Philosophical commentary on contemporary political issues in the tradition of Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Michael Sandel.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cathy's Comments Overshadow Chic-Fil-A's Progressive Fundamentals

This past weekend was a firestorm in the culture wars. On Thursday, thousands of conservatives and free speech advocates lined up at Chic-Fil-A locations across the country to show their support for the words of President Dan Cathy in opposition to gay marriage. Friday, homosexual couples across America staged a kiss-in protest in opposition to Cathy's remarks. The statement on a small, Christian radio station by Cathy has blown up into a multiple-week saga that has put fast food at the center of one of the most divisive debates in America today.

In response to this debate, I have two comments to offer.

First, I have heard from many the lamentation that food has to be politicized. From most, I hear the simple statement "I want to be able to eat a chicken sandwich without having to worry about the political statement it makes."

While there is something to be said about our lunchtimes being a time for rest, a time for us to put aside worry of judgment and good decision-making for a treat and a break in the middle of a stressful day, eating is not that simple. Philosophers have been writing about this for a good forty years now, but it is also a fact that is becoming more prevalent in mainstream America as well. With every dollar you spend, you contribute to allowing the world to be a certain way. 

Anyone who has done the smallest amount of research (say, trying to go to a location on Sunday) about Chic-Fil-A would know that the company is one that is based on Christian values. Now there is no evidence to lead us to suggest that the company discriminates in employment, service, or otherwise towards homosexuals, but to be surprised when one learns that the President does not favor marriage equality is a strange mistake. The current outcry against and for Chic-Fil-A is not really because of a change in the company, but rather a hype that has exposed something that was already there. The question is whether people will be willing to consume consciously when the choice doesn't involve a trendy cause like Chic-Fil-A is now.

Second, and more disappointing, is how the Chic-Fil-A controversy has overshadowed an important and underappreciated fact: Chic-Fil-A is a model for fast food in America.

What other company provides benefits for its employees (including one day of the week off for the entire company), top-notch customer service built on compassion and empathy, and a product that beats out all of its fast-food competitors? While Cathy is bravely standing by a position he believes in, he is painting Chic-Fil-A as a heartless, backwards company when really it has one of the most progressive organizational cultures of any company in the country.

In a way, Chic-Fil-A is a victim of its own success. The company is built off a Christian message of compassion and community. It could never have built the incredible organizational culture it has without this underlying philosophy. When talking about human rights, Charles Taylor argues that it is not terribly important why different countries believe in human rights as long as they come to the same conclusion. One may not want to adopt the pretenses of Christianity but may still praise Chic-Fil-A for eschewing the profit motive for something greater: treating its employees and customers with dignity and providing them a superior product and dining experience.

But from this philosophy, Cathy has also felt that he had to come forth against marriage equality. And thus Chic-Fil-A, a progressive company in the most literal sense of the word, has become tainted as the lunchtime snack of the reactionary right.

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