Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Contemplating Entitlement

Originally posted on May 13, 2016

I addressed the theme of entitlement six years ago, but more needs to be said.
    First, this is mainly unconscious, and were I to confront most people, if they didn’t punch me in the nose, they’d look with wide-eyed and sincere bewilderment: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” After all, entitlement is sometimes a conscious thought, but more often deeply unconscious. It’s a feeling, associated with 4 year olds seeing one’s 2 year old brother get the same size piece of cake. “But he’s littler,” the kid says. This suggests the power of the unconscious mind to confabulate, to make up reasons, to rationalize.

Certainly it’s stoked by politicians running for office, who use generalities like clubs! What’s left off the table is the reality that this is a competitive world and other formerly third world countries are rising, enjoying prosperity (relative to what they had a half-century ago), and daring, presuming, to charge more for what they charged much less way back then. In other words, we were relatively great because the rest of the world (relatively) was very poor due to the wide-spread destructions of WW2 or for simple lack of industrial development.

To be great seems like an okay thing to say. Hey, you’re great for reading this. Being told that you’re really not all that great is apt to affront your primary narcissism, to evoke a feeling of bewilderment mixed with entitlement, Indeed, this explains a great deal of our behavior at the personal and political level.

Trump likes to say: "make America great again" (the sense that we have lost something important, and others have gained on us). However, Clinton likes to say that America is still great, but we just need to clarify it. They both use the propaganda technique of “glittering generalities.”

My son says that one of the main reasons America has been considered "great" is not our might or natural resources, but rather our philosophy, largely reflected in our bill of rights. This has also been reflected in a curious way as the "American Dream." Because of that, I think Clinton is correct: our foundations are good. I would add that citizens of many countries can rationalize how they are lucky to be born where they are.

He writes, “This is reflected in a personal way as: Do I need to be outwardly strong and make people quiver when they see me in order to live up to my sense of entitlement, or can I be who I am, and actually even help others around me, from a sense of inner strength. It’s okay for others to be different and strong, because I, too, am different and strong.”

As his dad, I’m proud that he thinks. I had remarked on an acquaintance using the phrase, “Weimar America"—noting some parallels between pre-Nazi Germany (in the late 1920s) and the present. I replied: There are some parallels, especially regarding the bewilderment mixed with entitlement. Having been "great" among the nations, one becomes entitled, feeling special. How-ever, it is taboo to note that we “are” great because we “were” great in relation to those who were weak. Over the years, others—especially India and China—have been gaining considerable strength. The relative values of currencies are shifting markedly.

But in a visceral sense, the experience of entitlement is powerful. It’s also related to the indignation felt at the attention given to a newborn sibling. Sibling rivalry is misleading when the baby is yet young. (As they learn to walk it becomes sharper, and different.) The point is that the up-to-then only child is unseated. Now that seems so unfair to the child, and people retain that indignation through adulthood.

It’s also rationalized away that we still lead in so many privileges and benefits. The unconscious mind sees the poor wretches as getting hand-outs while we work so hard—even those of us who are retired. We worked hard! Well, we put in long hours. Whatever. The deep unconscious mind has no trouble manufacturing a grievance that seems totally plausible—it really is that clever, and it really is out of consciousness. This all lends verisimilitude to feeling justly aggrieved. Trump capitalizes on this. It doesn’t take much to seem so unfair!!

It’s such a hot potato that no one with any political ambition dares to speak the true truth: Nations don’t sustain their advantage, and who wants to hear that? It’s unpatriotic to question why we’re number one. We just are. (Saying it assertively makes it seem even more true!)

To say again, we emerged powerful because the rest of the world was backward and/or being exploited as a political colony. (Yes, the great country of India was but a colony of England! It shows you what the power of gunpowder can deliver!) These other countries were relatively backward, economically, or weakened by war, or both. Because we had vast natural resources in the mid-20th century and a numerous population, because the spirit of invention was as yet unhampered by bureaucracy, the USA pulled ahead for a while. But it wasn’t because we were favored by God for our "correct" religion.

China and India are modernizing and rising, and today there are more bright college students in India than all college students (bright and not-so-bright) in the USA. This observation is offensive to the entitled. Once a leader, always a leader, unless we’ve been sabotaged by a minority   that is scapegoat-worthy in the minds of a critical number of people—plus a demagogue or two. As a result, there is a good deal of vague discontent ripe for leaders to tell us whom to blame.

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