The Herald Bulletin

November 5, 2013

Primus Mootry: Living and coping in a McDonaldization society

The Herald Bulletin

---- — Last week I shared some thoughts on the challenges of coping in a changing world. I suppose the subject isn’t a very exciting one. Most folk, I suspect, are too preoccupied with the routines of daily living to think much about the profound ways in which our society — the way we live, work, and play — is changing.

For whatever reason, the subject has captured my imagination for quite some time. Coming from a social service background, it irks me to no end to hear people in the field talking about how what they are doing represents a new paradigm. The reason it irks me so is because we have no more control over paradigm shifts than we do the weather. But I guess that’s my problem.

Anyway, “The McDonaldization of Society” is a book written over 10 years ago by University of Maryland social science professor George Ritzer. In it, he uses McDonald’s as an extended metaphor for the ways in which the future is being shaped. Although I read his book some time ago, I still find its ideas relevant and useful to understanding where we are now and where we may be headed.

Although time and space here do not permit me to go into much detail about some of Ritzer’s views, I believe it is worth sharing some of my own summary perspectives on his and futurists like Alvin Toffler (The Third Wave, Power Shift) work. The central idea is that we are rapidly moving from an industrial, manufacturing society into an information (or knowledge-based) one.

Like a tsunami, the coming change is coming from a great distance, it’s eventual impact barely perceptible. When it does hit, however, everything — everything — is torn, twisted, turned upside down, uprooted, drowned, or otherwise forever changed. That’s a paradigm shift. All else is child’s play.

That is why this moment in human history is so crucial. The tsunami of change is on its way, but many would opt to stay on the seemingly quiet beach of days gone by. After all, the sun is shining, isn’t it? And the wind is calm and warm. Why take flight to higher ground? Then, suddenly everything is washed away, including the beach itself.

What I am suggesting is that the change that is sure to come will be brutal. Only the well educated are likely to survive it. And this does not necessarily mean formal education or the mere acquisition of knowledge. As to formal learning, I think Mark Twain said it best: “I’ve never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

As to acquiring knowledge, the way things are now we have unprecedented access to information. In fact, there is a new term I hear a lot. It’s TMI — too much information. It seems the more we know, the less we understand. To the point, it was recently revealed that the National Security Agency, or NSA, has acquired so much public and private information they don’t know what to do with it.

In any case, the issue is not merely acquiring information, but controlling the acquisition of information. In this regard, those who control information are the likeliest “winners” in the battle for our minds. Common folk — those who survive — will believe what they hear, and act according to what they believe. Ritzer makes the point, for example, that people eat Chicken McNuggets even though the very idea of a chicken nugget is completely absurd.

And so, the whole business of getting an education might be interpreted as education for survival. That translates into self-reliance.

Without regard to what support local, state, or the federal government may provide, increasingly, I believe, survival and the prospect of prosperity will depend on individual initiative. Further, I believe this to be a social and political structural reality, not a matter of morality or immorality.

Without question, there are difficult days ahead. In this moment, this quiet before the storm, we are required to think differently, act differently, and pray harder. That means asking questions. It means getting the best information we can, then using it. It means taking control of our lives in obedience to the will of God.

Indeed, these are perilous times. As I have suggested in previous articles on this subject, the important questions are these: how far must we fly to safety? And how durable are our wings?

Have a nice day.

Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.