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Life, Genericity and the Entitlement Culture

The story of David and Bathsheba in 2nd Samuel is emblematic of what I am getting at when I refer to an "entitlement culture" and how that culture affects the long-term viability of the society living in that culture. King David's sense of sexual entitlement corrupted not only him, but, arguably, his entire kingdom, so that Nathan's prophesy ("Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uri'ah the Hittite to be your wife.") is fulfilled in spite of David's confession ("I have sinned against the LORD.") and forgiveness ("The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die.").

Thoughtful people have come to recognize that there is a major disconnect between an "entitlement culture" and the viability of a group, a nation or even a world. For example, an ESPN commentator laments the corrupting influence on performance of "The entitlement culture of elite HS hoops." An editorial in London's Financial Times bemoans the entitlement culture of the top executives of Barclays. (See, or rather "Google", "Barclays and the entitlement culture." Like so many other top publications these days, the FT believes it is entitled to your email, or other form of identity, to view the article.) Last year, RedState.com analysed the potential negative impact of the entitlement culture on the 2012 elections. (See "America's Entitlement Culture: The Age of 'Expectation'.")

As these examples indicate, however, the analysis of impact of an "entitlement culture" has primarily focused on performance, whether in team sports, in investment management or in politics. As I try to argue in what follows, however, the problem of an "entitlement culture" goes much deeper and potentially corrupts every aspect of life. Indeed, it threatens the near term viability of whole nations and even civilization, itself.

Indeed, this is not just an American problem. It is, in fact, a problem that afflicts all of Western civilization. A blog posting at Ontario's The Globe and Mail laments "C'est la vie in French public sector - but the fight is on" as it notes "Sarkozy takes on culture of entitlement, despite traditional resistance to austerity measures." A 2005 posting in Free Republic by Derek Scally ("Breaking Germany's Entitlement Culture") noted, in summary, "Breaking Germany's 'entitlement culture' Crucial talks today seen as Chancellor's last chance to end economic malaise ." A note in the Trinidad and Tobago issue of The Guardian notes (see "That culture of entitlement ….")

Everyone in society enjoys some measure of the following subsidies: unemployment relief, free housing, free healthcare, free education, free medication, subsidised water, fuel and the list goes on.

Yet, despite such high levels of entitlement spending, the required governance structures and economic development programmes that allow a country to consistently afford such entitlements have not been instituted. Today in T&T, just as in other parts of the world, it is clear that those spending patterns have to be changed and the dislocation will have political and economic consequences.

after quoting British Prime Minister, David Cameron, "Those within (…welfare system) grow up with a series of expectations: you can have a home of your own, the state will support you whatever decisions you make, you will always be able to take out no matter what you put in. This has sent out some incredibly damaging signals. That it pays not to work. That you are owed something for nothing."

Although the lamentation and breast beating among the world's elites seems to be focused almost exclusively on economics and the perils of moral hazard, what I am referring to as the entitlement culture warps virtually every dimension of human life in western society.

In order to attack such a sweeping analysis, however, it is essential to begin with a definition of "entitlement culture" that is adequate to the task. Ironically, however, it turns out that such a definition is not readily available in standard reference works, even those of the cybernetic variety. The closest one can come to a definition comes in the definition of entitlement at Vocabulary.com:

The term "culture of entitlement" suggests that many people now have highly unreasonable expectations about what they are entitled to.

And, without referring specifically to a "culture of entitlement", the Wikipedia article on Entitlement notes that…

In a casual sense, the term "entitlement" refers to a notion or belief that one (or oneself) is deserving of some particular reward or benefit[1]—if given without deeper legal or principled cause, the term is often given with pejorative connotation (e.g. a "sense of entitlement").

and in a deeper examination, the article adverts to "narcissistic personality disorder"…

In clinical psychology and psychiatry, an unrealistic, exaggerated, or rigidly held sense of entitlement may be considered a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder, seen in those who "because of early frustrations...arrogate to themselves the right to demand lifelong reimbursement from fate."

