For the Love of Myths, Fast-Food Chains, and Fungible Truth: How Expressive Individualism Determines “Truth”

by John Ellis

Did you know that being either right brained or left brained isn’t a thing? I mean, it’s a thing; it’s just not a real thing – it’s not a true thing. It’s a myth. A neuromyth, to be specific. Don’t tell people that, though. If you do, be aware that you do so at your own peril. It irritates them, even more so when you show them the research and data. Or worse, they will chalk you up as a silly, argumentative individual who makes for a fun party guest, but not someone to be taken seriously.

Neuromyth is a word that is likely missing from the lexicon of most people. Which I find fascinating, almost conspiratorially so.[1]

While not necessarily a neuromyth[2], and there are several neuromyths entrenched as truthful facts in a large (largest) segment of our society, I recently had a belief overturned that I’ve long, uncritically held. I’m guessing you hold the same belief.

A couple of weeks ago in conversation with our children, my wife told our son that if he was cold, he should put a hat on. “Most of the body’s heat escapes through the head,” was her reasoning. I’ve heard that my whole life; I’ve made the same claim. As have you, no doubt. But this time, for some reason, when I heard it, the widely held belief sounded absurd to me. Since I had no research nor data to support my response, I quietly pulled my phone out. Yep. You guessed it (or maybe you didn’t). My intuition was correct. The research is so commonsensical that I feel silly for ever believing it. As one researcher, with his eye roll apparent in his words, put it, “The head takes up only 7 to 10 percent of the external body space. And the body’s not a tube of toothpaste; you can’t squeeze the heat out of it.”

That’s a mostly innocuous myth. Wearing a hat when you’re cold remains a good thing. More important, by innocuous I mean that even if people disregard – and they will disregard it, which is an important point – those who point out it’s a myth, the whole thing will be laughed off. However, try telling moms that sugar does not make their kids hyper. Hoo, boy!  Really, try it. I dare you. Double-dog dare you!

Many things we hold to be true, we hold onto very tightly because they are a part of how we identify ourselves and/or how we believe the world should be viewed through what we believe is an identity we curated. That’s no less true, even if those myths and false beliefs are, in and of themselves, harmless. Chick-fil-A stans make good cannon fodder by which to demonstrate this.

I once wrote an article ranking the most-overrated fast-food restaurants. An absurd ranking, self-consciously so. By definition, fast-food can only be overrated. It’s … wait for it … fast food. Your McSalad is so far removed from farm to table that one wonders if true farms were ever involved[3]. Of course, farms – corporate farms, that is – are involved, albeit many, many prior steps removed from when said foodstuff was off-loaded from the Sysco truck and into the walk-in that gets cleaned once a year. Just kidding! The walk-in never gets cleaned. So, yes, of course farms are involved, but the introduction of the question made you stop and think, didn’t it? That’s my point. Once they pass the age of eleven or so, fast-food customers’ expectations are many, but those expectations do not really include enjoying a good meal.[4] And to make the point that fast-food restaurants are overrated I awarded Chick-fil-A the coveted number one spot. I knew doing so would send God-fearin’ conservatives into their feels. And it worked. Proving my mostly missed meta-point, fans of Chick-fil-A rose to defend their beloved, soggy, sodium-packed fast-food chicken[5]. But that’s par for the course in our late-capitalist, expressive individualism worshipping day and age. Sacrosanct can be purchased at a drive-through.

We love our truth to be fungible, demand it, in fact. Adaptable to how we define ourselves and our needs. Truth as a choose-your-own-adventure story, minus the giant spiders hiding in the cave, of course.

In high school, a state representative from Indiana spoke at my church. Most of what he said is lost in my memory. With intense seriousness, he did warn us that we could get AIDs from phonebooths and public restrooms. Sitting on a contaminated toilet seat or holding a virus laden phone receiver to our ear was enough. AIDs for life. Doomed to be ostracized by all good, God-fearin’ Americans[6].

Turns out, he was wrong. Don’t go back in time and tell my pastor, who also pulled double duty as my father, that, though. Don’t tell the head deacon, who once bragged to me about keeping that “trouble making n-word Martin Luther King out of Pensacola” that either. And don’t you dare tell him that his racist boast crossed the border of hyperbole into a flat-out lie. Because as it turns out, his claim, while no less racist because of its lack of veracity, was also untrue. But again, don’t tell him that. Don’t tell any of the adults sitting in that service that Sunday night any of that – about how someone actually gets AIDS and about how Dr. King was never aware of their existence. Don’t go back in time and tell them that because those things were important to their identity and how they viewed the world. They’ll get mad at you and probably give you a spanking.

We don’t like to be confronted with how deceitful a house-of-cards our expressive individualism is. A mostly fabricated construct that bears no epistemic load because words like epistemology punch holes where holes are not supposed to be.

Culture is never wrong. By that, I mean (I don’t really, I’m speaking in the universal, to be clear)[7] that my culture is never wrong. In turn, to be blunt, you’re wrong because your culture is often wrong. Assuming your culture is different than mine. In that instance – the instance of having a different culture – I don’t want your culture to infect my culture. This is why we need that Wall. The image part of being Image Bearers has a ranking, after all.

