Tobold's Blog
Saturday, January 28, 2023
Have you no sense of decency?

About 7 decades ago, America was in the grips of the Red Scare and McCarthyism. It started out with a not totally unfounded fear of communist spies, but quickly spiraled out. And one of the most damaging ideas of the time was that it was very dangerous to have somebody with communist beliefs working in Hollywood, because subliminal messages might be hidden in a movie script and turn all of America communist. Hollywood writers, actors, and directors were blacklisted, including such obvious dangers as Charlie Chaplin.

McCarthyism began to crumble when in a carefully staged moment on television lawyer Joseph Welch asked Senator McCarthy "Have you no sense of decency?" in the context of a character assassination that McCarthy was doing. The Hollywood blacklist officially ended in 1960, although some of the blacklisted people had their careers already permanently destroyed by then.

After that, for some time, it was widely recognized that you shouldn't blacklist people for their political beliefs. The danger that somebody in the entertainment industry subverts the public with his political beliefs is much smaller than the danger to democracy and liberty the blacklisting itself does. If somebody is committing a crime because of his political beliefs, that should be dealt with by the justice system. Just holding political beliefs and speaking out about them should never be the reason for somebody losing his livelihood. Freedom of speech is one of the most important pillars of democracy and the rule of law.

What also needs to be considered is that Hollywood movies and other big entertainment projects are never the work of a single person. If you ban or boycott a movie because of the political beliefs of one person in a huge team, you are equally hurting a large number of people who don't even hold those beliefs. As if punishing somebody for "thought crimes" wasn't bad enough, you end up punishing people for "associating with people who committed thought crimes".

It makes me very sad that these days the idea that you should punish people for their political beliefs is back. That is not because I necessarily agree with those political beliefs. Although Voltaire didn't actually say it, his point of view was correctly described as "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". The right to state their political beliefs of a public figure is the higher good, however much you might disapprove. It is the hallmark of tyrannies all over the world that they first attack this freedom of speech, before attacking other freedoms.

So if you might be tempted to participate or promote a boycott of an entertainment product this year, maybe you should ask yourself: "Have you no sense of decency?". Is attacking the livelihood of somebody you disagree with, or somebody associating with somebody you disagree with, really the morally correct choice? Aren't you getting blinded by your passionate support for one cause into hurting much more important pillars of a free society? If you participate in making it socially acceptable to destroy somebody's career or means of earning a living because of their political beliefs, what will you say if some day the tides turn and it is your political beliefs that allow others to destroy your life?

“Is attacking the livelihood of somebody you disagree with, or somebody associating with somebody you disagree with, really the morally correct choice?”
Do I owe anyone in entertainment a livelihood?
If I can choose whose entertainment products I spend my money on, is it anyone else’s business why I want to see one film and not another?

As an advocate for personal freedom and taking “a centrist” position, I’m very surprised that you see it this way.
Humans are lemmings by nature. They are easy to sway with social pressure. There is nothing wrong with any individual deciding not to consume certain entertainment products. There is everything wrong with organized boycotts.
If you told your readers to avoid a game because you didn’t like it, would this be tantamount to a boycott? How about if you told your readers that you couldn’t recommend it because it featured a highly racist representation in it? If we acted on mass and avoided this product, are we participating in a boycott?
Just to lay out my cards: I’ve got more faith in humans. I think that consumers understand that artists’ may have different views and can separate the art from the artist when they choose to. Walt Disney, Michael Jackson, Roald Dahl - very problematic by today’s standards and possibly being boycotted by someone somewhere. Or if you want a more zeitgeisty examples, take Dave Chapelle or J K Rowling. Still making money, still selling product. So who are these silenced victims of cancel culture we need to protect from the boycott?
I am totally okay if you don’t want to watch Rings of Power after hearing Galadriel promoting racial genocide. Or you simply dislike her acting and blog about it.

But my newsfeed is overflowing with various boycott announcements that don’t claim there is anything wrong with the entertainment product to be boycotted, other than there being a link to some person whose opinions they disagree with.