And it is this connection to narcissism that gets us closer to an appreciation for just what is involved in a culture of entitlement. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version IV notes that one of the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (see "Personality Disorders, DSM-IV and DSM-5") is…

Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.

while the new version (DSM-5) notes, under "grandiosity" …

Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others.

By "entitlement culture" I do not mean primarily the growing population in the U.S. that is dependent on government handouts and doesn't view that as an emergency condition, but, rather one that is enduring and natural. (See, for example, "A Nation of Government Dependents?") That group is only a symptom of a much deeper crisis.

All of these efforts at characterization focus on individual expectations and the clash of these expectations with those of others and with reality itself. While these are serious issues, the deeper problem today is that entire classes of people have developed an inbred "entitlement" subculture, a subculture that tends to undermine their natural cohesion with society at large. The RedState article notes …

The only members of our society who are entitled to anything are children, seniors, our soldiers, law enforcement, emergency personnel, firefighters, and the church.

Think about it, what group outside the ones I named offer more to society? Seniors sacrificed so that we could have a better country than the one they inherited from their predecessor, law enforcement keeps our cities and towns safe, firefighters risk their lives to save others, soldiers risk lives to protect our freedoms, the church lifts up communities and contributes in ways government cannot, emergency personnel made sure that ambulance got you to the hospital in time when you had that heart attack, and our children connect the bridge to America’s future.

As a member of the clergy in the Christian tradition, I note a certain irony in this mention of "the church", particularly in view of Christ's admonition to his disciples…

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The fact that a "sense of entitlement" is a special danger for clergy is intimately connected with the primordial concept of priesthood itself, going back to even pre-historic times. Indeed, one can sense this in the analysis of clericalism in a draft Wikipedia article on Clericalism.

Clericalism is the application of the formal, church-based, leadership or opinion of ordained clergy in matters of either the church or broader political and sociocultural import. In a pejorative manner, "clericalism" is often used to denote an ecclesiolatry approach to issues beyond the church by either clergy or their supporters while the term has also been applied in a pejorative manner to describe the cronyism and cloistered political environs of the Church, mainly in reference to the Roman Catholic Church. The phenomenon of clericalism is not restricted to the ordained, as it occurs in purely secular guilds, such as academia, the legal and medical establishments, and the public-safety clergy:the police and military.

Though it may be debated whether the Catholic Church is uniquely or even especially plagued with the problem of clericalism, there is no question that this phenomenon has played a significant role in its corruption scandals.

Furthermore, it can be argued that a generic form of "clericalism" aflicts (as the Wikipedia article suggests) the hallowed halls of academia and other important institutions of society. In our time this has become especially true of the class of professional politicians, the new secular "priesthood". One does not have to see the movie, "A Few Good Men" to note that the professional hazard of inbred arrogance afflicts more than the Colonel Jessups of society.

Noting the phenomenon of generic clericalism, we can begin to define what we mean by entitlement subculture, and this will help us to appreciate the full meaning and significance of an entitlement culture:

Entitlement Subculture:
Any coherent sociological group united by the recognition of a common purpose, predicament or passion and enlivened by a common experience of discipline which comes to see both as a justification for entitlement to preferential benefits, status or authority. Such a subculture develops a common language, strategy, artistic expression and discipline aimed at defending and augmenting its own privileges and, especially where it feels threatened, attacking those of others.
Entitlement Culture:
The culture of any society at or above the scale of a single nation which was once united by a common language, culture and discipline but which is increasingly fractured by entitlement subcultures operating at cross purposes with each other and to the detriment of the wider society. The process of growing social fission may be aided and abetted (or even consciously induced) by social, cultural, economic and/or governmental elites who are impatient with natural or accidental social or economic inequities, and these reinforcing processes (which take on the features of the homeostatic forces operating in a pathological family system) themselves become a major feature of entitlement culture.
Entitlement Faultline:
The set of presuppositions having to do with entitlements that clash between two subcultures.
Entitlement Metaculture:
That common culture or mythos of the elite subcultures of a given nation or group of nations which fosters and encourages the efforts of those elites to serve, protect and defend the continued disintegration of the wider society along entitlement fault lines. The common amoral approach to taking advantage of new technologies, the tendency to see history and human choice in mechanistic terms, and the common definition of happiness in materialistic terms are examples of features of what I am calling this common elite metaculture. All of these features lend major rationale to the entitlement culture. As the society continues to crumble, the elites eventually come to recognize only one enduring rationale for entitlement, their own. When that happens, the metaculture evaporates until all pretense of altruism vanishes and only the dominant entitlement culture remains. The process bears an uncanny resemblance, albeit as a reverse dynamic, to what Friedrich Engels called the "withering away of the state."

