from Dream to Dystopia

The story of Ray Kroc is a quintessentially American story—the story of the American dream gone wrong. 

Before I tell you what I mean by that, I should admit that some of what I know about Mr. Kroc comes from reading Robert D. Siegel's screenplay "The Founder," which is in post-production and stars the brilliantly-cast Michael Keaton as the eponymous "founder." My opinions are therefore skewed by the narrative liberties Siegel no doubt took with the story. I doubt this invalidates them. 

So... who was Ray Kroc?

Ray Kroc's "success" came later in life, and I put the word "success" in quotes for the same reason I put the word "founder" in quotes, before... because I believe that Ray Kroc should be viewed as neither a "success," nor as the "founder" of McDonalds "restaurants" for which he has been given that title (the screenplay claims he gave himself the title... an accusation I'm inclined to believe).

What was Kroc before he found McDonald's? 

Ray Kroc was a hustler and a failure at a number of trades: paper cup salesman, pianist, and salesman for Prince Castle Multi-Mixer Machines. But when these two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald, ordered eight mixers for their thriving restaurant in San Bernadino, California, Mac took notice. Through trial and error, the McDonalds had hit on a system for making good food faster, and were determined to keep their business small enough that they could control the quality of the food and their good name. 

But Kroc was a hustler. 

Kroc wasn't happy with solid money as a franchiser of what he (correctly) identified as a great idea. He was not interested in staying under the thumb of the McDonalds brothers, nor was he interested in their contentment with providing a quality meal for the people in their community.

McDonalds Nation, by Chris Woods
He wanted to own the world and, by golly, he succeeded.

He "succeeded" in expanding his profit margins by feeding people "food" of dubious nutritional value, while always expanding his bottom line and never passing on those profits to his workers. He "succeeded" by buying the McDonald brother's name and legacy for what amounted to a song, and then breaking his word and his hand-shake contract to pay them a percentage of the proceeds for the rest of their days.

And while you could argue that in building the most ubiquitous fast food operation in the world, Ray provided work for millions who might otherwise not have had it, I would counter-argue that there is a vast, chasmic difference between "work," and "good work." 

America is and has been a land of opportunity. 

But it is also a place where hucksters and greed-addled people can build Empires on the backs of poor, hard-working, gifted people, whose unique abilities and values will never be given room to fully blossom. It is a place where the Empire's addiction to ever-expanding profit margins will inevitably produce not just a vast waste of ecological resources, but a vast waste of human potential, as well. 

This is the world we live in. 

This is the land of agribusiness and poisoned waterways and acid skies and nuclear proliferation and outsourced poverty and lobbyists and the machinations of cluster-cuss billionaires who figure the only way to compensate for the lack of love in their lives is another hundred million dollars. 

It is also the land of hope. The land of pluck, and industry, and innovation. 

It is the land where women and men of good character do good work, and do their best to build something that actually adds value to their communities and to the world at large. It is a land of vast human and ecological resources that might just possibly be turned toward something better, if we could just allow ourselves to see that maybe, just maybe, Small can be Beautiful

I do not believe in a closed system with finite resources. Or rather, I believe that our finite resources can be stewarded in a near-infinite number of ways, due to the power of human creativity. This gift—this marvelous glimpse of divinity—can be turned toward either love/creativity, or hate/destruction. And while this is muddy ground (didn't Kroc create an empire? didn't millions of people live and move and have their being within that empire?) I think that there is something in the human spirit that knows when love has been woven into a thing. 

Listen, then, to that still, small, delicate voice.

Ask yourself what you are building with your life. What is your guiding principal? Will you, like the McDonald brothers, be content to provide something of value within your community? Or will ultimately sell out that dream to the Ray Krocs of the world, who will bend it toward their vanity and pride, no matter the cost?

The choice is yours.

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