Philippe Beneton conjures for us the image of a horrifying future (or, if your name is Anthony Sacramone, a comforting utopia).  You may, of course, replace the name of the company in question with any other, be it the corporation so many love to hate, Wal-Mart, or any other megacorp, multinational or one of their imitators (as Beneton says, “By McDonald’s, of course, I mean more than McDonald’s.”):

The McDonald’s system is also a triumph of procedural rationality, a rationality appropriate to a market economy.  There, as in the supermarket, the pure spirit of the market reigns.  Nothing troubles the purely functional, abstract, impersonal relationship between the seller and the buyer.  Here every person, whoever he or she may be, is exactly like all the others; he or she is a consumer, nothing but a consumer, entirely a consumer, a consumer from head to toe.  McDonald’s is universalist; its calling is to embrace the whole world without regard to divisions.  Once one passes through its doors, an alchemy takes over and erases whatever distinguishes and separates; the person becomes a consumer and every consumer’s money is as good as any other’s.  This is the wonder of the system: it neutralizes differences and divisions among people, differences in traits of character, as well as social, natiional, political, religious, or other differences.  It makes coexistence and cooperation possible among people who have nothing in common except respect for the same rules of the game.  All over the world, in New York, Paris, Istanbul, or Beijing, McDonald’s restaurants welcome in the same way (automatic smile, guaranteed hygiene, industrial food), whether you are of the left or of the right, Turk or Kurd, Chinese apparatchik or dissident, a child or his grandfather, a policeman or a criminal, a racist or an antiracist.  McDonald’s is the missionary of a new humanity, the builder of a new world, in collaboration with all the other businesses set to conquer the world market and sharing this great cause with a view to the greatest profit.  This new world is undifferentiated, destined to unify itself on the basis of uniform consumption–an egalitarian world, except of course for the only distinction that matters (money), a world called to achieve unity by the grace of the market.  The political problem par excellence, the problem that arises from differences among human beings, is finally about to be resolved: consumers of all lands, unite over a Big Mac!

This vision of uniformity, dullness and mediocrity terrifies.  It is the world, as he says, “at once perfected and decivilized.”  It abolishes differences in time, and as for consideration for manners, propriety, station, custom, meaning, beauty, love–these are completely banished from such a world.  As he says later, “Who would declare his love over a cheeseburger?”  And before someone volunteers, let me suggest that anyone who would do such a thing profanes love and mocks his beloved. 

It summons to mind the absurd self-justifying essay of Mr. Meilaender, who prefers the tedious hegemony of Burger King (quote via Spengler): 

Making a long drive home from a meeting late last summer, I found myself hungry in the early afternoon. I needed something that would be quick inexpensive, and good. And there (providentally?) was the sign: a Burger King off the next exit. I felt like a flame-grilled Whopper, and the beauty of it is that you can “have it your way” which in my case meant hold the tomato and mayo, add justard. Hear is a realm of life where being pro-choice is just the thing for me…As I began to eat, two young boys (probaby about ten and eight years old) sat down with their parents at an adjoining table. Both boys had on Chief Wahoo caps, so I would have known they were Cleveland Indians fans even if they had not been discussing the previous night’s game, whcih they had seen on ESPN. It happened that in my hotel room I had myself spent the last part of the evening watching that same game. I decided therefore to venture a brief conversational gambit. “Go Tribe,” I said to the younger of the two boys…Our ability to watch the Indians on television even though we did not live near Cleveland created a little shared community among us as we sat there eating in Burger King. The experience was so satisfying that I went back up tot he counter for a Hershey’s Sundae Pie and stayed longer than I’d planned.

As I noted at the time, this is a deeply troubled view, and Fr. Jape agrees. If Fr. Jape agrees, there must be something to it. But Beneton’s description of what is to come (indeed it is already here!) is terrifying not just in the hideous future it holds out–and Beneton makes clear here that this is the future of a world of globalisation and multinationals–but in the recognition that breaks in as you read it that a great many Westerners would find themselves nodding in eager anticipation of its arrival. The libertarian would say, “Yes, you see, the millennium of peace and brotherhood is coming, and it will be brought to you by The Market!”

The people who yearn for this age of uniformity are the people whom Adam Wayne fought in the streets of Notting Hill; they are the people who built the Crystal Palace; these are people who still believe that the Golden Age is coming, and expect that it will be televised and available in high definition. I find it hard to conclude that they are not the enemies, unwitting though they may be, of everything vital and real in human life, another gang of political optimists with a different scheme but just as misguided and deluded as all the rest.