Thursday, May 23, 2002

In Praise of the Hamburger and the US-Dr. Weevil pointed me to an interesting steaming pile of Euroweeniedom by Theodore Dalrymple, bashing the hamburger. The classic American hamburger, especially the fast-food variety, is an example of speed and satisficing. A good multi-course meal at a "sit-down" restaurant is nice, but there are times when having something OK in two minutes is superior to having something very good in an hour, if you have other things in mind to do with that extra hour. This is especially true if you're eating alone. A waitpersoned meal might be nice if you have a special someone to share it with, but if you're by yourself, close fellowship with the local paper only goes so far. [sidepoint-IIRC, Continental Europe restaurants tend to put people together at tables even if you don't know them, much like slapping together an ad-hoc foursome at a golf-course. Such forced fellowship might make eating out less lonely than in the States] Many Euroweenies, especially those on the Continent, will praise the virtues of Slow Food. Yes, a good home-cooked meal has its advantages, but the American ethic of freedom allows people to trade time for quality. Elites tend to err on the side of liking quality, as the quick-n-dirty things in life will be looked at as dirty rather than quick. Also, a standard brand-name item is a way to avoid decision-making. The ten-dollar word in management circles is satisficing (a.k.a. "close enough"). The local mom-and-pop diner might be a better bang-for-the-buck, but if you are traveling, having the known-but-just-sorta-good brand to fall back on saves you from having to find the good local digs. Once again, Mr. Elite's desire to spend the extra time to find that quaint eatery to tell their friends about is his choice, but it may not be my choice. You can even see this in churches. I'm moving next week, and will need to find a church home down in central Florida. You have a rough idea what an Assembly of God or Southern Baptist or Methodist church will be like, but a non-denominational name will require checking out the church itself. I've had good luck with some off-brand churches. My primary home church while at MSU was East Lansing Trinity, a good generic-evangelical church, but I only knew about that via my InterVarsity friends. My current church, New Life Vineyard, was New Life Fellowship before hooking up with the Vineyard movement two years ago. Such a generic name might give a vague clue that they were at least evangelical and probably charismatic of some sort, but could be anything from Baptist to name-it-and-claim-it. This is an interesting closing thought that tells a lot about the author's politics
The popularity of hamburgers is a manifestation of magical thinking. Eating them (or for that matter wearing baseball caps backwards, a custom that has reached the remotest regions of the globe) will bring the easy and abundant life that is man's inalienable birthright. As for American egalitarianism, the freedom of every man to make what he can of himself soon leads to vast disparities of wealth and influence, and is more likely to be hated and feared than imitated. The constant striving for excellence, even in those things unworthy of the effort, is likewise discountenanced. We want the ease and wealth, but without the constant effort that produces them. And so we are reduced to eating hamburgers and wearing baseball caps back to front. They are symbols, in our country, both of aspiration and resentment - a combination that can lead only to misery.
Well, if people are free to make what they can of themselves, some will make more of themselves than others. People will like, all else being equal, to make what they can of themselves rather than government making them what government wants to make of them. Mr. Dalrymple might prefer to be a cog in a machine, but I'd rather have the option of being more of a free-agent. If you don't strive for excellence, you settle for mediocrity. You can have ease and you can have wealth, but the combination doesn't work for a society. You can have lazy poverty of sweaty wealth. People may resent the rich, but free-market systems allow for a positive outlet for selfishness. People will that that resentment out in some way. If they have no way to get more things legally, then their selfishness will manifest itself in laziness and corruption. Suggestion-Don't give Mr. Dalrymple six lemons before writing next time so he'll be less of a sourpuss. [Update-Crank up your MP3 of Cheeseburger in Paradise and check out Mark Butterworth's paean to the American Classic]

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