Deadbeat Trapped Inside the Body of a Bill Payer

Explanations of corporate America’s support for LBGTQ(xyz) are almost as simplistic as laments about falling sky. Rod Dreher quotes this:

This social order of consumer-based options tends to forge a new conception of the human person as a sovereign individual who exercises control over his or her own life circumstances. Again, traditional social structures and arrangements are generally fixed in terms of key identity markers such as gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation. But globalized societies, because of the wide array of options, see this fixedness as restrictive. And so traditional morals and customs tend to give way to what we called lifestyle values. Lifestyle values operate according to a plurality of what sociologist Peter Berger defines as “life-worlds,” wherein each individual practices whatever belief system deemed most plausible by him or her. These belief systems include everything from religious identity to gender identity.

Thus, lifestyle values and identities are defined and determined by consumerist tendencies and norms. Commercial advertising is not merely central to economic growth, it is also of central influence to inventing the self through offering variant lifestyle features and choices. In the words of social theorist Anthony Giddens: “Market-governed freedom of individual choice becomes an enveloping framework of individual self-expression.”

I would therefore argue that the corporations promising to boycott states like North Carolina for their traditionalist politics are not so much for LGBT rights as they are against arbitrarily restricting lifestyle options, since such limitations are deemed inconsistent with a society comprised of consumer-based self-expression.

But what about people who work hard, buy stuff, and pay bills on time? Aren’t they better for the economy (global or local) than people who might find that after making a purchase they regard the credit card bill as merely a convention of arbitrarily chosen identities? If you ask me, corporations support gay rights and marriage for its p.r. value, which is to say, they don’t want to appear intolerant. Can’t say that analysis is all that profound either since the numbers show that heteros have more buying units than gays or those who transcend gender. This is nothing new. Remember the NFL penalizing Arizona (as host of the Super Bowl) for not making Martin Luther King Day a holiday.

But Rod buys it hook, line, and sinker:

Cavanaugh says that the free market is based on the definition of freedom as an absence of external constraints. The wider your choice, the freer the market. This is problematic from a Christian point of view, as well as from a virtue ethics point of view, because it is agnostic about the existence of good and evil. The free market, thus conceived, catechizes us into believing that there is no truth, only individual desire. But desires are unavoidably social, so the will to power in society belongs to those who maximize individual choice by tearing down any structure or belief system that denies the primacy of individual choice.

You mean my latest statement from Bank of American isn’t true? Woo hoo!

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18 thoughts on “Deadbeat Trapped Inside the Body of a Bill Payer

  1. Dreher has something.

    First, he’s looking in the right place. The remarkable change in America’s views towards LGBT was driven primarily by corporate sponsorship.

    Second, this is spot on: [the American self-conception is of a] sovereign individual who exercises control over his or her own life circumstances.

    This is the basis for (almost?) all ads aimed at adults. It is also the basis for American foreign policy: We have the right to control and destroy any threats to our national security. It is also by exyension the basis for “helicoptor patrnting”: if you can control a negative circumstance in your child’s life, you are negligent unless you do so.

    Put all that together, and it’s clear that corporations are going to make advocacy decisions that maximize total customer discretionary spending, which implies customers should feel that they have discretion to spend.

    Then counterpoints:

    * Yes, hetero dollars outnumber LGBT dollars. But hetero “ally” dollars + LGBT dollars outnumber “opponent” dollars — especially if corporations can win a PR war to move opponents into ally or neutral camps.

    * Essentially, Dreher argues that corporations have been proactive, whole you argue that they are reactive (ie, PR-ing to fit in with public opinion). The tineline favors Dreher. Disney and AT&T were gay-friendly long before public opinion shifted.

    Likewise, Tim Cook at Apple is certainly not proLGBT for PR reasons.