Such a society does not inevitably self-destruct, but in historical terms it generally does. Robbed of a common motive and energy of growth, it stagnates and then decays until it is overrun or dies of its own accord. In such a society, even the elites, consumed by personal ambition and playing a deadly zero-sum game of divide and conquer, can become little more than guarantors of inevitable destruction.

In the terms defined above, when we find the term "entitlement culture" in the literature, what is actually meant is an entitlement subculture, i.e., a subculture which has an entitlement mentality as one of its chief characteristics.

It is precisely when we come to examine the phenomenon of an entitlement subculture that we can come to recognize the danger of such subcultures to society as a whole. In the ordinary course of historical conflict, the "coup d'etat" most often arises through the machinations of a group that regards itself as entitled to overrule established authority, or even the popular will. The revolt of the American Revolution, which was marked by a highly deliberative process of reflection on human rights (and which was carried out in remarkably disciplined fashion) in the context of years of suffering under a tyrannical regime, is the historical exception rather than the rule. The major fruit of this experience was the development of a culture of self-reliance and collaboration for the purpose of protection from enemies and promoting the common good and the enshrinement of this culture in major political-historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. To a lesser degree, the erosion of a privileged absolute monarchy in England, which was largely achieved with the adoption of the Magna Carta, gradually evolved into the rights of the common citizen that we see today in Great Britain and most of the United Kingdom. This process, which took centuries to complete in England, was largely complete (with the exception of universal suffrage, which took longer) within two decades, from the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791, in the American colonies.

As it happens, immediately following the French Revolution, the National Constituent Assembly adopted a "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen". This effort ultimately proved unstable, however, because it presumed a distinction between "active" and "passive" citizenship which was based on property, contribution and participation in society and polity, in effect creating a two-class system even though the people as a whole were well aware that the French Revolution was essentially a mob phenomenon rather than a disciplined clash between military establishments, and the French "Declaration" was, if anything, more an attempt to reestablish order in the midst of chaos than it was an effort to motivate national solidarity and collaboration. In other words, the French Revolution failed largely because of a clash of entitlement subcultures that could not be resolved peacefully. Furthermore, as the example of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror demonstrates (and as virtually every secular socialist revolution demonstrates), entitlement subcultures at war with each other can lead to the cultural equivalent of genocide, and when that cultural conflict coincides with ethnic conflict, it leads to "ethnic cleansing". For example, the Holocaust was as much an outcome of a cultural as an ethnic conflict. Unfortunately, in the near future, we are likely to witness many such collisions of incompatible entitlements.

In our own time, the Col. Jessups of the political class have, whether deliberately or not, fostered divisions in society by defining classes of people who are entitled to special considerations. Each one of these classes is groomed for their potential as voter base. Each one of these classes is increasingly radicalized and embattled by what it perceives as attacks on its inherent prerogatives, or even the fundamental rights of the people who compose it. Although politicians continue to advert to the "common good" it is increasingly impossible to define what that is by consensus in part because protecting the common good increasingly implies attacking special privileges of entitlement subcultures.

The key point to observe in the growing ascendancy of entitlement subcultures, however, is that this growth has driven wedges in all major institutions of society, including the institution of the family and the institution of entrepreneurship (see, for example, "Culture of Entitlement Threatens Entrepreneurship"). It has done so precisely because it has fostered envy and alienation in the very process of trying to correct natural and chance inequities.

