(Previously posted at Jonestown)
George Ritzer’s The McDonaldization of Society brings to light an alarming trend in our country. The new United States is a land of generic shortcuts, where efficiency and knowable responses have displaced the authenticity that once made the American dream seem possible. We want to live convenient and predictable lives, like a Super-Sized Extra Value Meal.
McDonaldization is not limited to the products we buy or the food we eat. Its greasy sluggishness bleeds into our civic arena, too, clogging the channels that once energized a free-flowing democracy, polluting the deep waters where healthy dissent once swam. Now shallow sound bites wade through the sticky swamps of public dialog, salting over sovereignty with shimmering distractions.
Enter the McDonaldized the citizen.
As everyone grows more apathetic, apathy itself becomes the stylish norm. It’s socially acceptable, when discussing politics or world affairs, to boast proudly that we have no clue what the hell we are talking about. Equipped with suitable sound bites, and confident we can recite them numbly without being called “dumb,” we pardon ourselves from making any sort of informed contribution to important debates.
Consider the “War on Drugs,” funded by special interests, but waged mainly by armies of alarmists who put little thought into the passion behind their opinions. When I argue with the anti-drug ilk, I am baffled by how little they’ve bothered to learn about a topic they seem so invested in. Usually, they have not the faintest clue about the science of drugs, or about what biologically is going on inside a human body as it reacts to a substance. They know neither the chemical compositions of drugs, nor the chemical distinctions between them. They know so little in the way of facts, it’s a wonder they feel entitled to have an opinion at all.
Still, they keep rolling down that hill, like a big boulder overcome by inertia. One of my favorite arguments against legalization is the “nanny state rhetoric” we so often hear from McDonaldized citizens burping it up.
The crux of “nanny state rhetoric” is to declare “wars” on things deemed scary, in order to protect “the people.” In the war on drugs, nanny-state rhetoric holds that we can no longer call drug use a victimless crime. The new doublespeak paints drug users as predators, preying on themselves. Since drugs are allegedly harmful, you are now your own victim if you decide to dabble in them. Drug statutes, then, including anti-marijuana laws, are put in place to protect us from ourselves.
Predictably, the gullible McDonaldized citizen sides with whichever camp can afford more media advertising. In this case, Budweiser and Phillip Morris happen to have more political clout than potheads and poets. Thus, we are protected from the horrors of cottonmouth. And if that doesn’t make you feel safe and warm inside, then you must be a terrorist. Why else wouldn’t it comfort you to know the law’s out there, protecting you from yourself, promising to punish your “id” should it ever threaten your super-ego?
What isn’t the state “protecting” us from these days?
I’m not really into drugs, but I do have a stubborn sweet tooth. As my gut keeps expanding, I worry that one day my girlfriend will ditch me for a skinnier dude. Damn all these Twinkies and Swiss Cake Rolls, incessantly tempting me to victimize myself! What are my chances of scoring some protection against them as well? Tons of people die each year from health conditions exacerbated by shitty diets. Think of all the lives we’d save by shutting down Little Debby permanently, and by fining fatsos who exceed their recommended daily calorie intakes.
But the same logic that keeps pill-poppers behind bars sounds asinine when applied outside the happy meal box, doesn’t it? The McCitizen is baffled and speechless, but not so much that critical thought is considered. Not so much that they realize the obvious. Regurgitating the “protection from oneself” litany doesn’t mean one actually cares about drug users, any more than a yellow ribbon bumper sticker shows genuine “support” for “our troops.” These shenanigans are just rituals of “replacement citizenship,” formalities that denote one cares, while letting him dodge the hassle of actually doing so.
If Ronald McCitizen did care about drug users or U.S. soldiers, he’d educate himself regarding their respective predicaments. But what the McCitizen really wants is to live on in blissful ignorance, regurgitating Civics 101 sound bites that purge reality from the record like Al Gore votes.
Were they to invite reason back into the discussion, they’d find a nuanced reality not accessible in biased 30-second TV ads. They’d find that, in the real world, many Americans have very productive relationships with substances popularly labeled as “drugs.” The more educated we are, collectively, the less likely our keg-party narratives will end up as horror stories in D.A.R.E. manuals. Even health experts like Dr. Andrew Weil acknowledge that the “problem” lies not with drugs themselves, but with the “bad relationships” misinformed users develop with them.
And let’s not forget that when it comes to self-destructive personalities, the risks aren’t limited solely to activities that wealthy elites haven’t found a way to profit from. For every heroine overdose, countless lives are destroyed by completely legal addictions to alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, gambling, sex, even shopping! When a person forms an unhealthy alliance to any of these vices, nothing further poisons their relationship like the stamp of social disapproval, the self-imposed guilt and shame that accompanies being labeled a “drug addict.”
Ironically, drug users and soldiers do have at least one thing in common: their fates are prearranged for them by influential corporations. Iraq meant big bucks for the oil industries, the military hospitality industry, and all the other no-bid contracts awarded to inefficient war-profiteers as paybacks for election favors. Legalization would mean increased economic competition against the very powerful alcohol and tobacco industries, both of whom may want to deploy powerful lobbyists and fund handsomely the “War on Drugs” campaign. To these industries, the risks are dire—increased competition in the stress reduction and party-drug business. How many law-abiding partiers would prefer the peaceful haze of marijuana to the chaotic blur of foot-in-mouth alcoholism, drunk drivers swerving outside the bars, mornings without memories? Who knows; Anheuser-Busch sure doesn’t want to find out. Better to keep feeding propaganda mills than to acknowledge realities and let the “free market” do it’s thing. That goes not just for those who benefit from disinformation, but also for the shortcut-hungry McCitizens who won’t remove their comfy blindfolds.