    * Your statement from BoA is “accurate” only because the law requires it. I put “accurate” in scare-quotes because BoA does not (and could not) have cash on hand to pay out all account balances if all customers withdrew at once. The law – post Depression – requires that BoA keep enough cash to satisfy something like 20% of balances. The rest is invested, only sometimes wisely, to the profit of shareholders.

    What BoA does NOT do is give you an accurate statement out of conscientious obedience to natural law. Only Bank of Kant would do that.

    So I don’t find Dreher simplistic here. I’m willing to believe that gender-bending is all about expanding the boundaries of autonomy (hence potential market) and deprecating institutions and ideas that might restrain spending.

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  2. Jeff, “Second, this is spot on: [the American self-conception is of a] sovereign individual who exercises control over his or her own life circumstances.”

    Overstatement. People love Lebron because he doesn’t play by NBA rules? I think Americans love freedom and they love rules. They love cars. The only way to maintain a car is if other drivers stay on the right side of the road.

    So maybe “conservatives” problem is accepting an either-or outlook on freedom and rules. What if you don’t have freedom without rules (Mr. Hobbes asked)?

    Same goes for corporations. They know on which side the bread is buttered. Without nation-states let them try to collect debts or conduct international business. All we need to do is get them to admit it. I don’t think a POTUS would have that much trouble.

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  3. as we already knew – the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; and that woman is sitting on a scarlet beast

    D.G. Says:You mean my latest statement from Bank of American isn’t true? Woo hoo!

    !! see above , beware

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  4. Granted that we’re trying to describe a complex phenomenon, but the NBA is not your best example. Deliberate fouling happens most every game, amd the fans love it.

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  5. I’ll add to this and throw in a slight wrinkle. Just some incomplete scribblings.
    Rod’s basic narrative here simply follows his current anti-Enlightenment strategy for laying out justifications for people to buy his upcoming BenOp book. Rod’s strategy, whether he’s conscious of it or not, is part-and-parcel of the very thing he criticizes, but he simply can’t put his finger on it. Capitalism fulfills individual desire, fine. But that’s a pretty banal truism. But that individual desire must be sublimated in some way. For middle to upper middle to upper class citizens, quite simply, we purchase ideology (since this is who we’re really talking about here). One does not simply buy a product to satisfy one’s desires; rather, one buys a lifestyle or, even better, an ideological expression. Look at Starbucks: as soon as people started criticizing it for its size and tendency to shut out competition and, even worse, its harvesting of beans, which may take advantage of indigenous cultures, they immediately went into charity mode, so that a certain percentage of a cup of coffee went to poor children. And we the consumer got to participate in said acts of charity. In fact, for a time, Starbucks had a slogan on their cups that was explicit: “you’re not just buying a cup of coffee, but a way of life” (or some such thing). So one is not merely buying a cup of coffee but is also being politically active, standing up for something. So one gets to be both a consumer and also an altruist, a consumerist without worrying about conscience, This is just one example, of course. But when news comes out that a certain product has taken a stand on a social issue, that company understands that ideology is part of the product, because it is part of the consumer. So the corporation need not be concerned about fulfilling someone’s individual desire; rather, they concern themselves with satisfying our need to be ideological and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves (at least as far as the capital narrative is concerned right now; it will change, I’m sure).

    And so I give you the BenOp. This is a perfect, perfect example. One need only look at the whole branding exercise in anticipation of the book. Rod has even carted out the “get it now before it’s gone” schtick. He actually had a post asking for people to submit theme songs for the BenOp or to submit a title for the book. That’s just perfect marketing; it allows his potential consumers to be involved in symbolic ideological choices. The same was most especially true of Crunchy Con. It was pure lifestyle branding. I means even the subtitle lays out whole litany of product-as-lifestyle choices. So your product choice would literally say something about you and your ideological choices.

