As societies have evolved beyond the preindustrial era, they have become more and more dominated by bureaucracies. However, the ultimate form of bureaucracy is McDonaldization (Ritzer, 1996). This constitutes a broad range of bureaucracies dominated by the principles of the fast food industry: namely, efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. These principles are slowly coming to dominate more and more sectors of society both in America and abroad. Unfortunately, McDonaldization is now affecting the discipline of philosophy itself. As thinking men and women, we must not allow this danger.
We must not allow the field of philosophy to become permanently McDonaldized by powerful administrators, ritualistic bureaucrats, profit-seeking entrepreneurs and political hacks. It is time to use the power of ideas to combat this usurpation of wisdom.
McDonaldization embodies the idea that all human activities can be counted, calculated and quantified. The emphasis is quantity over quality, homogamy over diversity, slogans over systematic intelligence, scripted formats over heartfelt greetings, vacuous smiles over true expressions, routines over intelligent alternatives, para-social interactions over primary face-to-face unity, uniforms over aesthetic dress, the minimization of danger over wise precautions and administrative control instead of self-determined initiative. Above all, it embodies the triumph of subjectivity over objectivity, resulting in a bland stupidity, a dull pseudo-idealism, a one-dimensional conformity, and an odious, complacent ugliness which will serve as a monument to stupidity.
Philosophy is the greatest product of the human intellect. As philosophers we should be guided by the greatest minds of past human civilization. We owe it to their memory, to ourselves, and to future humanity not to sit passively by and allow this betrayal of reason. We must not allow the “irrationality of rationality” to overtake reason.
The emphasis on quantity over quality is inane. How many books or essays a philosopher has written are not as important as their quality. One immortal work is worth a thousand lesser ones. Also, homogamy is odious. It leads to a bland, unoriginal simplicity where every philosophy resembles every other in machine-like duplication. Some journals require essays of a certain length, in a definite format, or on designated topics embodying conformist values which no one dare challenge. Major book publishers often judge philosophy books solely on the criteria of how many copies they will sell, rather than considering their value.
As for slogans, this anchor of McDonaldization embodies witty sayings, botched stereotypes, inadequate analogies and hopelessly inane idiocies. Voltaire put it best when he noted that a witty saying proves nothing. It also indicates the surrender of reason to complacent dullness. In addition, they couple this with scripted formats, another gem of simian ignorance. When you walk into any McDonaldized enterprise, they ask how you are. The truth is that they don’t really care. This annoying gesture has become standard even among some faculty at universities.
Vacuous smiles also greet you. A genuine smile is pleasurable and life enhancing. But, these controlled, McDonaldized facial expressions almost make you desire to read Sartre’s diatribe on nausea. It must be extremely unhealthy for those who must constantly display this phony persona and extremely alienating to those who confront it. Smiling faces! Remember Hamlet’s line, “As false as dicers’ oaths” (Hamlet. 3.4.45). As philosophers, will we stand aside and allow mankind to be demeaned in this manner? Or will we strike back hard with the wealth of ideas that truly exists in our discipline? We must decide!
Yet, there is more. Another gem of McDonaldization are controlled routines. McDonaldized administrators loathe rational alternatives due to their desire to regulate every aspect of society. The more you think, the less predictable and controllable you are. Hence, the necessity to diminish the rational capacity and the result is the triumph of subjectivity. No surprises! Surprises might stimulate thought. Customers must to know what to expect in most settings and situations. Otherwise, they might be disappointed which is the equivalent of evil in an McDonaldized environment. Evil used to be genocide, slavery or horrid disease.
Now, it is a change of flavor due to the taste of a sauce. Hence, the need for homogamy. Everything looks like everything else and everything tastes the same. Even in philosophy, mandated course outlines on predetermined topics embodying prevalent and often unexamined social values have become common. Also, the necessity for research has become secondary to the attainment of student satisfaction. Students, you see, must be satisfied, a McDonaldized value. God help the professor who seeks tenure who has dissatisfied students. Philosophers, are you content with being satisfaction providers? Wisdom is what we should be providing. This alter of McDonaldized lunacy must be smashed!
Para-social interaction is another symptom of this malady where face-to-face associations are replaced by impersonal interactions with images. The human equation is deadened here to be replaced by inert, efficient technologies designed to eliminate personal feelings in order to facilitate productivity. In philosophy, that productivity is not necessarily the genesis of scholarly essays, but quite often interface with administrators where professors must spend hours in front of a computer oblivious to all around them.
Primary group associations are minimized. Maximized are emails announcing unimportant administrative matters or workshops which are often irrelevant to philosophical concerns. One reads that there will be a workshop on March 12th. Another informs of a workshop on April 10th. Still another on May18th. This emphasis on workshops is inane as it stifles individual initiative and subordinates the freedom to think independently from the crowd. Remember Kierkegaard’s famous dictum. The crowd is untruth. If this trend continues, there will no longer be great men and women, only great workshops.
Add to this the indignity of uniforms, both actual and symbolic. McDonaldized outlets require their employees to wear uniforms, which is a sign of subordination. In short, that their humanity has a lower value than that of the customers. They are there to serve. The uniform negates their individuality and reduces it to a mere status such as waiter or door man. Such statuses often receive low pay, few benefits and little respect.
Philosophy professors obviously do not ware uniforms, yet they have administrative titles creating a hierarchy of inequality. The lowest is the adjunct professor, which was rare in the past yet is quite common today. These scholars are paid little, often have no benefits and no retirement packages. It goes without saying that this leaves little time for philosophical research considering that these individuals are in a constant struggle for mere existence. As for respect, they would receive more as peddlers at a lemon festival. This title is a symbolic robe of subjugation. The universities then often use the money their saving at the expense of these scholars to hire marketing experts at six figure salaries. After all, cash value is the core of McDonaldization.
The final assault is the “irrationality of rationality” which minimizes the danger of continued McDonaldization at the same time in which the putrid rock of falsity is glorified. In the same manner that fast food restaurants minimize the health hazards of fast food by stressing their utility, college administrators de-emphasize the dangers to scholarship and human dignity described above by focusing on the functional requirements of the entire system: namely, the need for the efficient transmission of knowledge which they measure in by the number of graduates or amount of student satisfaction. In this way, subjective preference is elevated above objective capacity.
McDonaldization is today overtaking our entire society. Yet, when it endangers the discipline of philosophy, we must raise our hands and say “this far and no more.” What sort of professionals do they think we are? Do they not realize that we will never cease to fight them with the power of ideas? The inheritors of a discipline that give the world Plato, Augustine, Leibniz, Kant, and Whitehead will not bow before the unholy alter of McDonaldization. We will not cease to examine the values of this usurpation of reason. I call upon all philosophers to attack McDonaldization with blogs, speeches, meetings, essays, books, and academic conferences! Resist!