just think, "this is a private business and it has the right to choose its moral conduct".
I am glad, however, that the public reaction has been swift and furious. I am amused that the fRight Wing response has been to have "Chik-Fil-A" Support Day. I am pleased that Jim Henson Company stood up for their beliefs and withdrew collaboration. I am hoping that the Religtables (I mean,Veggie Tales) is not going to step in and Save™ the children patrons of Chik-Fil-A.
I don't shop at Walmart for many reasons, but that doesn't mean I haven't had to or won't in the future. I am glad they provide income opportunity for developmentally disabled people, including health insurance. I shop at Trader Joe's at times, even if I know that they keep their prices down by having mostly part time staff and thus do not have to cover the human resources costs of a full service market like Safeway. I buy things at Target because it is convenient and affordable. The money I save from there can now be spent supporting a local coffee shop (when I have a choice) or filling the tip jar of my favorite baristas at Starbucks. I recently switched to buying gas and some organic groceries at Costco because it is smart to save money when I can. I not only can't get to the Farmer's market on their schedule, but I can't always afford to when I can. It's increasingly clear that is what is good for the economy is bad for the people. What's good for people is rough on the economy. I don't work for the economy, I work for me.
I know that having a strong opinion may be about the only thing people feel they can have control of anymore, though I begin to wonder if that is just another ploy to make us feel enfranchised. Voting hasn't worked out well for either side, because someone else always gets their way. Our very leaders of this country have no obligation to use rational analysis, critical thinking or scientific method when analyzing any of the social, economic or scientific data that comes across their desk. They just need a strong opinion, backed in feelings and stoked by righteous indignation to get a law passed or a bill blocked. The idea we should follow the examples of other countries whose systems work better than ours (for some things) is considered an insult. I am beginning to wonder how many of us even form our own strong opinions anymore, between the onslaught of news that is no longer journalism, media that is clearly biased and partial, and social media that literally fills our inboxes with the opinion du jour.
I am outraged that nobody wants to get along. Well, they might, if they shut their trigger fingers off a minute and promoted conversation over conflict. If I think of the examples to suggest, I start to run out of ideas. Jon Stewart is clear that he is a comedian and that he is not impartial, even if he and Stephen Colbert are my favorite "news" sources. It's impossible to not know what the "news" is, but getting a good take on what I should think about it is more and more difficult.
Personally, I don't care if the owner of Chik-Fil-A is a homophobe. I don't care if he takes his money and donates it to pro-Christian-marriage causes. I don't support that, and I take my money elsewhere, but it's not like they were going to get it anyway. The food is just not that good. I understand they are a great company to work for and have an outstanding business model that many other companies could learn from. I hope that there is no open or hidden discrimination against employees or patrons. I am glad that they manage to keep people employed in a rough economic time. I am glad that we are having this discussion, in the public sphere, yet again, that forces us to examine our beliefs, behavior and politics.
What comes after righteous indignation? We express our discontent or outrage, we pull our money out of patronage or advertising, and then we forget. It would be great to see a place where all this anger fuels the critical thinking we need to put in place better solutions to universal needs- food, housing, health care and education. I am pretty sure we can all agree that we are far short of solutions on any of those because we are stuck in the weeds of our own indignation.