Hopefully, that previous paragraph raised eyebrows in followers of King Jesus, at least. Followers of King MAGA, no doubt, thought I was crafting a campaign speech.

Our respective cultures, part chosen, part inherited, determine not only what we believe but how we believe to begin with. This how loathsome troglodytes like Alex Jones are able to exist. He taps deeply into already existing narratives (stories).

A little over two years ago, a few months before COVID descended on the planet, a Facebook friend posted several links to Infowars under one of my status updates. I don’t remember my status – I think it had something to do with chemtrails. I do remember her angry accusation that I was trampling her free speech via my removal of the links she posted under my Facebook post. What she didn’t understand at the time, and most likely never will, her “culture” wasn’t chosen by her, by and large. No matter how much she may believe otherwise. Ergo, her identity – her full-bore participation in the buffet of expressive individualism – isn’t really of her choosing, either. For sure, some of the items picked off the buffet were partly her doing, I’ll concede that. But the items available on the buffet for her to “choose” were not of her doing. Her culture determines what’s considered truth. And the myths we swallow are part-and-parcel of our cultural program. We are not individuals the way the term has been defined for us.

These myths are a large part of how we define ourselves: “I” am a right-brained INFP[8] who dresses up as a cow to get the world’s greatest chicken sandwich for free and then makes sure my kids wait at least 30 minutes after eating their free sandwich before going swimming. I don’t want them to develop a cramp and drown before their afternoon nap during which I play classical music because it helps their brain grow.[9] This is who I am. And don’t you dare chip away at my highly curated persona!

Whether we realize it or not, our “I am fill-in-the-blank” statements are often falsely laden with ontological gravitas. For many of us, expressive individualism is more than just flair used to decorate a Chotchkies’ uniform.[10] For little purpose other than to get this off my chest, people who share memes talking about how “crazy” they are, who self-diagnosis themselves as (partially) OCD, etc. drive me crazy. If they were using those things as a self-conscious poking at their foibles, I’d be on board. But, for many of them, if not most of them, they believe that they are uniquely crazy and contain a unique type of OCD. They don’t, and they likely can’t even explain why they believe they do.

Ironically, and, unbeknownst to most of us, how we define ourselves isn’t really up to us. Using the framework of social schemas, sociologist Samuel L. Perry explains, “[C]ultural schemas organize our thoughts, motivate our actions, and tell us how to act in a given situation. But they are buried deep and do not originate from what we are experiencing as we interact with other people. Rather they come from how we were raised and under what conditions. Moreover, these ways of thinking can be buried so deep that we struggle to articulate them; they just feel right [emphasis kept].”[11]

When I started writing this article, I determined to avoid using academic-type citations. I’m confident (and comfortable) enough with everything I’ve written[12] that I don’t feel the need to provide academic support for what is intended to be a somewhat-humorous attempt to prompt people to question the social schema that has shaped and is shaping them, and how their “identity” determines their ethics even if they believe the Bible does. The quote from Dr. Perry, though, which I came across after writing over half of this article, is too on point to leave out. His “social schema” is what I have referred to as “stories” in other articles on this blog (most other articles the last 2+ years). “Worldview” is another term that could be used.

There is no such thing as a view from nowhere. We don’t interact neutrally with the world; that’s impossible because we are not God. The question is (should be), what and who shapes and controls our view? Our view from somewhere. In other words, what social schema (story) is the driver behind our expressive individualism?  Because it’s something, whether we realize it or not.

Marketers know this. They don’t create social schemas (stories); they manipulate existing ones to sell us stuff. I’m going to give one final example to help make my point: the myth of anti-consumerism.

Several months ago, I was introduced via a “share” on Facebook to a lady who is proud of how she and her family has escaped the trap of consumerism.[13] She posts lots and lots of videos talking about it. Living with her husband and kids in an RV, she sports a “Van Life” t-shirt in many of her videos. Dripping with smugness, she goes on and on about the challenges her new life presents but that those challenges are worth it because she’s training her kids to not succumb to consumerism. Frankly, I don’t care if this woman and her hostages family build a lean-to in a state park and feed themselves with the nuts and berries they gather from the forest as long as they enjoy doing so. But, and herein lies part of the rub, the videos obviously reveal that she’s not really enjoying herself. I mean, how could she? Much less her kids who are trapped in a tiny RV with minimal toys because their mom (probably) misunderstood Wendell Berry which helped contribute to her succumbing to a specific myth/lie.[14]

Throughout history, the majority of humans have “escaped” the trap of consumerism via the mechanism of forced subsistence living. Now, by no means is this lady and her hostages family living a life of subsistence. They go to bed with full bellies. They have warm clothes and coats in the winter. They have iPhones. But she is deliberately “choosing” to make their lives harder for the sake of a social schema (story) that is controlling her. The sad fact is that she has not escaped the trap of consumerism; she’s unwittingly embraced it. Consumerism is the very social schema (story) controlling her.

