Of Starbucks and Standards

How many times have we chosen to wait in line for some familiar product while on a road trip …… whether it’s at a Starbucks, a chain restaurant, or a national retail store?

There’s nothing wrong with this choice, of course. It’s human nature to seek out the familiar, even when our trip’s purpose might be to explore the exotic. But questions should be asked ……

What is it we’re looking for when we gravitate to the name brand? What attracts us to a national chain when we can get a cup of coffee anywhere?

A decision made decades ago by John D. Rockefeller Sr. helps to provide an answer. He could have named his fledgling oil company anything. Rockefeller chose “Standard Oil” because customers needed to know that the company’s products would provide a predictable experience. Buyers needed assurance that every batch produced for their kerosene lamps would burn uniformly.

When we stand in line for a cafe latte, a hamburger, or a sit-down meal, we’re seeking the same thing: uniformity. We want the standard experience we got with the last Big Mac.

Rockefeller’s company brought this approach to its sales, accounting and exploration; to every new market and process. But the petroleum producers aren’t alone: every corporation builds uniformity into its policies. And the agencies of government apply standardization to an even greater extent. Corporate and state bureaucracies are top-down entities. Uniformity is one of their characteristics.

The growth of uniformity requires Americans’ attention because it has stealthily and steadily become a central component of our society’s political structure. Yet we fail to see it as the partisan orientation that it actually represents.

Uniformity exhibits particular qualities that are poorly understood and often ignored. For example, it’s always a characteristic of hierarchical organizations. Whether those organizations lean left or lean right, their centralized power structures rely on uniformity to enforce common standards on all players. This sits in contrast to the opposite – diversity – exhibited by horizontal, decentralized, and citizen-empowered organizations.

As the influence of bureaucratic corporations and government agencies rose throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, their efforts were usually bent toward practical pursuits. But a sharp shift occurred in the late 1900’s. Since then, top-down forces increasingly attempt to tell citizens what values they should live by. This effort started on the right, with initiatives to enforce prayer in schools or to teach specific curricula. More recently, however, the left has asserted hierarchical, uniform standards of conduct in service of its woke agenda. That agenda purposely conflates uniformity with diversity as it attempts to construct a powerful political coalition.

So, each American now faces a decision. Should we allow certain players to control the society’s power and values structures from above? Or will individual choices and approaches be allowed to remain?

The country seems unaware that such questions need to be addressed. But the growing emphasis on uniformity in our lives, and our laws, must be considered. Americans will need to decide: How much standardization is too much standardization?

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