The impact on the economy, of course, has been enormous, but, curiously, not what has typically been observed. In particular, according to "The Real Story Behind 'Rising' U.S. Income Inequality", when one examines the value of the Gini coefficient of income dispersion (or inequality) from 1994 to 2010, one observes that there has been no significant change in the coefficient as applied to individual incomes, but that income dispersion for families and households have both increased during the same period. The driving factor here has been sociological, not economic. In particular, families at the lower end of the economic scale have become increasingly unstable as compared to those at the higher end of the scale. What has driven this change? Has it not been the growth of dependency on government handouts? In other words, has it not been the growth of the so-called safety net "entitlement" and even the growth of a subculture of those dependent on such handouts and increasingly expecting them, feeling entitled to them, etc.?

It's not just that marriages are falling apart, however. In today's hook-up culture, they're not even forming in the first place. Fed by such myths as "safe sex" and "uncomplicated sex," the hook-up culture is essentially a battleground of sexual entitlement, where relationships are fundamentally sterile even when conception happens.

In a recent upgrade to the Dictionary.com app, a "Hot Word" article on the term "nice", showcased the expression "nice guy" (as in The Nice Guys of OkCupid) which became a term of "special pleading" adopted by much of the male side of the hookup culture. In typical dictionary articles, quotes from influential essays illustrate the new meanings that enter the culture. This "Hot Word" article on the word "nice" cited an article ("A note on the Nice Guys of OK Cupid") by Laurie Penny in The New Statesmen, in which she lamented "a dispiriting catalogue of desperation and misogynist etitlement." For his part, Hugo Schwyzer, writing on the feminist blog Jezebel (named, apparently, for the biblical queen with a sense of personal entitlement that plays out over several chapters of the 1st Book of Kings), notes (see "No One is Entitled to Sex: Why We Should Mock the Nice Guys of OkCupid."):

Sex with other people may be a basic human need, but unlike other needs, it can't be a basic human right. It's one thing to believe that the state ought to provide food, shelter, and health care to those who can't afford these necessities of survival. It's another thing to say that the state should ensure that even the hideous and the clueless have occasional orgasms provided for them others. While in Britain, a few local governments have sent disabled men on trips to Amsterdam to see sex workers, citing psychological need, not even the most progressive Europeans have suggested that anyone is entitled to have their romantic longings reciprocated.

Clearly we have here an almost pure example of what I have called an entitlement fault line, where two subcultures, male and female, of the hookup subculture, having clashing expectations. Furthermore, the various elite subcultures have their own presuppositions regarding sexual advantages. Unfortunately, every society, no matter how constituted, finds certain people at the top of the food chain, and whether its King David, King Henry VIII or King Bill, or whether its royalty crazed by other sexual hormones than testosterone, power and a sense of entitlement ensures that sexual fantasies intrude into reality (so that "their romantic longings are reciprocated"), and with nasty consequences.

In fact it is this very progression of the power and sexual entitlement fault lines that was prophesied in Humanae Vitae, in ¶ 17:

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

China's infamous one-child policy, for example, was introduced a mere 10 years after Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical. But China's leaders were acting out of a sense of historical necessity that combined the presuppositions of Marx, Malthus and the Mandarins.

Every society also finds certain people at the bottom of the food chain, as well as those (like our Jezebel blogger) who are assigned the duty of throwing stones at them (cf. 2nd Samuel 16:5-10). Perhaps this time it will be the young males who are reduced to self-pity and pathetic, passive-aggressive efforts to propagate themselves. But if such men are not ghettoized, but, rather, ubiquitous (as they are in China!), are not their dried, desiccated spirits a dangerous kindling? And, when men lose their humanity, do they not become animals?

