Friday, June 23, 2006

Thoughts on "The Disenchanted Kingdom"

I've read another excellent interview article in one of my old Sun magazines. This one, by Derrick Jensen, is with George Ritzer and they are discussing the "McDonaldization" of American (and increasingly human) culture.

The article, "The Disenchanted Kingdom: George Ritzer on the Disappearance of Authentic American Culture," appeared in the June 2002 edition of The Sun. Here are a few excerpts from the article that caught my eye....

p. 6: Jensen: What is "McDonaldization"?
Ritzer: It's the process by which the principles of the fast-food industry - efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control through technology - are being applied to more and more sectors of society in more and more parts of the world.

p. 7 ...people who try to be creative are likely to get fired because, from the point of view of the system, they are more likely to mess things up. One of the irrationalities of rational systems is that the system - a nonliving thing - takes priority over living beings such as workers and consumers.

p. 8 The preparing and eating of meals is one of the most basic of human expressions. In most cultures, meals are something to be savored, to be enjoyed communally, to be lingered over....
Fast-food restaurants - and consumer culture at large - work to eliminate genuine human interaction, because interactions are unpredictable and waste time.

p. 8 German sociologist Max Weber called this the "disenchantment of the world." In a progressively rationalized culture, the magic, the mystery, the religious qualities of the world are always being challenged....
...Anything that is magical or mysterious is apt to also be meandering and inefficient. Furthermore, enchanted systems are often complex and highly convoluted, having no obvious means to an end. And how do you quantify the enchanted? Since it cannot be readily calculated, it is ignored and quite often eliminated.

p. 9 Jensen: So, having disenchanted the world, these McDonaldized systems offer us a sort of simulated enchantment in its place.
Ritzer: Yes, Las Vegas is a perfect example of this. Its casinos and hotels are not "real" enchanted settings. There's a phony New Orleans, a phony Paris, a phony Venice. They get people in the doors by providing huge simulated extravaganzas in an ordered, clean, controlled environment.

p. 10 ...there seems to be a relationship between excluding the natural world and controlling people....
....The great advantage of artificial settings over natural ones is their controllability. If you want to use people's surroundings to control them, your settings have to be unnatural. The sad thing is that, in our society, increasing numbers of people seem more attracted to these simulated settings than to natural settings.

p. 10 There are fewer and fewer places we can go to get away from this manipulation. Where can we go anymore to learn how to be real human beings?
In a way, we are turning into a new species of human. The incessant bombardment by these various forms of manipulation distorts us into McDonaldized pseudopeople who no longer even know what we want, but have to be told. And even if we manage to retain some idea of what we really want, McDonaldized society increasingly deprives us of the opportunity to get it.

p. 10 Another irrationality of rational systems is homogenization. McDonaldization is about the elimination of differences. There is virtually no difference between regions of the United States anymore, because they've all been McDonaldized.

p. 11 ...the more time we spend engaging in meaningless interactions in simulated settings, the less we are able to engage in authentic, meaningful relationships. "You are what you eat" is true not only for the food we take into our bodies, but also for our other modes of consumption: the images and instructions we internalize.

p. 11 The most powerful system is that which leads people to police themselves, without any perception on their own part that they're being controlled.

p. 13 How do people who've been taught to be subordinate - at home, at school, in the workplace - become active, creative agents in a changing society?

p. 13 In many ways, our method of rationalization is much more resilient than a centralized totalitarian system, because we have a multitude of separate systems of rationalization and McDonaldization. Consequently, it's much harder - and getting harder all the time - to tell who the enemy is. And even when we do identify an enemy, it doesn't necessarily do us much good.

p. 13 Ritzer: People often ask me why, if I'm so pessimistic about the possibility of a solution, do I bother writing about the problem. The answer is: to increase awareness. When we're conscious of being controlled, it becomes much harder for those in power to maintain that control....
...It's sometimes remarkably easy to throw a monkey wrench into the system. That's one reason why the system tries to eliminate creativity: because creative action can cause the system to fall apart.

5 comments:

Prairiewolf said...

