Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is Entitlement The New Normal? Part I, The Underlying Issue

I was reading a post from friend and fellow blogger Mustang at Social Sense yesterday that got me thinking about the sense of entitlement in the US today, how we got here, and if this is the new norm.

After starting to write this I realized it quickly became too long for one post. This is a mix of Mustang’s post striking a nerve and me being long-winded. With full deference to Mustang and his ability to strike a nerve in me, a fair amount of it is my long-windedness. This is something my wife has accused me of more than once while reviewing my writing for me. I will therefore post this in a three part series. Please return tomorrow and the next day for the rest of it.

As most regular readers know, I am a Registered Nurse in an inner city Emergency Room. I deal with poverty a lot.

There are misconceptions about poverty. Misconception number one is that it is strictly due to laziness.

This is not entirely true. It is certainly not entirely untrue, many people are poor because they are lazy and unambitious. Some though really have had a crappy life that most of us could never fully understand.

First off is parenting. Most of us have had at least a decent life. We have had good parents (two of them, opposite sex). We were given the chance to succeed. While we have likely all had hard times, my wife and I had a helluva time while I was putting myself through college, by and large we had chances and we took them.

Even for those of you who had a rough upbringing, divorced parents, a parent with substance abuse problems, low income, most of you have not faced real poverty or truly bad parents.

I am talking about parents so bad that they actually damage their children.

Imagine spending your entire childhood being told you were a mistake, a burden, the product of a rape, your mother hates your father and so therefore hates you.

Imagine not knowing who your father is or having a new "father" every six months. Some are actually sort of likable, some beat you and your mother.

Imagine being molested and forced to perform sex acts for a drunken boyfriend or boyfriends of your mother.

Imagine raising yourself since you were five or six years old because your mother is out hooking or home and drunk.

I see all of this on a regular basis in the ER. These kids are so F'ed up by the time they get to their late teens it's no wonder they cannot be productive members of society.

Finally, it happens a lot more than what most people think.

So, these kids become adults. They no longer have even the meager support their parents provided them. Were do they go from there?

Most of us also don't understand true poverty. Few us haven't had some time in our life where we were completely broke. Maybe a time when you did not know how you were going to pay the mortgage. Or a time when you had trouble feeding your kids for a week or two. You did it but it wasn't easy.

My wife and I have some rough stretches, I know what it is like.

With that said, most of us don't know true poverty. Most of us have not had to decide between having a place to live and feeding our kids. Then our house is broken into and the money we had set aside for groceries this week was stolen.

The staff of the ER I work in had to go to a poverty simulation a while back. There was a lot of it I did not agree with and it was clearly designed to produce sympathy for poverty but I actually did learn some things from it.

Basically the outline of it was a month in poverty with four fifteen minute "weeks" in which we had a fixed income, bills to pay with this income, and unexpected events. It was clearly rigged so that you could not win. It was designed quite well though.

The unexpected events were tough and did give an idea of how simple things like your car breaking down can have a profound effect on your life if you have no money.

In summation, there is real poverty in the US and it is not always self inflicted.

So, what do we do about it? This is the question that goes to the heart of the divide between the conservative and liberal ideologies.

Conservatives take the tack that the poor should be empowered to help themselves out of poverty. This is America, the land of equal opportunity.

To conservatives, poverty is not a disease but a symptom of an ailment that needs to be cured.

We are not mean-spirited and want to let people starve. I, for one, am not against public assistance. I think there are times when people need a helping hand. I just feel like it should not be a career option.

We are, proportionally, more generous in giving to charity than our liberal counterparts. We feel that charitable organizations are a good means for temporary help to the poor.

We have expectations. We expect people to take advantage of the assistance given them to not only survive but strive to better themselves so they can eventually become a productive member of society. They can then give back to society what they have been given.

Liberals believe that poverty is not a symptom but a disease. They do not want to cure it but instead treat it, for a lifetime.

They are not interested in a hand-up but a hand-out.

Proportionally they are less giving to charity, believing instead that any extra wealth a person has should be given to the government for the government to then dole out to the poor.

There are no expectations that one rise above poverty. To them, public assistance is a legitimate career choice. They will not say this but support it instead through tolerance of it.

This is all simple review and I certainly do not mean to insult the reader’s intelligence with it. I use it only a means to explain how we got to the sense of entitlement society we find ourselves in now.

Tomorrow, the road to entitlement


Mustang said...

Poverty in America was commonplace until the 1950s; inside plumbing was rare in certain areas in this country through the 1960s. People began leaving their pathetically small farms and heading for more opportunities in urban areas in droves after World War II … but while they may have found good paying jobs, few struck it rich. Some of this may have had to do with the fact that these folks weren’t extraordinarily smart, and some adopted poor lifestyle choices that kept them poor, but my point is that poverty (defined, I suppose by government bureaucrats who are always looking for ways to secure the own positions in government) has always been with us.

What is relatively new is that kids today can own and afford expensive cell phones, and still get the First Lady of the United States to serve them dinner in a homeless shelter. I will be reading your remaining series with great interest.

Chuck said...

Mustang, one thing will always stick with me. My grandfather was a very good man. He laid bricks and blocks for a living. He did not want to join a union and be told what to do with his work so he stayed independent and did not make a lot of money. They raised their kids, bought a house, kept themselves fed and clothed. He told me he never knew he was poor until the federal government started releasing their poverty level numbers.

Being poor is not shameful. Making a conscious decision to stay that way and demanding that everyone else support you without an attempt to improve yourself is disgraceful.

Brooke said...

Due to my upbringing, some of which was mentioned in your post but I will not specify, I will be quite interested in this series of posts.

There is definitely a difference between those who truly are having a bad place in their lives and despair because they can't see a way out, and those who feel entitled to taxpayer money, I will say.

Always On Watch said...

True poverty is a vicious cycle. But handing people welfare isn't that solution; we've already seen that the cycle of welfare is an abject failure.

In my view, based in part on my mother's story of escaping grinding poverty in Appalachia, two factors are required for someone to climb out of the pit of poverty:

1. Motivation to break the cycle

2. Education

Both of the above seem to be lacking today in so many of those who are truly poor.

Poverty is not a disease, IMO; rather, it is a condition that perpetuates itself unless individuals take the bull by the horns.

Mustang makes a good point about cell phones. The teenage flash mobs that I posted about today are using technology to continue their cycle of poverty. Why do I say "continue"? Because stealing those items will not provide them with the tools to escape grinding poverty.

And one more thing: escaping grinding poverty is a process and cannot be achieved quickly. Sadly, we live in a culture of instant gratification.

Chuck said...

Brooke, agreed. One of the things I remember from my childhood was being in Grant park in Chicago. There was a kite exhibition going on with a bunch of kites. We went in the bathroom and a homeless man was giving himself a sponge bath. I was shocked but at the same time impressed that the man had enough dignity left to want to stay clean.

AOW, I saw your videos. These acts too are a symptom of what is wrong with our society.