Look at it that way: If one pupil in a class sends a classmate a text message calling him a jerk, that is just a disagreement. If the one pupil organizes his whole class to send that classmate that same text, that is mobbing. And that is not only morally inacceptable, but can even be legally wrong.
I don't even know where to start with explaining the difference between a free society- where the government cannot imprison you for you views or nearly all your speech- and making private personal about what commercial projects to support. It is entirely my right and a moral choice to not financially support those who hire people with objectionable views.
Yes, and it is entirely my right and a moral choice for me to call you out on your moral choice, because I find any form of mobbing to be morally reprehensible. Every view is “objectionable”, so associatiating with people with objectionable views is unavoidable in life.

I’ve seen a call to boycott Baldur’s Gate 3 over the objectionable way WotC handled the OGL. But programming BG3 took Larian Studios many years, and the OGL story was a flash in the pan that just happened this year and is already resolved. Why would you want to hurt a completely innocent group of programmers for that? How could they evn have known their association with WotC would be objectionable some years later when they started the project?

I see no difference in voting with my wallet, versus openly criticizing a company for its (insert flavor of the month reason to be shocked) practices, where the human species is concerned. If the "facts" support a healthy level of moral outrage, then there are always going to be those caught up in the collateral damage as things unfold.

In the past you've called us "bad gamers" because some of us openly stated that we would vote with our wallets and NOT support the predatory monetization practices of many of the F2P models that exist. I honestly don't see how the whole OGL/WotC situation is any different. People calling for a boycott on the heels of a massive PR debacle sounds fine to me. I'm pretty certain that all of the coders, artists...etc. working on BG3 are all receiving a weekly paycheck - with maybe some sort of bonus structure based on sales?

How about the Balenciaga child ad scandal? Are there those behind the scenes who would be financially hit by a boycott of their goods? Who cares if there are? I wonder how many people's lives have been negatively affected by the current "cancel" culture, where entire families suffer as a result?

As for me, I reserve the right to continue to vote with my wallet. Who cares if I make a statement somewhere on the intarwebs as to my reasoning behind it?
It's an easy way out to write an entire post making a blanket statement like this without citing any of the major examples so you don't have to directly defend your thesis. And the only one you do cite in the comments is an obvious misdirection at a 3rd party that most people will agree with you on. As if agreeing with boycotts on a case-by-case basis is an impossibly slippery slope.

Same with only mentioning "political beliefs" as if all political beliefs should be equally protected from consumer retaliation. Is it OK to boycott someone for wanting different tax rates? Is it OK boycott someone who wants to reinstitute segregation in schools?

Does the balance of not punishing a team of innocent collaborators and employees versus punishing a single person always fall on the side of the team? Does it matter if the person's political beliefs were revealed well after a project started or if everyone on the team knew those beliefs beforehand?

I can't tell if you're telling people to simply take a step back to evaluate whether people might be going overboard with something or we should take this post literally and you think there is no morally correct boycott by consumers over what they consume.

Would love to hear your thoughts specifically on boycotts over J.K. Rowling or Orson Scott Card, people who passed the point of simply holding political beliefs to participating in varying levels of activism for those beliefs.
@Ran: No problem. Let's take the case of J.K. Rowling. Is she going out at night with a baseball bat, beating up trans people? No, she isn't. She identified a possible conflict between trans rights and women's rights in a proposed law in Scotland, and she is speaking out for the women. Do I agree with everything she says? No, certainly not. Do I think she has the right to say what she is saying and get involved in a political debate in her home country? I sure do! And the identified conflict between trans rights and women's rights is very real, and complex; there is no easy black & white answer "trans people always right - feminists wrong". The attacks and the mobbing are *because* J.K. Rowling has a point, character assassination is always the easy way out of a complex argument. The UK government pointed out the same conflict with laws that guarantee women's rights when they pulled the plug on that proposed law in Scotland.

