Sunday, October 17, 2004

Expectation's Estate

Listening to people and reading the news leads one to conclude that the modern, secular world has traded rights for entitlements. Rights, by this blogger's definition, have divine provenance, and must be continuously earned. Entitlements are granted and bestowed by humankind to humankind, having become a modern presumption. We speak of entitlements---society's supposedly equitable apportionments to its members---as though they are granted from God.

We have lost the balance between taking and giving. Governments now exist to provide like a parent to self-centered societies that feel they are owed. The expectation of entitlement applies to individuals, churches, corporations, and groups. The obsession with fairness is the symptom of self-indulgence---wages are owed that have not necessarily been earned, but are expected nonetheless. We expect entitlements to fill a hole that can never be truly filled. Overall, we are evolving into a narcissistic society that caters to need, irregardless of the law and in spite of the public good.

Our world is brimming with entitlements. Some believe we have an entitlement to healthcare; others to a soft landing in our golden years, or to a minimum wage. We're apparently entitled to drive SUVs without political responsibility to the oily cesspool we call the Middle East. Artists are entitled to grants from the government regardless of the content of their work. Union workers are entitled to high wages and benefits regardless of their industry's viability, and their dispensability within it. Industry is entitled to tap cheap offshore labor to satisfy record profits at the expense of their own nation's workers. Foreigners without citizenship are entitled to the rights of full citizens with healthcare and drivers' licenses.

Palestinians are entitled to a country without the responsibility of self-government. The UN is entitled to be the world's democratic arbiter without the responsibility of hard power or members who hail from democracies. The EU proposes a whole, vast network of entitlements. Europeans are busily placing their hands in each others' pockets, pulling on fraying purse strings while declaring nationality dead. The EU is a gigantic transnational welfare system, not a nation. Do not look to it to seriously take on moral imperatives outside of its borders, which are lined with mirrors, pointed inwards. Navel-gazing and fattening accounts are its cause: With egality and Club Med for all.

Some believe we have entitlements to oil, wherever on Earth it is to be found. They believe they are entitled to a world that rewards expanding business irregardless of environmental or social impact. Companies are entitled to escape taxation by maintaining phony offices in the Caribbean. We are entitled to consume without fear of consequence. We are entitled to a clean environment without making fundamental, vast changes to our personal living habits. We are entitled to burn inefficient lights and run power-hogging appliances as long as we can pay the bills. Some believe they are entitled to endlessly appreciating real estate investments, with the deck stacked in their favor thanks in part to the Fed's watchful hand on the interest rate knob---never mind the shrinking middle class. Others believe they are entitled to rents that never rise, irrespective of the housing markets that surround them. Many of us believe we are entitled to $15 garments and cheap produce while overlooking the sea of illegal immigrants and sweathouse slave-wagers that make such prices possible. We are entitled to Walmart megamarts that are stocked with countless variations of cheap Chinese plastic and pot metal consumables, created without need of American or European know-how, but eagerly consumed by them. We think we're entitled to tell the Chinese how to govern 1.3 billion people humanely, while at the same time we're prostrate to their freighters laden with booty earmarked for our giant malls.

We are entitled to smoke noxious leaves and sue the manufacturers when cancer sets in. We are entitled to eat potatoes boiled in animal fat and sue restaurants for our own resulting obesity. We are entitled to participate in extreme sports, getting into inevitable extreme accidents and expect extreme healthcare---the same level of healthcare that a hapless heart attack patient would receive. We are entitled to fly around the world at our whims on jets while whining about ticket prices and security-clogged airports.

People with religious beliefs are entitled to dominate courthouses, such as Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore erecting his stone Ten Commandments at his courthouse, regardless of popular opposition and the US Constitution. We are entitled to sex without consequence, with abortion on demand. We are entitled to marriage without responsibility, with easy divorce. We are entitled to food stamps, to the dole, to methadone, medical marijuana and medication. We are entitled to pirated software and entertainment without compensation. Farmers are entitled to grow nothing and stay in business. People grouped into classes of color, gender and ethnicity are entitled to go to college with deficient SAT scores, since group identity is a greater asset than actual ability.

We raise children that are entitled to hundreds of toys, electronic games, cell phones and computers. 24/7 entertainment is focused on enriching vast industrial empires geared to keep them permanently distracted with endless more entitlements.

In reality, we are entitled to absolutely nothing. Our wonderland of compensation has been granted unto us by ourselves. We are undeserving if we do not earn what we have. And for too long, we haven't.

Rights must be fought for, again and again; they must be held up high on the steep precipitous grade of the real world. Rights require sacrifice, handed from one generation to the next. Fighting for our rights is the same as raising a child: a parent must continually fight for their child's survival and comeuppance in this world. Do nothing, and you will raise a resentful, egotistical, narcissistic miscreant with little to give. If you succeed, your child will grow up well prepared to take on civilization's burden when he or she has children.

Perhaps the most essential right we have is for survival. There can be no entitlement for existence. The right to exist must be fought for by all of us, unreservedly, without doubt or disimpassioned eye-rolling. People who do not expect entitlements are the most likely to understand why the present war must be fought; they might disagree on method, timing and strategy, but not its purpose or essential cause. The entitled will dwell on the sweat and blood since sacrifice has long abandoned their lexicon. Fighting for rights is essential---for our continuation and the hope of mankind. Entitlements are fought for in the courts, through litigation and bureaucratic bargaining, not in the sands of Iraq.

We are worthy of survival only if our ideals and courage are passed to our children, if we bother have them. If all we pass on to the next generation is an estate of expectation, they will be privileged but undeserving. And civilization will perish under their deadweight.