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The delusion of entitlement
Now and Then
roger branch

These days, many people seem to feel “entitled” to an extent that is delusional. What is entitlement? It is a natural, existential right like those cited in the Declaration of Independence — ”life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — or a categorical privilege bestowed by legislation or decree. Entitlements are not guaranteed. Life is a limited right vulnerable to the forces of nature and the actions of other humans. Liberty is similarly circumscribed and happiness, however it is defined, often eludes pursuit.

Some people think they are entitled to a life free from pain, a clear impossibility since pain is the brain’s warning that something is wrong somewhere in the body. Pain from contact with a hot object warns humans to get away from it to prevent further harm. Some pain becomes inescapable: arthritis, the aftereffects of an injury, certain other diseases. Those who feel entitled to painless life consider themselves put-upon and demand cures when their only hope is temporary relief, for which there are many possibilities from aspirin to sea creature extracts to marijuana and its cousins.

Some folks object to aging and attendant loss of such things as hair, trim bodies, sexual prowess, athletic ability, etc. They should consider the alternative to aging. Many opt for some of the myriad ways to combat the effects of aging.

Another baseless entitlement is happiness with oneself. Catchwords include a healthy self-concept and ego strength. I have met a lot of folks who felt very positive about themselves without any reason for doing so. Every self must live in some degree of harmony with many others in family, work, play, etc. Each person’s rights extend to the end of his or her nose.

Unhappiness with oneself or one’s life situation might be rooted in unrealistic expectations, the desire to be like a particular reference group or flawed people among parents or friends. Indeed, all other people are flawed in some ways and these can be hurtful. Unfortunately, many of those who are deeply disappointed with life take their grievances out on others by shunning, bullying or attack, thereby spreading the pain. The extreme expression of this “punish the world” reaction is an individual striking out at strangers with a high-capacity automatic rifle or other weapon.

Pursuit of profit is not an entitlement. Damaging the environment by exhausting scarce resources is not a right. Neither is slavery or other forms of exploitation.

Those who disagree with the country’s conditions, present policies or political orientation are not entitled to take up arms and overthrow the current administration. Democracy is messy, but it is the best approach to governance in our long history. At any given time, most people will find things that they do not like at every level of government. They have options other than insurrection, including emigration and voting.

In spite of the rhetoric, right to possess any and every sort of gun by civilians is not unconditional. The second amendment begins with a conditional clause about the country’s dependence on a well-armed militia, concluding that citizens must have the right to bear arms in order to defend the country. The infant nation could not sustain a large standing army. Militias were organized and trained in geographically-defined local units capable of combining with others into larger units and were ultimately under the authority of the governor of the state.

During the Civil War, the need to have all soldiers using compatible guns and ammunition essentially ended militia members using their own guns. Governor Joseph E. Brown of Georgia — and perhaps others — played command games with Confederate generals, wanting to retain some of his militia in Georgia rather than committing to armies to the north and west. Similar issues existed in the North.

Afterwards, the militia system was abandoned. It was replaced by the National Guard in which members are equipped with the same weapons as those in standard military service and are under the command of the president of the United States. Occasionally, a group emerges that calls itself a militia, but lacking ties to or control by state and federal governments, they are not militias.

What entitles people on taxpayer-financed welfare to keep doing the things that put them in financial need? Are there no policy constraints that define the entitlement?

What entitles some low-life to prey upon powerless children and old people physically for sexual pleasure or financial gain? What about scammers that victimize the elderly? Some companies charge an additional fee for paper transactions in bill paying. Online transactions are easier and less expensive for them. 

However, many seniors — some of whom are also economically disadvantaged — and other poor people lack computers, smartphones or the technological sophistication to pay online. What right have these companies to impose an age and class penalty?

Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.

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