While I think that the attacks on J.K. Rowling are already exaggerated, I would totally understand somebody who on an individual level decides never to buy a book of hers again. Instead we are getting large scale organized boycotts of Hogwarts Legacy. Do you know what J.K. Rowling's involvement in the development of that game was? Absolutely nothing! Her only link is having created the world the game plays in, not even the characters, as it plays a century earlier. How much money do you think she will make from that? Maybe a cent or two per copy sold. Meanwhile Avalanche Software will be hurt badly by a boycott. And they didn't even have the choice on whether to make the game or not, because they are owned by Warner. And they didn't even associate with J.K. Rowling, just used a fantasy world she created. Do you think that is an appropriate target for mob justice?
I didn't say anything about mobbing, I mentioned making a personal choice about what to support financially.
I think most people would not take seriously calls to boycott BG3 because of WOTC's ogl controversy. I would hope that people analyze issues for themselves. If, however, many people determine that a situation is egregious enough that they shouldn't support something, that doesn't make it "mobbing."
Freedom of Speech != Freedom from Consequences.

I think if someone wants to stand on a street corner spewing racist nonsense they should have that right. Others also have the right to avoid that person and then choose not to do business with them when they aren't on that street corner. Their employer also has a right to terminate their employment because they don't want to be associated with those opinions since their priority is making as much money as possible and this person threatens that.

Furthermore I'd even question if ALL speech should even be tolerated. I mean realistically it already isn't which is why we have Hate and libel laws but stepping away from that should we tolerate someone's opinion if that opinion is say "all people of X group should die"? "Tolerating evil only leads to more evil" is a pretty famous saying.

Should I tolerate and financially reward someone with my business if they are of the opinion that people who look like me should die or be forced out of this country? Maybe you can answer this question with a yes Tobold but I certainly can't.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
I think the problem here is the tendency to not make any distinction. You immediately jump to people who want "all people of X group to die". Show me any example of a current boycott directed against somebody who promoted "all people of X group to die", and I might even participate. But do a search on Twitter of trending hashtags including the word "boycott", and you will exclusively find mobbing of people who expressed a much, much milder opinion.

There is a *huge* difference between the people who lynched Emmett Till, and people who don't think slavery reparations are a practical solution to the racial wealth gap, or people who point out that affirmative action in higher education disproportionally disadvantages Asian Americans. There is a *huge* difference between the Holocaust and somebody who thinks that the state of Israel is treating Palestinians badly. There is a *huge* difference between people who bash trans people with baseball bats and people who are opposed to the Scottish gender recognition reform dropping the requirement for somebody to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria. And as you already said, there are laws against lynching people, beating people up, and certain forms of hate speech and libel. Which means that your examples of situations are already covered.

Let me turn your question around and ask you whether boycotts are always an acceptable means of expression. What if the other half of America learns from you and starts trending on Twitter (now under new right-wing management) with boycotts of anyone expressing left-wing opinions? Would you be okay if the next Leonardo DiCaprio movie is being boycotted because he spoke out against climate change?
Yes absolutely there is a huge difference between thise things. And yes I fully support the right doing boycotts as well. The right already does organize boycotts against stuff they don't like. They already engage in "cancel" culture. So your question isn't a what if but something that already happens. I'm not sure why you think they don't already do this. Hell I'd argue they engage in cancel culture and boycotts more often then the left and for even more ridiculous reasons like M&Ms changing the shoes of their mascots. But I wholly support their right to boycott not matter what I think of their reasoning.

Who gets to decide when a boycott is justified? Why should a company or individual be entitled to not have a boycott organized against it?

If I eat a restaurant and dislike the food and service and tell my friends and family they should avoid the place I am engaging in a local level boycott. My actions can detrimental affect the employees of said restaurant. Is that not okay? Should I be obligated to withhold my opinions because I might cause harm to employees if the restaurant goes under?

It seems wild to me that a proponent of free speech as yourself seems to think boycotting something isn't or shouldn't be protected free speech.
Look at the title of the post. There is no such thing as an entitlement to not have a boycott organized against you, and I am not proposing such an entitlement.

What I am proposing is that people make use of their sense of decency, if they have such a thing, to consider whether organizing a boycott is a proportionate response. So I am asking you: Do you think that boycotting Hogwarts Legacy is a proportionate response? Does Avalanche Studios, who didn't work with J.K. Rowling, and who were forced to work with a certain intellectual property because their owner Warner happened to have a license for that IP, deserve to be punished because J.K. Rowling is politically active for women's rights even when those rights clash with trans rights?