A large part of the expressive individualism trap of consumerism is that we define ourselves – create our identity – by the what’s and how’s of our consumption. People have been wanting and buying things for as long as humanity has a memory. This “van life” woman is defining her and her hostages family by the “choices” they make in our consumer society. It’s a privilege she has. The anti-consumerism movement didn’t give them that RV. Nor does the anti-consumerism give them the materials needed to make their own soap or raise their own chickens or whatever ways in which she is deliberately making their lives harder for no reason that positively impacts larger society. She is a poster child for consumerism in late-stage capitalism.[15]

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are not the main controllers of our identity. Our view of the world is, by and large, given to us. That’s inescapable and nothing to apologize for. It can’t be helped. What can be helped is our willingness to do the had work of deconstructing our identity and worldview so that we can determine the ideologies (and personalities) that/who are pulling the puppet strings of both our expressive individualism and our worldview. As Foucault rightly pointed out, power is knowledge. Often, the things that we believe are true about the world are merely pieces of a rebellious worldview intent on replacing God with humanity. Pointing out the neuromyth that people are right brained or left brained is merely an inroad – and a largely innocuous if not silly one – to help us see how our beliefs are products of social schemas (stories). Our identity is not our own. So, whose is it? That’s the question that’s important, not whether or not you believe sugar makes your kids hyper.


[1] See, even I’m not immune.

[2] As in, not a neuromyth at all, but it’s in the same biological proximity, I guess.

[3] With the obvious exception of the greatest fast-food restaurant ever created – Five Guys. Their French fries are lovingly made from the potatoes delivered to each and every restaurant from a family-owned potato farm somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The chalkboard on the restaurant’s wall confirms this truth.

[4] It’s like adults who say they’re afraid of clowns. I don’t believe them. If you, as an adult, tell me that you think a fast-food restaurant delivers a delicious dining experience, I won’t believe that you actually mean it. Look, I enjoy an Egg McMuffin from time to time. I even tell people that’s it’s the only thing good at McDonalds (along with their fries). But I’m using “good” in a very relative sense. It doesn’t come close to the farm-to-table scrambled eggs I had in a restaurant in downtown Bloomington, IN, years ago. The most delicious eggs I’ve ever had. I dream about those eggs. Egg McMuffins are so far removed as to raise the question: are they even in the same category?

[5] A Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich contains 1400 mg of sodium. That’s 58% of your recommended daily need. This reminds me of when I worked for a brief time in a Panera. Women decked out in work-out gear would arrive for lunch. Ordering their food, they’d often thank us for offering healthy food options. These women apparently didn’t read the nutritional content for said “healthy” food.

[6] Rereading this, I realize that for many, especially my target audience, the words good, God-fearin’, and American are synonyms.

[7] I don’t like how that parenthetical caveat disrupts the flow of the paragraph. Rereading it, though, and based on past experience, I realize that many people’s reading comprehension skills lack the necessary ability to read in context.

[8] Don’t get me started on the ludicrousness that is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Buzzfeed’s quiz that helps you determine which ice-cream topping you’d be if you were an ice-cream topping has as much validity and more value than the MBTI. … as an aside, I instinctively attempted to insert a footnote within this footnote. I wanted to point out that I have no idea if such a Buzzfeed quiz exists, but if not, it should. Trying to insert a footnote within a footnote apparently confused my computer. I’m not sure what happened, but I think it entered some sort of hall-of-mirrors Word footnote land. Tiny 8s popped up in really weird places. I had to delete this entire footnote and start it over.

[9] For the record, I don’t have anything against dressing up as a cow to get a free chicken sandwich. I get it. However, in my experience, those who dress up as a cow to get a free chicken sandwich tend to be the kind of people who were offended at my ranking Chick-fil-A as the most overrated fast-food restaurant. Oh, my word! I almost forgot. When I wrote that stupid, silly article that everyone should’ve ignored, a Chick-fil-A employee that I know chewed me out in the comment section when I shared the article on Facebook. I almost sent her a thankyou card for demonstrating my point.

[10] If you don’t get this reference, we probably aren’t friends.

[11] Samuel L. Perry, Growing God’s Family: The Global Care Movement and the Limits of Evangelical Activism (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 7.

[12] I think. I may have just boxed myself into a corner that I will regret when friends smarter and better read than me question some of my assertions.

[13] I don’t remember this lady’s name. If you think I’m talking about one of your friends (or even yourself), you may very well be correct.

[14] I don’t know if this lady has ever heard of Wendell Berry, much less read him.

[15] One of the ironies in this so-called anti-consumerism movement is that many of those they sneer at don’t have the luxury to make “anti-consumerism” choices. Buying local and organic is expensive. Shopping at Family Dollar is not. The rise of the “grown local” movement is a product of white wealth accumulated on the backs of people of Color. It’s also the arrogant assumption that a certain type of privileged white culture is the best. In other words, in case I’m not being clear, the anti-consumerism movement is racist. As is the anti-GMO movement, while I’m at it.

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