Sun and Utne are absolutely must reading. I'm really glad you introduced me to them. How goes thinning the stack?

qkslvrwolf said...

"p. 8 German sociologist Max Weber called this the "disenchantment of the world." In a progressively rationalized culture, the magic, the mystery, the religious qualities of the world are always being challenged....
...Anything that is magical or mysterious is apt to also be meandering and inefficient. Furthermore, enchanted systems are often complex and highly convoluted, having no obvious means to an end. And how do you quantify the enchanted? Since it cannot be readily calculated, it is ignored and quite often eliminated."

Not helping in this regard is the continual push of organized religion to force mystery where mystery no longer remains. Humans must find mystery where in the same old places, and find mystery in the magic that is the ecosystem we live in, but religions and mysticists wanting to maintain this necessary human quality cannot create a false sense of mystery by insisting that something no longer wholely mysterious (like, say, the creation of species through evolution vs creationism) is still, after all, a great cosmic secret.

"The sad thing is that, in our society, increasing numbers of people seem more attracted to these simulated settings than to natural settings."

Thats because you can't get dirty in the simulated settings, and we've become afraid of anthing that might get us dirty or injured. Personally, I think one of the great faults of American society is that we have grown so far removed from death and injury that its mere prospect paralyzes us. I myself am extremely guilty of this, but you see it taking place in every aspect of everyday society. I think, if we wanted to live in a healthy human society, we'd probably accept being dead at around 70 at the latest except in rare cases. Things like no longer being able to act like a good samaritan because we fear the 5% of stories where the person needing help turned out to be a predator. People fear the outdoors because they might get bitten by an unknown insect or bug. Etc...

Anyway, MootheGoldenCalf and I are going out for lunch, so more later.

Gaia gardener said...

Interesting comment about the attempt by many in religious venues to maintain artificial mystery by refusing to accept valid scientific explanations. I think you are right. And the sad thing is that even with those valid scientific explanations, there is still so much that is mysterious, magic even, about our world and our psyches.

There is definitely a role (I would really say a need) for religion in the human spirit. There are so many areas and questions that science is simply not capable of dealing with or answering. Unfortunately, I don't think that most major religions have been able to keep up with the rapid change of modern human culture - new patterns of working and living, changes in medicine and medical possibilities, globalization, corporatization, etc. etc.

Most of all, science is not a "moral" discipline; that is one of the major roles of religion, and quite frankly I feel that most religions are falling flat on their faces as far as keeping their moral teachings current with increased scientific/medical/agricultural/
corporate advances. We don't need to be basing our moral decisions on what was right for nomadic desert tribes of several thousand years ago. We need to figure out what is best for all of us NOW, given current knowledge and current dilemmas.

"What would Jesus do?" if he were alive today. Seriously. I sincerely doubt that he would have advocated the war with Iraq, for example, or be advocating the systematic destruction of all of our social support systems. I think he'd be for HeadStart, for socialized medicine, and for treating gays as people. I think he'd be against discrimination, against hatred of any sort, against the increasing polarization between rich and poor, and against the materialistic consumerism that is so rampant today. Last but certainly not least, I think he'd be strongly for taking care of the Earth and its ecosystems, as this planet is humankinds' only home.

Gaia gardener said...

Regarding your comments about being afraid of being dirty or injured....

One of the articles that I've read recently talked about Americans' excessive fear. The author said that we are one of the safest cultures on Earth, but we have one of the highest levels of fear.

Maybe that's because when we're fearful, we're more easily manipulated. And, as a democracy, there aren't too many other ways of manipulating us.

Gaia gardener said...

Who gains by making Americans fearful? Right now, a lot of the gain is by corporations.

If we are fearful of getting sick by being "dirty," they'll sell a lot more disinfectant/cleaning solutions.

If we are fearful of getting bitten by a bug, they'll sell a lot more insecticide.

If we are fearful of having our lawns or trees "destroyed," they'll sell a lot more insecticide.

If we are fearful of being fat, they'll sell more diet products.

Etc. etc.

As always, follow the money!