    So what does this mean: quite simply, that most middle, upper-middle, and upper class American consumers want to be inclusive, non-judgmental (except against those judgmental jerks), and politically active and so attach their products to the fight. But the corporations can do this as part of an ad campaign that costs no money at all. The best part about free advertising via news is that it’s free. So unlike a Starbucks’ slogan to remind people that they aren’t heartless consumerist pigs, Google News will tell consumers that company X is welcoming and non-judgmental and is fighting for the rights of the marginalized. Rod seems to think that there are corporate elites who dictate our ideological tastes (and this is true in many ways), but by the time the product comes to us (via news, via protests), our society has already decided ideologically, and now the corporations are just selling us what we want (whatever that ideological position is). Rod may argue that what they’re selling is “pure choice.” But this simply isn’t true. Has Rod tried smoking in public recently? The problem with America is that we’re schizophrenic: we want to be hedonistic, fulfilling all of our desire, and yet simultaneously puritanical (I use this as a non-religious descriptor) in the purity we demand. Something like Diet Coke.

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  6. It is only part of the story to focus on consumers/consumption. The largest employer of new liberal arts graduates in our area relentlessly advertises their great working environment, team work, career path, etc., for their positions as “counselors”. In fact, these positions are for Bill collectors, and the advancement they offer is to be a supervisor of your ‘team” of bill collectors. The pay is a fraction of what a recently trained auto mechanic would earn. The “counselors” can’t earn enough to pay their college loans back and afford rent on a place of their own, but it is apparently a better gig than being a Batista at Star$– I know two shift supervisors who have left Star$ for this company, both recent graduates of the very good local !liberal arts college.

    Apparently they are happy, though I shake my head at how little money they are making. One still lives at home, one shares a house with three roommates. Maybe as expectations of employment have gone down from a material needs standpoint (I know I am old, but I went to college in the days when it was not at all unreasonable to expect that I would end up with a more financially rewarding career than my high school classmates who went to work in the local factory that had a contract with the United Steelworkers), other expectations have replaced them. Who started this, employers running a scam, or the work force demanding free nursery care? I have no idea, but work experiences and expectations are totally different today. How that relates to preachers ranting about the evils of our consumption based society is beyond me.

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  7. I’m trying to understand why corporations are being held to a standard of supporting heterosexual marriage because it’s Christian? Why wouldn’t a corporation’s moral culture be one of serving as many members of the populace as it finds itself engaged in business, in order to maximize profits? If I’m an investor in a company, I don’t want to see that company alienate any segment of the population. Why is a corporation’s moral culture or ad campaign being conscripted to serve my religious catechesis? How is that not a conflation of institutional responsibilities? If a company makes a policy decision, I as an investor, am going to demand that that policy decision be in the best interest of the valuation of the stock I own. In the case of retail, that generally means capturing as many disposable dollars(units not necessarily margin, depends on the majority inventory being peddled-Target is generally less margin but more total dollars, I want turns) as is available in the populace. Whatever alliance, within the law, accomplishes that goal is what I as an investor want done. This also is going to circle back to the legislative logic of striking down Jim Crow laws as being a violation of civil rights because if you’re providing services in the public square, you are subject to the laws governing lawful commerce. Which, at least in part, involve a protecting of a minority or oppressed segment of the populace from being unduly burdened by the discriminatory practices of businesses providing services, often as sole source opportunity, to a given community.

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  8. Dreher, as usual, misses the point.

    Most elites hold fairly similar personal values as social/religious conservatives (SRCs). They just don’t make a spectacle about it. The main difference between elites and SRCs is that elites believe that certain moral issues are better addressed through private and voluntary means. SRCs, by contrast, seek public enforcement of morality. Elites value wisdom, while SRCs value lists of rules.

    I’m not sure where the Old Life crowd fits on this spectrum. Folks here seem to be a bit more libertarian than most evangelicals. But you still maintain membership in churches that have a more Bayly-esque approach to gender.

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  9. Evan773,

    “Most elites hold fairly similar personal values as social/religious conservatives (SRCs).”
    ***What does “elites” mean in this context?

