The "Entitlement Society"

by - Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ok, so obviously there have been all sorts of reactions to the election this week. I actually don't mind it in a lot of ways- i understand it. You get so intensely into the polemics of the election that it really does feel like a huge loss (also, I don't think anyone should be kidding themselves that this was a big landslide- look at the election in 2008- about 50% of the voting population is probably frustrated this week). If Romney had won, I would be ranting to the Boy about building a political forcefield around my uterus and so forth. Threats to move seem fair, though it is always kind of sweet to see where they threaten to move (going to Canada will not save you from socialized medicine for example).

But there is one rhetorical move that just won't die, and it really bugs me. So I am voicing it here, with an invitation to ignore it or respond as you will, but if I say one more thing on facebook I am pretty sure they won't let me in the house for Thanksgiving.

One thing that continues to bother me is the language about the entitlement society, creating a vision of hordes (about 47% of the country) of poor people just chomping at the bit to steal your money, your children's education, etc. I get that the Republican party was originally about individual liberties and small government staying out of people's personal business, but I question whether that is really the case now, and I wonder what of the ideology is sticking and what is falling away.  They now suggest that the government belongs in people's most intimate issues and that government programs like the military should be made even larger. But they maintain the importance of class boundaries and seem strongly opposed to the idea of helping those below the poverty line with their own tax money.

 I will totally buy the argument that certain issues could be addressed in the public sphere without the aid of government. I find this to be totally plausible, especially from people who are already working in their own time to make the world at the better place. I do not, on the other hand, believe that people who don't have my privileges are somehow out to get me and take everything I have. The things I have that matter most no one can take from me anyway, so I do not understand the paranoia  that the "47%" are out to take everything they have.

Because guess what everyone ever, you don't deserve anything you have either!

The truth is, the intelligence and aptitudes we have, we essentially were born with. We did not earn them. You do not deserve a cookie just for being smart, because you did nothing to earn that potential. This is not to say hard work means nothing- everyone is dealt a hand of good cards like these and a hand of flaws and challenges. What we do with these two hands is our character, and that is why character matters so much. Curiosity is what we do with our intelligence, and it is a powerful gift to ourselves and others. Courage is the power we find in the face of our fear, so to me, it seems much more valuable than fearlessness. But this work can only happen when you have the tools you need, and if you don't, you don't.

But the hard truth is that before we start in the world, many of us are loaded with privileges- good skills and intelligence that we did NOT earn, good health that we were blessed with, and good parents and support to get us started. So many people in this world and this country do not have those privileges and I believe with all of my heart that it is our responsibility to help other people who don't have what you have. Because you don't deserve a medal for having a medal in the first place. You could have been born without your health, or without your IQ, or without a family to teach you the life skills you have.

Of course, I recognize this is a shorthand, and the money issue is only the beginning, because of course the hope is that you can put funds to work to help empower people to enjoy their own potential, but doing that is a big complicated mess that takes collective creativity, not just money siphoned through the government. The other hard truth is that in late capitalism, we are all more valuable as consumers than workers, so every time you shop somewhere with self-checkout or where they send their jobs to workers elsewhere, you are robbing someone in your country of an opportunity. It is in the corporations best interest to streamline labor, so it is not necessarily true that a bigger business means more jobs. And until we can start to turn that problem around, what do you do with people who can work but there is no job for them? Or people who have more intellectual potential but are stuck in a shitty school? Once you decide that the system as a whole is a problem, you have to start chipping away at your own corner of it. Churches can be great for this, but they can also rally against people of other religions (and many churches have their own problems to deal with), so I feel like the complex network of programs, government programs, and private citizens is the right solution.

You can accuse me of being a socialist. I definitely lean into it, and I don't mind. But I do mind that conservatives seem to think they are in their spot on the hierarchy because they deserve it. That, to me, is the definition of entitlement. We are all blessed, we all have to make the best of what we have, and some of us have a lot more than others. As my dad says, our minimum responsibility as human beings is  to help each other to be better and to be kind. So that is my goal, and I am not going to worry about the "entitlement society."

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