What our feminist blogger fails to realize, too, is that empowering the state to fulfill supposedly legitimate entitlements inevitably breeds inequalities of power, with those doing the serving often enslaving those who are served as well as those providing the resources to serve. In other words, the sense of entitlement, no matter how constituted, is a corruption, a corruption that destroys the possibility of any form of personal initiative, including charity, eventually rendering all human concourse, whether economic, sexual or otherwise, sterile. No society, where a sense of entitlement infects the governing class, where those in government feel entitled to redistribute vital resources to fit some master plan, can long survive. It may suffer the slow, meaningless death pictured by T.S. Eliot in "The Hollow Men," or, no longer capable of self-defense, it may be overrun by an alien, yet more vigorous, culture.

How do such chaotic situations arise? We can study the history of the sexual entitlement culture to get a sense of this. When we do so, of course, we see that attitudes and values changed gradually, analogous to the movement of glaciers or even tectonic plates, albeit in a much shorter time scale. At the same time we can also point to certain events that represent major shifts, perhaps similar to what happens as plates on a fault line slip in relation to each other. In each case, too, we may recognize how value systems change when cracks develop and spread.

As everyone who studies these things knows, a major shift began in the 7th Lambeth Conference, when clerics across the Anglican Communion met to ponder the use of birth control in limited circumstances. In 1947, Alfred Kinsey founded his Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University. By 1958, the 9th Lambeth Conference called for "respect for the consciences of married couples who use birth control." In 1962, Robert Rimmer published The Harrad Experiment, essentially a free-love sexual manifesto in the form of a graphic novel. In 1969, the State of California adopted "no-fault divorce" in its legal system, which, for the first time, winked at separation due to such excuses as sexual incompatibility. 1969 also saw the release of the comedy, "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" which depicted married couples swapping their sex partners. By then the free love culture was in full swing. (Just ask the swingers.)

The new sexual Nirvana, however, endured hiccups. AIDS was first clinically diagnosed in 1981. The histories of genital herpes and HPV seem to be more obscure, but the prevalence of both is clearly a phenomenon of the second half of the 20th century up to the present time. Drug companies have, of course, capitalized on all of these diseases. The growth of the pharmaceutical sex service industry, however, obviously includes birth control medications, implants, etc., as well as the growing variety of sexual enhancement drugs. This area of the pharmaceutical industry, of course, remains comparatively unregulated, which is yet another artifact of the sexual entitlement metaculture. The pornography industry has experienced a parallel boom, as has the sex trade, including its most virulent form, the international trafficking of sex slaves.

Curiously, one can see parallel development of the market and the science and technology of artificial fertility enhancements, such as in-vitro fertilization, which, for the first time, enabled the use of surrogate mothers and anonymous donors and made it feasible for same-sex couples, especially lesbian couples to enjoy many of the benefits of sexual complementarity from a reproductive standpoint without having to endure the normal processes that make them possible.

The broad historical trends show a continuing breakdown of the family, and, hence, an inevitable decline in overall population fertility, as sexual coupling apart from sexual reproduction is seen as an entitlement. Genuine family, making better than replacement fertility possible, is only feasible in a culture of self-sacrifice. It becomes impossible in an entitlement culture, no matter what government policies, in the form of incentives, may be adopted to compensate.

As always, the family is the canary in the mineshaft. Genuine family cannot exist apart from a culture of service (which is the direct antithesis of a culture of entitlement) whether asymmetric as envisioned by St. Paul (where the woman sacrifices her ego and the man sacrifices his life — which raises an interesting speculation: perhaps marriages are failing in record numbers because women are becoming egotists, men are becoming cowards and both are becoming apathetic), or symmetric as envisioned by 20th century feminists (where all gender inequality is magically wiped away). Genuine family is virtually impossible in a culture plagued with myths and fantasies of entitlement, not until those myths and fantasies are tamed by parables and morality plays and even little children learn about the folly, the futility and the danger of a sense of entitlement.

If the world survives, it will be through a rebirth of the family, the only institution capable of knitting together the fabric of society. And, if it survives, it will have fulfilled the prophesy of Jesus in "The Sermon on the Mount."

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

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