The Age of Entitlement

Friday, 25th September 2009 at 8:00 UTC 3 comments

Casting my mind back to the events of Momentum in August, which you can read about here, I remembered my mental note to explore one area in particular. I wanted to return to Mike P’s three factors preventing today’s young adults getting the most from life: Consumerism, Individualism and Entitlement.  Today I shall point to just one in particular.

Of the three terms he used, entitlement was the only one that was new. I suddenly found myself hearing a word for something I’d been complaining about in my head for months. I’m not sure its perhaps the best term, but I think it will more than serve the purpose. Indeed, it will serve the purpose in a range of different contexts, for the sense of entitlement is pervasive and connects with many issues, be they the entitlement to take short haul flights instead of holidaying nearer to home or slumming it on the trains, or entitlement to large bonuses and expenses packages, or indeed to the perfect partner, better friends, a regular change of social scene.

Society has come to assume certain things are owed to it, for some fairly peculiar reasons. One of the most extreme cases of entitlement I have come across was in not perhaps the most wealthy of places, Bradford, where I had very telling discussions with some of my Asian friends and acquaintances. Predominantly third and subsequent generation, many of them had the benefits of two generations of enterprise before them, their parents having, to some extent, sacrificed in order to get their kids into University.

One of these conversations took place late at night with one of the people who by chance became my housemate in my third year in the city (I shared with a friend, and had another friend living in the top half of what was essentially two houses in one). My neighbour held a views that spoke of entitlement to the point I found little common ground with him, if any. He asked what I wanted to do with life, I um’ed and ar’ed about campaigning, about building community, about helping the poor in some way. He spoke clearly and directly about the flat he imagined for himself in Leeds or Manchester, the car, and tellingly, the company. I was clearly beneath him, though I suspect his family had more poverty in its previous two generations than mine. I cannot help wondering where he has ended up, as the opportunities for such a life have collapsed, especially for graduates. He wanted to play the system, or allow himself to be played, as I felt at the time, and now I what levels he might have gone to in order to secure himself a place.

But entitlement can be far more pernicious. In a sense, we are owed nothing on this planet. We have inalienable rights, but they are not necessarily the same thing, often based more on opportunities than on “free lunches”. I’m not entitled to carry a mobile phone, but I have the ability to do so, for instance. The same for a car; I have the right to learn to drive, but have yet to take it up. But to assume one is entitled to drive without justification is to forget the fragile state of this planet, amongst other things.

Perhaps Entitlement is more damaging to our planet than consumerism. After all, there are two types of Entitlement; because I am Western, and therefore I should have it, and because you in the West have it, and therefore I in the South should have it, to illustrate the division. One is the entitlement of the European nationalist, slamming the door on immigration, the other the entitlement felt by the person trying to reach Europe’s shores.

I will, no doubt return to entitlement in some form or other, but these are some early thoughts. Perhaps you have some of your own, particularly on the balance between rights/necessity and this false sense of something being owed to us simply for being who we are. Perhaps we should all reflect on what we think we should have.


Entry filed under: Climate Change, Culture, Environment, Immigration, Marketing, Materialism, Poverty.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Steve thack  |  Friday, 25th September 2009 at 8:40 UTC

    Carefull g your starting to sound like a moaning middle class tory. The poor feel entitled to more? No shit. Now can we change the individual sense of entitlement into a communal sense? Can we widen that to a global understanding of community. Can we add a sense of entitlement to a climate that isn’t f ed.

    • 2. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 25th September 2009 at 10:44 UTC

      OK, as I’m sure you’d imagine, that’s not what I meant: the whole thing should probably be directed at the middle and upper classes, especially at the youth with huge expectations of what they should have, often with a growing sense of being owed it, rather than having earnt it. Think of it more as a self-hating middle-class Green berating his Tory neighbours!

  • 3. Steve thack  |  Friday, 25th September 2009 at 11:51 UTC

    Still think consumerism and individualism make the same point . Entitlement just confuses the issue.


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