Accordingly, the significance of the application of the conflict perspective to American food is that its accuracy is so blatantly valid that it has progressed almost unnoticed through our nation's history. Out of the philosophical roots of Marx, conflict theory has evolved and broadened its scope; today, it is most commonly used to evaluate the legal system, but the core conflict remains that between the proletariats and the owners of the means of production. In this way, the conflicts surrounding the exponentially expanding fast food industry reach between the working class and the social elite. McDonalds's, in particular, represents one of the most glaring examples of how the social elite in society have managed to package, sell, and justify their prominent position in American society to the masses.
The central premise of social conflict theory is that individuals and groups within society generally use their power -- as much of it as they have -- to gain benefits. Essentially, the resultant jockeying for position tends to strongly guide, though not completely determine, the actions of individual people within a society. The manner by which human behaviors are guided is through social controls; these stand as the formal manifestation of the interests of the ruling class. So, in a way, these social controls act as the structural groundwork for conformity and consensus within society -- in one way they promote obedience. However, they also promote further conflict by virtue of the fact that they exist to oppressively root out competition and crush the aspirations of those seeking to usurp power.
This aspect of social controls comes from the simple observational truth that those with power aim to increase their holdings and extend their influence, while those without much power aim to increase their lot in life. Obviously, these two goals only rarely complement one another. To Marx, the level of economic inequality in a society was directly proportional to the amount of social conflict endemic to that society. Yet, there comes a point where it becomes most advantageous for the ruling class to attempt to socialize the lower classes into accepting inequality upon any moral or pragmatic basis that can be devised. This is the major way in which overt conflict may be mollified in the interests of specific individuals or groups. Thus, within conflict theory, common values and social norms -- in an unequal society -- arise out of economic organization and inequality; they are not, as they superficially appear, examples of moral truths or economic inevitabilities.
Of course, conflict theory is not the only lens through which the emergence of a fast-food culture has taken place. Nineteenth century sociologist Emile Durkheim's theoretical stance is also valuable toward understanding how, if there is such a conflict between the social classes, it has remained relatively beneath the surface in American society. In other words, Durkheim's position is that such injustices have been sold to modern society in a way that has made them attractive and sustained the current social hierarchy. Within his works, Durkheim aimed to find causal links between social truths; and consequently, to add these links together in order to develop a workable model of a true society. Thus, the "normal" society, to Durkheim, is one in which an overarching moral code can be applied that is suitable to a given society during a particular stage in its development. In this way, normal societies promote social health, social integration, and solidarity; but universally applying a moral standard to societies of differing milieus would be a serious mistake. Although social truths are immutable, they are not transferable.
So Durkheim argues that the social order and division of labor within each society are not merely economic phenomena, but they stem from sociological or moral bonds -- these allow a society to function because they are the underpinnings of solidarity. He illustrates this point with examples: "When we desire the repression of crime, it is not we that we desire to avenge personally, but to avenge something sacred which we feel more or less confusedly outside and above us," (Durkheim 100). This is a powerful point asserted by Durkheim; fundamentally, he is arguing that implicit moral codes are associated with each social mileu in which a person lives. In the case of a fast-food driven society, it could be argued that the most potent moral codes are those that grow out of conceptions of the American dream.
One of the conflict perspective's most innovative assertions regarding society and humanity comes from Karl Marx's conception of human nature and our place within history; "Human nature, according to Marx, is not an unchanging inevitable anchor-point for any existing or possible institution. It is very much involved with the nature of specific societies -- as well as with strata within societies. The principle of historical specificity includes the nature of human nature," (Mills 1963, 39). Accordingly, human perception is not fully capable of grasping the truth behind events; it is only able to develop some representative illustration of it. So, the scientific observations of the world and the knowledge gained from these observations enable humans to recognize and impose patterns of behavior upon the physical world, thus, to manipulate it in a manner that can never be completely comprehended. There is no such thing as objective truth, but our patterns of thought can evolve if human surroundings are also to evolve. Accordingly, to uphold the status quo is to selectively ignore the continuing processes of human thought and exploration.
The culmination of this observational notion, to Marx, was that the bourgeoisie class was imposing their aims upon the working class by treating property as a private function, while simultaneously making it a social function. "To make the ownership of industrial capital and the means of production a private concern was immoral because it enabled one man to exploit the labor of others; it was uneconomic because it failed to provide for the proper planning of industry," (Kamenka xxx). The reality of class conflict was not merely the expressions of the fragmentation of social aims into individual aims, but a result of the history of thought. Therefore, the social institutions and norms that had come into existence through similar processes were just as responsible for immoral consequences as individual selfishness.
Durkheim, on the other hand, understands these social divisions, which are primarily determined along lines of one's role in the economy, as merely the consequences of underlying moral assumptions within a given society. Still, Durkheim is perhaps most well-known for introducing his idea of anomie within society. To him, although there are often these abstract compulsions towards solidarity, at certain points in history a distinct lack of moral norms can come about; this, more than anything, rips societies apart and reorganized them, often violently.
Overall, the trend of globalization has always been connecting formerly differentiated nations or people by economic, military, or governmental means -- or sometimes all three: "Over the past 13,000 years the predominant trend in human society has been the replacement of smaller, less complex units by larger, more complex ones. Obviously, that is no more than an average long-term trend, with innumerable shifts in either direction: 1,000 amalgamations for 999 reversals," (Diamond 281). In ancient times this was accomplished with blood and supreme military command. Many groups and tribes of less organized people welcomed the security and prosperity a ruling state could instill. Today, this stability and economic vitality is offered by multinational corporations like McDonald's; they are capable of offering jobs and products that may otherwise not have been available. However, the cost is both the continuing trend of the disparity in wealth between the social classes, and the replacing of traditional social philosophies with those driven by corporate profits.
Certainly, social class is truly more of a theoretical model than a physical reality; it is an approximation of power, privilege, and prestige relative to the whole of society. As such, there exists little quantitative backing for the notion of class. Yet, its perception is most strongly dependent upon individual wealth. "The concept of class, as most concepts of stratification theory, has been defined in different ways. For our purposes it is sufficient to understand class as a type of stratification in which one's general position of society is basically determined by economic criteria." (Berger 79). Essentially, social class is loosely defined along the lines of affluence, and although the boundaries between the classes have no measurable foundations, the concept is often utilized as a tool for understanding the broad trends that dominate our world. The expansive range of economic prosperity in the world has demanded that a more simplified hierarchical system be employed to model difficult to grasp variances of power, prestige, and privilege.
Specifically what makes modern society's conception of class unique is the mobile nature of the individual. In other words, the classes in our society are…