Today is National Cheeseburger Day, reminding us that if nothing else democracies show effectiveness at naming commemorative holidays. And yet, the cheeseburger looms over us as a mighty symbol.
When our forefathers crept out of caves the word “food” meant a process of hunting, gathering or growing raw materials and then cooking them. As specialization of labor occurred, it came to mean an exchange of money for those same products. With the rise of industry, for many it became a question of exchanging credit obligations for pre-prepared meals.
This process shows us the larger pattern of society distancing us from cause and effect. We live not in reality, but in a proxy for reality created of the tokens we exchange to survive. Some are monetary, which is why we labor among idiots for long hours, and some are social, such as the politically-correct terms we use to cover up foibles and failures and bless the unrealistic as a kind of moral optimum.
We might view civilization itself as a kind of reality-within-reality, like how our rearview mirrors warn us that objects are closer than they appear. We are looking at a six-inch screen when we glance at our rearview mirror, and if we remove for a minute the implication of what those images mean, we see how small the portal really is. So it is with society, where symbols such as threats (ISIS in our nightclubs) or promises (stock market breaking records) rule us because we rely on them to predict the future.
And yet no predictions have ever turned out to be really accurate. The best of us can sketch out a type of pattern that will occur and roughly estimate its intermediate result, but it is harder to tell when and how. Thus we are as ruled by phantoms as ancient pygmies praising whatever sun-gods and cargo cults they could conjure in their imaginations.
The cheeseburger symbolizes our world. Disconnected from the cow, the wheat, the cucumber and the tomato, it nonetheless rules our lives. We need to have tokens to buy them; if we do not display the correct social tokens, we will be barred from doing so. And this leads us full circle to the reason that democracy has proved able to conjure up many such holidays but few solutions.
Democracy creates a symbolic reality in which we live by consensus in the belief that we must do so to get along with others. We thus indulge a fiction, such as that “we the People choose our government,” and when it fails, we choose a counter-fiction such as “the election was stolen” or “the billionaires manipulate us.” But at the end of the day, when we pick apart the cheeseburger into bits of cow, wheat and vegetation, we must view the process as it occurred before it got to us: we voted, we voted poorly and the results have turned out badly.
A dark specter dogs humanity. It is the specter of our own choices, and of our habit of projecting our hopes, desires and fears into politics and thus ending up with those who specialize in such things, namely salesmen and charlatans. They hold out the cheeseburger and we vote, and then when it arrives it is never quite as great as what the television commercials and billboards promised. If humanity has a singular disease, it is this loop of making a false reality, projecting ourselves into it socially, and then blaming it for falling short of the expectations we lured ourselves into having.