McDonald's: A Better Opiate for the Masses?
Jay Michaelson

You are sitting by a quiet lake. Someone roars by in a speedboat, popular music blaring from the radio. They donít notice the herons that take flight at the noise; they donít notice the exhaust theyíve spewed in their wake. What is your response?

For me, I notice a familiar experience of revulsion, before more reflective thought sets in. Those shallow, stupid, ignorant morons! For over a decade, I have alternately railed against and tried to ignore the rampant, shallow commercialism that is American capitalist life. Hopefully, I have not been puritanical enough not to enjoy its pleasures -- a greasy slab of pizza, a burger, a stupid action film, driving on highways. But, in general, I have always loathed this pathetic form of materialist indulgence. The contempt is part of "me."

I have come to notice that those who share this loathing with me operate on a fundamentally different set of premises from those who do not. For us misanthropes, the heroes are Thoreau, the Beats, the hippies -- anyone who rejected the notion that he who dies with the most stuff wins. "We" recoil, viscerally, against the iteration of the American dream that consists of two parents, two kids, a minivan, and a large house filled with the right kind of toys. While we may appreciate its fitness for some, I see it as materialism in the most crass sense; valuing oneís self and oneís life based on status symbols like cars and expensive clothing. It is shallow, ignoring deeper values of spirit and mind. It is hypocritical, disregarding truth in favor of pose, courtesy, and hierarchy. It is destructive, eating up wilderness space and poisoning the planet. It is selfish, focusing egocentrically on the nest to be feathered, and scorning those who are less fortunate. And most of all, it is anti-human; blowing off the many ways in which the human spirit can thrive as just so much hot air, consumerism turns us into mall-going, status-seeking automatons, creatures ignorant of their own illusions.

Since September 11, I have begun to question these priorities.

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