Inferior Good: Diminishing Marginal Stupidity in Action

Monday, October 23, 2006

Give 'em a fair trial and then hang 'em

I check Craig Camp’s wine blog just about every day. He has an interesting perspective on wine and so far (based on only a few data points mind you) my palate seems fairly aligned with his.

I was a bit troubled by a link in one of his recent posts, however. The linked web page calls for a boycott of Krug-Mondavi in response to a labor dispute. I commented on Mr. Camp’s blog that it’s not clear to me that Krug-Mondavi actually did anything wrong. Mr. Camp responded:

The agriculture industry's track record of mistreating and underpaying its workers is well documented. Try picking grapes for a buck a bucket for a couple of days and then decide if the Union's demands were reasonable.

I was disappointed in his response, but perhaps not all that surprised. Here is my response to Mr. Camp:

Mr. Camp, it seems that your argument may be summarized as follows:

1) The agriculture industry's track record of mistreating and underpaying its workers is well documented.
2) Krug Modavi is a company engaged in industrial agriculture.
3) Therefore, Krug-Mondavi is guilty of mistreating and underpaying its workers.

I believe this logic suffers from a fallacy in which exceptions to the general rule are ignored. Here’s another example of similarly flawed logic:

1) Craig Camp finds recent release Alsatian Rieslings to be disappointing.
2) The Albert Mann 2004 Riesling is a recent release Alsatian Riesling.
3) Therefore, Craig Camp will not like Albert Mann 2004 Riesling.

Of course, we know you quite enjoyed the Albert Mann 2004 Riesling.

My intention here is not to be a persnickety punk, but rather to highlight the dangers of generalization. Of course, generalization is very useful tool with which we may simplify our complicated world. But imprudent use can be very hurtful.

You seem to be encouraging people to boycott Krug-Mondavi. This is a direct threat to the employees and owners of this company. Their lives could be materially damaged by this boycott, were it to be successful. Do you think it responsible to attack people’s livelihood in this manner before first knowing the facts?

If Krug-Mondavi truly behaved unscrupulously, then by all means take action. But in my view, we all deserve to be innocent until proven guilty.

Perhaps this particular issue is an emotional one for Mr. Camp. I know there are certain issues that cause an emotional response in my self that makes it difficult for me to see things objectively. It happens to me all the time really, but I work hard to avoid letting my knee jerk reaction get the best of me (not always successfully of course).

I think our world would be a much better place if we’d be a bit more careful about our use of generalizations. This is especially true for often contentious issues such as politics, race and religion.

UPDATE: Craig Camp posts this reply:

So by your own logic, as you admit you don't know the facts why are you bothering to comment. As you refer to the Mann Riesling, it is the exception to the rule, I can assure you that C.Krug/Mondavi are not when it comes to the treatment of agricultural workers. Perhaps if this boycott was successful it
would help the lives of these workers - a problem that is more pressing than helping the wealthy owners of these wineries. You could not have any other reason for taking up their banner other than you are indeed "persnickety".

This saddens me a bit. I was absolutely not trying to be an a*shole. I simple felt that the linked to webpage didn’t sufficiently support a very serious action such as boycott. I’d hoped we’d have a good discussion on the topic. Perhaps Mr. Camp had information on Krug’s past practices that he’d link to, for example.

Also, I’m simply suggesting that Krug should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Isn’t that a basic concept in free societies? I’m in no way “taking up their banner”.

I find it distressing when a conversation turns from facts and issues to impugning people's motives. Why didn’t he just a) show me his evidence, b) grant he’s not positive Krug is in the wrong, or c) ignore my comment? Instead, he repeated his unsupported assertions and essentially called me a liar.

UPDATE II: Mr. Camp apologized in his latest comment to me. It appears that he mistook my intended tone. This certainly happens from time to time, and undoubtedly some of the responsibility is mine (I should have communicated more clearly my intentions… though of course I specifically said I wasn’t trying to be persnickety!).

He also provided this link to a blog entry talking about the poor conditions that vineyards workers face. I accept his apology of course, misunderstandings happen all the time.

[Ed. Update II was posted after Mr. Camp posted his comment at this blog. Whit intented to update earlier but was unable to do so.]


  • I think you should get a little tougher skin. Debate is debate and that means taking a position. I took mine and you took yours and that is all there was to it. I think you are missing the boat here on a severe problem when it comes to vineyard workers and to blow it off as a personal disagreement between the two of us demeans an issue of this magnitude. Both of us are clearly living comfortable lives and don’t have to sleep on the ground in the woods just to work. Please keep in mind we are talking about people here – people with families who are just trying to survive.

    By Anonymous Craig Camp, at 9:02 PM  

  • I very much enjoy serious, substantive discussions focusing on issues. I do not enjoy when the person I’m interacting with impugns my character. Maybe that makes me a person with thin skin.

    In my view, good discussions involve statements backed up by evidence. I simply suggested that the link provided in your post, alone, was not sufficient for me to support an extreme action such as boycott.

    I’d hoped you’d respond by providing some evidence for your assertion. For example, maybe you’d send me links documenting Krug’s long history of labor rights violations. Or, if you didn’t have specific evidence on Krug, maybe you’d at least provided other, more general links to educate me on this issue. Is that really so unreasonable to ask? I was happy to check out the link you did provide. I had no idea that such conditions were commonplace.

    Please understand that I in know way deny that many vineyard workers face very poor working conditions. I never once denied this in our correspondence or my blog post. Nor have I taken sides in the labor dispute at Krug. Clearly, companies that violate worker’s rights should be held accountable for their actions.

    By Blogger Whit Stevens, at 1:24 PM  

  • Perhaps your readers should read this:

    You want to make this into some type of an academic debate - your turn, my turn - while real people are suffering. On your post on my blog you seemed to soften, but here you take the hard line. As I read your blog I see you object to anyone taking a position based on passion. Sometimes passion is the only route that leads to change.

    By Anonymous Craig Camp, at 8:52 PM  

  • Craig,

    I think we're talking past each other, so maybe there’s no point in going back and forth on this anymore.

    I think we both agree that it’s very sad that many vineyard workers suffer difficult working and/or living conditions. I think we both agree that companies that mistreat their workers should be held accountable. Perhaps we should leave it at that.

    By Blogger Whit Stevens, at 9:35 AM  

  • By the way, I added the grape crafter link to the body of my blog post around 5:00 pm yesterday. Thanks for posting it again in the comments section, however. It's very disturbing.

    By Blogger Whit Stevens, at 9:38 AM  

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