The New Clarion

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The Wynand Grocer

August 17th, 2009 by Bill Brown · 10 Comments · Politics

I just finished listening to The Fountainhead on audiobook and a lot of the opinions expressed by the execrable characters rang hollow to my ears. Maybe it’s the people I deal with or the blogs I read, but I just don’t hear people saying things so explicitly—the altruism and collectivism I encounter is subtle.

Then I read this article about the reaction to the Whole Foods CEO’s recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal about establishing a free(r) market in health care. The following quotes could have come from straight from the Council of American Grocers:

Christine Taylor, a 34-year-old New Jersey shopper, vowed never to step foot in another Whole Foods again.

“I will no longer be shopping at Whole Foods,” Taylor told ABCNews.com. “I think a CEO should take care that if he speaks about politics, that his beliefs reflect at least the majority of his clients.”

And:

A commenter on the Whole Foods forum, identified only by his handle, “PracticePreach,” wrote, “It is an absolute slap in the face to the millions of progressive-minded consumers that have made [Whole Foods] what it is today.”

“You should know who butters your hearth-baked bread, John,” wrote the commenter. “Last time I checked it wasn’t the insurance industry conservatives who made you a millionaire a hundred times over.”

In these parasites’ view, Whole Foods was running a sale: buy organic produce and get John Mackey’s soul free. While sympathetic to his position and plight, I am not entirely sure what Mackey was expecting the reaction to be since his business caters primarily to leftist, environmentalist types with a predilection for government action and a general hostility to business. His customers gave him the means to a prominent pulpit but only inasmuch as he will spout their beliefs. They simply will not tolerate heterodoxy and he will lose business over this.

(If we start seeing buttons reading “We Don’t Buy Whole Foods” or discover that his CFO has stealthily been hiring socialists for key positions within the company, I’ll know that Mackey’s capitulation is near.)

10 Comments so far ↓

  • Andrew Dalton

    Whole Foods has a reputation as a hippie enterprise, but your analysis applies just as well to any business that touts its own “sustainability,” “stewardship,” concern for “stakeholders,” etc. By apologizing for running a profit-seeking enterprise, they have disarmed themselves in any future battle against the leftists.

  • TW

    It’s my understanding that Mackey has always had pro-capitalist leanings, although this has not widely been known given the reputation of his customers. I may start frequenting Whole Foods more now.

    I really don’t think a boycott will pan out, anyway, because people who (unlike me) think that pesticide residue is the biggest issue in their lives are not going to be able to stay away from that place.

  • madmax

    “I just finished listening to The Fountainhead on audiobook and a lot of the opinions expressed by the execrable characters rang hollow to my ears.”

    Well, most people on today’s right or center do not express their altruism as explicitly as the villains of the fountainhead. But many of today’s leftists do. If you go to any leftist website, you will find open and explicit attacks on self-interest that sound as if they were lifted from Rand’s novels. All leftists do is preach altruism and egalitarianism, especially egalitarianism which is their god. Rand nailed the leftist personality and psychology. No one in history has understand the Left like Rand. She knew them down to their rotted souls.

    The reason I bring this up is because one of the major criticisms of Rand’s novels is “but people don’t speak that way.” Yes they do. And I think it is not a stretch to say that a guy like Paul Krugman is not too far from sounding like Ellsworth Toohey. And Allan Greenspan was a real life version of Dr. Robert Stadler.

  • Grant

    Let them go. In my opinion, whole brains require whole foods. We will see what happens when those who can not only think also can act. More quality product for quality people.

  • Peter Cohen

    And how is this any different from right-leaning consumers boycotting products or services from companies whose CEO’s worldviews they dislike? Or, for that matter, the corporate backing of advertisers for television programs like Glenn Beck’s?

  • Bill Brown

    I don’t have a problem with boycotts as such. There are stupid boycotts, of course, but insofar as they rely on persuasion to be effective I don’t care. What’s bizarre about this particular boycott is that sense of “how dare he!” that I don’t normally see.

  • Brian Phillips

    Mackey was once a leftist. Now he’s a libertarian and Ayn Rand basher. Here is a talk he gave on “branding” freedom: http://libertyunbound.com/archive/2006_06/mackey-winning.html

  • Andrew Dalton

    From Mackey:

    “However, despite her literary greatness and many positive contributions to the freedom movement, I believe that Rand has also harmed the movement. How? She was overly provocative. ”

    Wow, what a coward.

  • madmax

    He’s a textbook case of someone who just doesn’t get Rand or the philosophic case for selfishness.

    “Once we are free, or relatively free, to live our lives in the manner we choose, we must answer the question, “How then shall we actually live our lives?” Will we live our lives as hedonists, indulging ourselves with various amusements, diversions, and pleasures? Or will we choose the more difficult path of personal development and acceptance of social responsibility? ”

    “Personal freedom may be the first goal we work towards — but we can’t stop there; it isn’t enough. There is so much more to life. Using our freedom to take on greater social responsibility, as well as striving to reach our fullest potential as humans, needs to be a goal we support just as much as freedom from government coercion.”

    Then there is this gem:

    “The “virtue of selfishness” is an oxymoron. Selfishness is not a virtue. Now, I understand all the arguments — I’ve read all the books. I know that self-interest channeled to the social good, as expressed through Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” is the single most brilliant insight about social organization ever made in history. That being said, selfishness (as opposed to self-interest) is still not a virtue. It is something to be discouraged, and not something to be supported.”

    He needs to be defended and supported for the courage that he has shown in challenging ObamaCare. But in the end, I think businessmen like this that push the “I love profits but social responsibility is still king” do more harm than good.

  • Mike N

    He still thinks it is either/or; either you are for yourself or for others, that self-interest is not selfishness. Despite his reading of Rand’s writings, he still doesn’t see that self-interest is part of a rational selfishness and that the hedonism and mindless, momentary self-gratification is not a sign of selfishness but rather is actually and in fact selflessness. Such behavior is in no one’s self-interest–his interests are self-less, that is, less what is in fact, in his self’s interest– and should not be called selfish.

    We see a bright, talented man with a promising future. We also see that he cannot leave the alcohol (or drugs) alone. We know that if he doesn’t soon change his behavior he will lose his job and eventually everything. We know this behavior is not in his self-interest; that he is behaving as if he has no self to protect and becomes a self-less man. It is this selflessness that people have wrongly labeled selfish.

    The problem is, everything that has ever been called self-interested has also been called selfish and condemned as evil as a result of this confusion. Unfortunately, most of the planet thinks in this confused way. Long road ahead.