I haven't always hated McDonald's. When my kids were little and I lived in the US, they were as susceptible as anyone to Happy Meals and tatty toys that subsequently littered our sitting room. I believed that if they ate decent food most of the time, a little fast food wouldn't kill them. And they've grown up with decent food habits and a wholesome dislike of plastic junk.
I now find myself living, however, in England in a rural village which isn't picture-book beautiful but it is charming and quiet and that's the reason people moved here. Many of us run our businesses from home, some travel to nearby major cities. Many families travel the world for their vacations so the community is not ignorant or narrow minded or parochial. We just don't want a McDonald's drive-through to invade our village.
The first time McDonald's applied for permission, we all rallied around, did a tonne of research and a mountain of work and lodged all the arguments against it that we could. The application was rejected. McDonald's came back with a new application. We rallied around again. The application was rejected. Now McDonald's has come back for a third time. We will rally round again. We will neglect our children and our jobs. We will pound the pavements, distribute circulars, create petitions, take photographs and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the poor people whose homes are immediately threatened by having a 24 hour drive-thru within spitting distance of their front door. We will do this because - in case you hadn't guessed - we don't want McDonald's in the village. We don't want it within a stone's throw of the local school. We don't want it snarling up traffic, littering the hedges and disturbing the peace and quiet we all moved here to find.
Of course no one from McDonald's lives in our village, nor do the lawyers doing the dirty work on their behalf. None of them will have to live with the consequences should their application succeed and neither will any of them provide any redress. And this is why I've come to loathe this company. Clearly they are hoping to intimidate or exhaust us. Clearly they think they can add something to their bottom line that will go to their overpaid executives, directors and a little to their shareholders. On no balance sheet with the anger and resentment they've fuelled ever appear.
Many people will say I should have hated them all along - and they may be right. But I guess I always believed, in a liberal tradition, that (given appropriate restraints) there might be a role for their business to play. But I suppose I rather fondly imagined that, if I had some tolerance for their way of life, they might have some respect for mine. And clearly I was wrong.
But my rage goes further than just being annoyed by their greed. Across the world, questions are being asked about how companies should relate to society. Which is the cart and which is the horse? Does society exist purely to supply educated workers to industrial operations? Or do companies exist in order to support, enrich and enliven society? For this debate to have meaning and substance, both sides have to listen. And that's what has moved me to hate McDonald's: because it is so aggressively refuses to hear what is being said loud and clear.
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