    “The main difference between elites and SRCs is that elites believe that certain moral issues are better addressed through private and voluntary means.”
    ***This misses Dreher’s point, which is about the marketplace of ideas, which therefore includes politics. There really are no voluntary and private means; everything as a matter of record and fact is material and historical, and therefore cultural. If it’s cultural, then others are involved. Whatever your private choice (TM), it has already been determined along a spectrum–religious, social, marketplace, whatever. The market and/or politics can and will impose itself whether you like it or not. If you’ve not felt it, it simply means that you’re comfortable with what is being served. Or you’re a Stoic. The entirety of my response may be null once you’ve defined “elites” here in this particular case.

    “SRCs, by contrast, seek public enforcement of morality. Elites value wisdom, while SRCs value lists of rules.”
    ***Again, this may hinge on what you mean by “elites.” Is that a cultural term, an economic one, an educational one?

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  10. Evan: Most elites hold fairly similar personal values as social/religious conservatives (SRCs).

    Interesting. When I think of elites, I think of those who lead institutions with overt or latent power: Governmental and political, educational, infrastructure, media.

    I often see the values of those leaders to be in direct conflict with those of social conservatives.

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  11. Given the discussion in these threads so far (and, in particular, Dreher’s points), I feel compelled to ask why all the of Tiger Woods’ corporate sponsors abandoned him like fleas jumping off a dipped dog’s back (courtesy, Billy Carter) as soon as his indiscretions were made public. Surely there are more hetero philanderers who follow golf than LGBT-types, whether they want to admit it or not. Therefore, Big Bid’ness must think that there are a greater number of people who look disdainfully at marital infidelity than they do the good ol’ “personal life style choice” of the sexual deviants. Either that or they just jump on the most popular band wagon of the moment, regardless of how it might look historically, right after they’ve taken a barometer (or maybe rectal thermometer) reading of the current culture.

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  12. Jeff said:

    I often see the values of those leaders to be in direct conflict with those of social conservatives.

    Bingo. Who has been pushing marriage “equality,” abortion, transgenderism, free birth control, etc.? Social/political elites. Not social conservatives.

    I think the simplest answer to all this is that money talks. The LGBTQAVCDI~&%XYZ community has a ton of disposable income. They also have time, most of them not having children, to make the advancement of a particular worldview their number one goal. There is also their drive to silence their consciences. Put that all together and you have a very easy explanation for why things have happened as they have.

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  13. Sean: I’m trying to understand why corporations are being held to a standard of supporting heterosexual marriage because it’s Christian? Why wouldn’t a corporation’s moral culture be one of serving as many members of the populace as it finds itself engaged in business, in order to maximize profits? If I’m an investor in a company, I don’t want to see that company alienate any segment of the population.

    I for one would not hold them to such a standard, any more than I would hold termites to a standard of not eating my house.

    Still and all, I want to understand what corporations are after — which is my money. To that end, they will have a tendency to oppose moral boundaries because those moral boundaries (whether avoiding R movies on the right or avoiding doing business with Israel on the left) cut into the bottom line.

    A simple example would be the way in which Google and Facebook seduced us all into giving up privacy rights. Isn’t Google Earth COOL? And the pictures of the Caglets are so cute. Wait — how did those ads know to show up in my FB feed?

    It should be blazingly obvious that it is an invasion of privacy to collect metadata about people and sell it to third parties. But that would be a moral consideration, not a business consideration.

    So I actually expect businesses to push against sexual mores. It’s their job to do so.

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  14. @ George: Good point.

    I see it as a feedback loop, with business alternatively following and leading the markets to try to gain advantage under different circumstances. Culture then leads or follows business by voting with feet on the one hand or “being trendy” on the other.

    So Pepsi leads the market by creating the Pepsi challenge. On the other hand, Volkswagen (and others) follow the market by prioritizing mileage over regulatory compliance.

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