To me it seems that an individual not buying the next J.K. Rowling book would be a proportionate response to that individual disagreeing with her political activity. But a large-scale organized boycott against Avalanche Studios for their very remote connection to J.K. Rowling appears to be indecently disproportional.
Do I personally think it's an appropriate response? No because a boycott of the game doesn't really do anything to Rowling. How I feel doesn't matter though.

Am I crying over Avalanche Studios or Warner Brothers? No. Nor do I think people shouldn't boycott the game because of concerns over staff at Avalanche or WB.

People can do as they wish. They want to boycott anything Harry Potter related go for it. They want to boycott M&Ms because the girl M&M lost her sexy heels go for it. They want to boycott ChikFila due to the owners supporting groups they are against. Go for it.
People can do as they wish. They want to boycott anything Harry Potter related go for it. They want to boycott M&Ms because the girl M&M lost her sexy heels go for it. They want to boycott ChikFila due to the owners supporting groups they are against. Go for it.

Somebody should really invent a word for this kind of culture where people boycott anything at the drop of a hat.
Do you think people boycotting things is a new practice? Or something that has increased in recent years?

I don't have any data on hand but I'd be surprised if boycotts are any more numerous today then say 30 years ago.

Somebody should really invent a word for this kind of culture where people boycott anything at the drop of a hat.

It's called Critical(or Political) Consumption. It's been a thing since basically forever. Although the ability to influence people's buying decisions(using social media) has greatly increased in recent years, people still break down purchases into hedonic and utilitarian terms. If a person decides to get their breakfast coffee at a Hardee's on their way to work, can they be said to be actively boycotting the Starbuck's that's right next door? Or vice-versa?

No one knows until someone asks them, right?

If an exit pollster is standing outside of each establishment and they are asking people why they chose to buy their coffee there instead of at the "other place", you indicate that you would have a problem if they should cite that they are actively boycotting the "other place" because a friend, or acquaintance on social media suggested they do so because of "X" reason. It sounds as if you are trying to limit the ability of the consumer from using the same tools that marketers have been successfully using for years now to influence buying decisions.
Just to mention that the D&D backlash is actually a counter example to your argument. WoTC have published the 5e SRD under a Creative Commons license, enabling 3rd party publishers to continue to sell derivative works forever more. So this has saved jobs.
I don't have any data on hand but I'd be surprised if boycotts are any more numerous today then say 30 years ago.

There is no good statistical data on how many boycotts there were every year, but according to the latest survey, younger generations use boycotts a lot more than older generations.

It's called Critical(or Political) Consumption.

As I was trying to explain in an earlier comment, it is a big difference if one pupil in a class sends a nasty text message to a classmate, or whether he organizes all his friends to send such a text message at the same time. I can't open my newsfeed these days without reading about some organized boycott, and that is just a games newsfeed, not even a political one.
As I was trying to explain in an earlier comment, it is a big difference if one pupil in a class sends a nasty text message to a classmate, or whether he organizes all his friends to send such a text message at the same time.

But you keep forgetting one thing, these students, at one point, decided to entrust the other students with their contact information to facilitate this "texting". The same holds true with any other social media platform that -anyone- decides to participate in or on.

Developing a thicker skin to handle personal attacks is far different than a company dealing with a call for a boycott from its customers over moral, ethical or political concerns. You cannot conflate the two.
If somebody has done his homework and studied a complicated situation, he can have moral, ethical, or political concerns that could justify boycotting some company. If you believe that is generally the case, you have an overly optimistic vision of humanity. In many cases even the organizer of a boycott understands only a part of the complex moral, ethical, or political problem. And the thousands of people who follow probably don't even have more information than what fits in the size of a tweet.

It is easy to see how such influence could turn bad. Some influencer with lots of followers calls a company and "suggests" they sponsor him, or he might voice his "concerns" on his channel. Somebody falsely accuses somebody else and a whole herd of lemmings with torches and pitchforks goes after some innocent victim. Somebody confuses the "Four Seasons" with "Four Seasons Landscaping" and drives an innocent company into bankruptcy with a boycott.

I remain with my opinion that joining a boycott based on some short social media information without having studied the situation in detail is morally questionable. And organizing a boycott is both indecent and pathetic.
Post a Comment

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool