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The Dialectics of Entitlement

posted Feb 17, 2012, 2:36 PM by Esther Matharu   [ updated Feb 18, 2012, 7:12 AM ]
Synonyms for entitlement: privilege; right; power; claim; prerogative.

I come from the third world. I have lived and worked in various countries and continents, where the sense of entitlement was expressed in very elementary terms. For example, if there was any money, the first born male was entitled to receive an education. The girl child was entitled to receive some support from the family for marriage purposes. Old parents were entitled to receive care from the grown children. Beyond that, very little was truly ‘owed’ a person. Certainly, before the emergence of the nation-state, community was where entitlement contracts usually happened. They were upheld through a certain sense of morality (and its nemesis, shame). So, not surprisingly, coming to the first world was like entering a huge entitlement fair -a real bonanza of privileges that had one reeling with a sense of autonomy!

From a purely western paradigm populist[1] perspective, entitlement has come to mean what is owed the individual or the collective by right. In Canada, the idea that we ‘pay’ for services though our taxes gives weight to the sense of entitlement. However, there is a more global aspect of entitlement which arose, partially, from the indoctrination of the superpowers - most recently the USA - which flooded our ‘developing nations’ with the notion that we, citizens of a poor country, were ‘entitled’ to something they called ‘democracy’. We found out to the detriment of our societal cohesion, that this ‘entitlement’ actually made us neo-slaves of the IMF and the World Bank. As a result, over time, we are being re-enslaved and our communities disempowered. On the less negative note, women have been given more voices in the prevailing chaos of ‘free markets’ and the ‘democracy’ branding of our nations. WAP recognizes this and celebrates the hope that in the developing nations as in Canada, women can and will change the way the world works.

While the economic colonization of our developing countries was relentlessly taking place under the watchful eye of the IMF and World Bank, the expectations of the peoples of the western world, particularly in North America, were being pumped up. One result was that the ‘pursuit of happiness’ was gradually given a make-over to mean the ‘freedom to consume endlessly’. Now, suddenly but not surprisingly, the word ‘austerity’ is taking over. For example: Greece. Fair enough. They (who?) had it coming! First, they (who?) cooked the books to enter the EU. Then they went on to borrow extravagantly and inflate their partisan bureaucratic apparatus. Finally, citizens were encouraged to feel ‘entitled’ to the same living conditions as the other, older and richer, members of the club.

The market-predator’s strategy does not change: “Bait ‘em with loans and catch ‘em downstream.” Who knows how extravagant some of the projects in the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) countries were, and to what extent they were implemented without public prioritization, accountability and long-term planning and impact analysis? Can we blame the outrage of the populace when we realize to what extent they have been bamboozled?

We stood by and observed this Europeanized version of the IMF/WB that led to the indebtedness and eventual pauperization of the local populace. It is always easy to criticize after the fact. But having witnessed the same neo-colonial tactics in the developing world, it was pretty straightforward to foresee the same schemes unfolding in Europe as in the rest of the world.

We are increasingly feeling the pinch in Canada. Here as elsewhere, the problem felt by the Ninety-nine Percenters is tentatively leading to a redefinition of the basic concepts of ‘entitlement’. We have barely started to examine what ‘entitlement means. For now, we question the fact that the rules of the game are being changed by our elites, the One Percenters.

Undoubtedly, there is a deepening malaise in Canadian as in all societies. But until we agree collectively to stop giving answers and start asking questions, we will continue in this downward spiral of blame, shame and name-change. The Indignadas and Occupy movements have started shaking the boat. They are also injecting our morbid naval-gazing ‘sorry’ psychosis with new impetus, a new urgency to face our problems and find solutions together. Let’s face it: our politicians have clear advantages. They are irked by our proposal to by-pass them. They are tickled by the ‘gall’ our Occupiers have to question the 1% - those chosen ones who ostensibly lined each others’ pockets for years and years and secured their own survival means. Occupy et al ask: “On what grounds do you have the power to determine what, who and how much the 99% are ‘entitled’ to have (or to not have)? What proportion of ‘your’ pie are ‘we the people’ entitled to? Naturally, the question in itself is flawed. After all, we, the 99% had something to do (or did we?) with allocating that power. We can as easily take it back. That’s my point. It is imperative that we re-examine our paradigm and move beyond a simple changing of the guards. WAP says no more "Le Capital is dead. Vive le Capital!"

Before going any further, recognition needs to be given to a select few (by no means exhaustive) who have examined the question of entitlement. These are Charles Hugh Smith who wrote in his “Our Many Layers of Entitlement” that "The entitlement mindset atrophies self-reliance, adaptability and flexibility, all key survival traits. If the government will "fix" our health, we no longer feel responsible in the way one does if there is limited government/employer-provided healthcare. If we expect our Social Security retirement regardless of what other conditions may be affecting the global economy or our nation, then we stop being responsible for managing our financial affairs in the same way as one does when there is no "guaranteed" retirement entitlement."[2].

Also to Paul Michael Romer[3] who uses the term in his work; or the (more than one) David Brooks[4] who write: “The word "entitlement" means something granted, not specifically earned, which can be taken to mean or imply that it is something optional”[5]. The Brooks go on to ask the question we should be asking ourselves: “What happens when there is no money to give to the people who have no money? That is the moral question”.

Ultimately it is not a question of morality but about which percentage holds the financial and military power. The ‘people’ don’t, that is for sure. We are not ‘entitled’ to it (power). We need to take it away from the 1%. Our actions are determined not by morality or the illusionary ‘entitlement’, but by where on the steps of the great pyramid we belong. And then again which face of the pyramid we stand, blind and deaf to the other faces and voices.

The word entitlement was used as recently as last week, when Mitt Romney[6] declared that he will not have Muslims in his cabinet and that Obama is trying to turn the US into a "European-style entitlement society", or, a "European-style welfare state". There is no need to take this rhetoric seriously. It is just campaign babble from Babylon’s contenders.

What WAP looks at is the paradigm in which such overtly racist and religious discriminatory language are mediatised and even allowed to exist at the political level. The implications are that in the pyramidal structure of the top-down hierarchy, Muslim’s are not able to rise, ever, to the top (used to apply to women, people of color, or Catholics pre-Kennedy, now Muslims…which group next?).

It is way beyond the scope of an unpretentious piece as this to try to resolve the irresolvable. It’s all we can do to simply enunciate some of the examples of the many layers of ‘entitlement’ that exist today.

Hegemonic entitlement:

For example, the US’s entitlement to ‘own’ the world. Simply by calling China’s independence as a “loss” reveals the repugnance of this hegemonic perspective. To quote Noam Chomsky: “You cannot loose what was never yours, but the US has this idea that the world is his”. Also see Noam Chomsky on the US’s long-term policy agenda[7] of hegemonic power bases.

National Entitlement:

Do Canadians still have a deep-seated conviction that all land belongs to the ‘them’ (white man), as opposed to the peoples it was somehow got from? One wonders more than ever in view of the Harper government’s practice to sell/grab lands and resources they feel ‘entitled’ to. Tar sands, anyone? Asbestos?

Personal Entitlement:

This is being aggressively and industrially promoted with marketing tactics that have only one goal in mind: profits. This ferments the attitude that citizens have specific privileges but few responsibilities. For example our young are being wooed to believe that they are ‘entitled’ to beauty, success, approval and passing grades! Families are ‘entitled’ to warmth, jobs, food…..hey wait a minute, where are we going with this? Isn’t that what Canadian society is all about? I thought so. Failure to meet expectations will further plunge our people into the chaos of ‘collapsed entitlements’. We would do well to better understand what is going on and work towards a new system because this one has caved in. We all live in a golden micro-myth but our macro-myths are in the red. Changing our politicians, our parties, our leaders won’t do the magic trick. We need to change our paradigm - the way we think and live. Nothing less than a life-style change will do that. Thank you, David Suzuki, for warning us again and again. You’re the Man!

Moral or Religious Entitlement:

This is a distinctive ingredient of the many groups stirring the ‘moral imperative’ pot. We have been observing in Canada the crest of a wave of religious fundamentalism (moral imperialism) that gives the adherents the ‘entitlement’ to lobby, fund, influence and coerce our politicians with their particular brand of rights, such as the right to use reckless hate language (John Baird[8]) to defame and even fire those who threaten their entitlements. Michael Harris[9]’s firing by Bell Inc was a clear sign of things to come.

Brueggemann[10] writes that “What masks those ‘sins’ is “a totalizing ideology of exceptionalism that precludes critique of our entitlements and self-regard.” Exceptionalism fuels such phenomena as all those ‘reality’ shows and **Idol shows. Young kids lured to believe that they are ‘entitled’ to their moment of fame fall en masse for this artificially inflated self-interest or egocentricity. Ultimately this results in a serous collective identity crisis and often traumatic disappointments when self-regard is muddled with self-esteem. Our young often experience failure, not for who they are, but who they believe they are entitled to be.

Brueggemann’s prophetic imagination unmasks our hypocrisy. We are all to blame for waiting till these ‘sins’ affect our individual lives before acting. It is when we start feeling the repercussions of the failed entitlements that we start to groan and agitate. We allow our outraged senses to vent, often pushed by game-players such as unions and political parties; we take to the streets and clamor for ‘justice’. But the cynics have no illusions. It is not justice people want; otherwise they would have opposed the trade wars, military wars and social service wars that are being waged against the poor of the world. No, what we want is to regain the illusion of our entitlements.

Political Entitlement:

The obvious gap between public opinion and public policy reveals deep problems that disclose the illegitimacy of our government. The Harper government has been allowed to show open contempt for our elected members and get away with it. This regime is leading Canada into a rapid escalation of wars, weapons development and socio-economic assessments and resolutions without due debates or consultative processes, leading to the implementation of unpopular ‘policies’ that have no real legal or binding basis. Corporate-owned media’s role is to fortify the lies and illusions of the power houses. This has reached unimaginable levels of dislocation with public aspirations. Yet we continue to buy these newspapers and support biased journalism!

Beyond Entitlement

We might as well come to terms with the fact that we need to reinvent the future and do away with the entitlement mentality that paralyzes us, that freezes us into becoming egoistical pod-like humanoids deprived of the sense of community and fellowship. To the 1%, we look like cold and hungry pets waiting in the rain for our ‘owners’ to come and feed and warm us! Pathetic!

Many suspect that our revolt is nothing but the barking of the 99% at the 1%. What entertainment! We actually fight among ourselves for what? Why? For the crumbs they throw us from the tables of the plenty? It is clear that time has come to move from being a reactive to an active social and political movement. For this we need to join our resources. We can.

How can we free ourselves from the dictates of the 1%?

To start, we can redefine what actions we mean by ‘free’. Move away from the ‘entitlement’ model to the ‘participatory action’ model, where we start by doing away with banks, banking and usury[11]? This is possible, and good people in Canada[12] are coming up with interesting alternative models that dare us to ‘imagine’ new ‘neighbourhood- and community-’ building through creating all manner of national and global networks. WAP joins these networks in seeking to implement a just and transparent political space where we can move forward. It means creating a new paradigm and, in the face of resistance, starting a parallel society.

How can you join in the adventure of building our common future?

Organize and mobilize against the threats to human rights abuse, the isolation of activists and the demonization of the dissenting voices by our press. People have the power to join movements that are active in battling the forces that seek to question our integrity and judgment about what is really happening in our society. Information sharing and collaboration are vital elements in uniting organizations with a common goal. Together we can debunk the lies, deceptions and dishonest tricks used to divide our communities. Leadnow, Conscience Canada, Fair Vote, the Council of Canadians, David Suzuki Foundation, the Social Creator, Progressive Muslim Voices, and many more, are such organizations that have new and innovative approaches to good governance for the 21st century and are trying to link us up, to bring us together. Emerging new parties, such as the Online Party, Canadian Action Party and others, have good ideas, good input too. These need to be included in the conversation for creating a blueprint for society. All our main political parties belong to the old dysfunctional hierarchic paradigm. They are trapped and cannot change, even if they want to, and even though they all have some good ideas to propose. As for us, we need to agree to move beyond the ‘Me-First’ entitlement mindset that undermines every attempt to work together. Finally, we need to support and understand our local Occupy movements and our labour movements that have been transfused with new life. We need to respond to their call to rise up and meet the challenges facing Canada. Get off the couch, join a list, come out and protest!

This is the first time that we have a cross-generational movement that reaches all people. From 14 (I met a 14-year-old occupier in Toronto in January 2012) to 90 (one of our Raging grannies is a revolution mover). If they can do it, so can you. Get ready, set. GO!

[1] As in emphasizing or promoting ordinary people, their lives, or their interests.

[2]; Read more:

[3] Preferences, Promises, and the Politics of Entitlement, in: Individual and Social Responsibility: Child Care, Education, Medical Care, and Long-Term Care in America,

[4] The Politics of Entitlement: David Brooks Will Decide When It's Time for You to Die, By Tom Scocca Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011, at 7:59 PM ET






[10] Walter Brueggemann, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipatory Word (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012).

[11] The lending of money at an exorbitant rate of interest.