A gracious good evening to y'all.
I've been surfing, I have, and I've been looking for trends. I do this partly because it's interesting simply as a hobby and partly because it's my nature. When I was quite young, my father--before he went mad from grief and accompanying alcoholism--tried to pound it into my head--sometimes quite literally--the need to scan. To get the overall Big Picture and pick out the patterns in things.
It worked quite well. I see patterns and trends and oddball things that jump out at me from the white noise of the Net and the news, both print and electronic. I'm not always cognizant of what it means but it sometimes provides me with clues and hints of events just over the horizon.
There are experts that do this sort of thing for a living, of course. Brainy folk that work in think tanks and focus groups and research organizations that are paid to predict stuff based on current and past events. They are quite a bit better than I at doing this--just imagine my surprise--and they get paid very well for it, too.
Wow. What a way to make a buck. I'm envious.
So what do I notice, surfing the Net and reading the papers? We are an incredibly arrogant bunch of smooth apes, that's what.
This is news? No, of course not. Every one of you that might read this are already aware of this and it's old news.
This extends to damn near every part of human civilization and into every nook and cranny of human relationships. Examples: wealthy people believe they're entitled to their wealth, even if they didn't earn it. Powerful people believe they are entitled to rule, even if they have the blood of innocent people on their hands. Elderly people believe they have the right to take up the whole damn aisle when they're in the supermarket. Young people believe they have the right to raise several different kinds of hell because they're young and youth, ah, youth is wholly experimental. Religious leaders believe they have the right to condemn others because they have a mandate from God/Allah/Big Juju/Whatever.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Or do you?
Do you really?
Stop and think about it for a moment. Think about the last time you got angry, experienced a bit of road rage because that asshole in front of you cut you off. (I always wondered what that meant. Took their turn first? Got there ahead of you? Or was just plain rude? Define rude.) Or perhaps you were nasty to that service person at the supermarket because they didn't load your groceries fast enough or just the way you wanted. Or the incompetent hairdresser who didn't get your color just right. Or the teller at the bank who didn't smile enough. Or the barrista who didn't fill your coffee cup high enough. Or too much.
Getting the pattern? No? Try this: how 'bout the price of gas these days? Terrible, isn't it? Awful. Over four bucks a gallon. It's an outrage!
Really? People in Europe have been paying the equivalent of that for well over a decade. They don't seem too outraged to me but maybe I just don't travel enough. (I don't travel at all, but that's another story, another installment of Chez' Rose.) They shrug and just drive less; ride a bike or walk.
Still not getting it? Let's go back to the service sector again because that's where the trend pops out at me in bright neon colors. Think about the last time you called the local PD or any other governmental service and demanded that they do something about that noisy party or that stupid neighbor with the weedy yard or those potholes in your street. Took a while, didn't it? Too long. You wanted satisfaction now.
Aha, you say. She's talking about instant gratification. Well, yes and no. Instant gratification is a symptom but only one of many. The truth is, we humans, Americans especially, have this ingrained sense of entitlement. We feel entitled. Entitled to perfect service, low prices, superior quality and the right to abuse anyone who happens to get in our way.
I gotta target and it's a beaut.
Hello there, Madison Avenue.
Now, we can lay some of this at the feet of regular human chauvinism that goes way back to the Roman Empire. I won't digress and tell you that a lot of our ingrained sense of superiority can be laid at the feet of a bunch of bad-tempered, arrogant Italians who have somehow managed to control the course of human history for almost three thousand years--although it's true--because the Asians can be pretty damned arrogant, too. So let's not talk about the Middle Kingdom or the Holy Roman Empire, either B.C. or A.D. because the scholarly works about both hemispheres of this tired old world already exist and it's too extensive.
Also: bloody, terrifying and just plain tragic.
No, let's focus on the good ol' US of A. My country 'tis of thee and allathat noise.
"The business of America," as Curious George said, rather fatuously, "is business." Yup, that's a fact. We are definitely the most capitalistic country in the world and everybody wants to ride in that fully-equipped Cadillac. Even the Chinese and Russians. (Mao, Lenin and Marx are spinning so fast in their graves right now, I'm surprised the Earth hasn't gone off its orbit.) Business means sales and sales mean advertising. Let me put that in caps so you get it:
Some years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled that advertising was a form of free speech. (They also ruled that a corporation has the same rights as a human being but again: subject matter for another installment.) Somehow, I don't think our Founding Fathers had that in mind when they included that particular provision in the Bill of Rights. First, corporations have a lot more money than the average citizen and thereby one massive advantage over the rest of us. They can shove these ideas into our ears and into our eyes and into our heads and what can you do?
You can make a sign and parade up and down the sidewalk. Print up some flyers and hand them out. (But be careful if you post them. Anti-litter laws, doncha know.) Stand on the street corner with a megaphone although that may get you arrested for disturbing the peace.
So: it's not a fair nor balanced system. But we'll come back to that in a moment. The Mad Men--no, haven't seen the series. I'm not interested in depressing myself--have a stranglehold on the First Amendment and that's all there is to it. They have the money and the numbers and the message is:
YOU ARE ENTITLED.
Entitled to the best, the finest, the top of the line, the coolest and the most expensive. (And if you happen to be an ignorant black kid from the ghetto, you're entitled to pick up a gun and take it, if you can get away with it. Actually, color has very little to do with it but we'll come back to that, too.)
It's pervasive and invasive and very, very subversive. It permeates every nook and cranny of our society and civilization and Madison Avenue has a vested interest in making sure that you believe it, with all your heart and soul. Because, if you don't, sales go down. If you don't believe you're entitled, you won't buy it. You won't spend the money. You won't do it and that's anathema to the whole heart of the capitalist system.
(Aha! someone in the back exclaimed. She's a socialist! Who, me? Why, how could you even think such a terrible thing?)
(I'd smile but I hate those emoticons and little smiley things you can do with colons and such.)
Nope, it doesn't matter if I'm a socialist, a communist or even an anarchist. It doesn't matter. Because we're a civilization that buys and sells things and we're entitled. Everything is for sale.
Even you and me.
Human beings. For sale. Like a loaf of bread or a pair of shoes or a gallon of gas.
There's a joke--attributed to Disraeli, I think--that goes something like this: He approached a woman at a reception or party and asked if she would be willing to sleep with him for a million pounds Sterling. She laughed, batted her eyelashes, fluttered her fan and, thinking he was flirting--he was stinkin' drunk--allowed as how she just might. So he asked her if she would for ten bob. Outraged, she said: "Of course not! Just what do you think I am?" He replied: "Madam, we have already established that, we are merely haggling over the price."
There are plenty more examples but you get the idea. We're all for sale. All of us. Each of us has a price and each of us, if we can meet the other's price, are entitled to purchase the other.
Still don't believe me? Folks, the Thirteenth Amendment didn't end slavery, it just made it unlawful. And, as we all know, in this country--and elsewhere--justice and the law are always for sale.
If you can afford it. If you can't, tough luck.
Thank you, Madison Avenue.
Yes, yes, I know. That incident with Disraeli happened long before there was a Madison Avenue and slavery has been around a lot longer than that. Madison Avenue just took the ball and ran with it.
And they're still running, with the blessings of the Supreme Court and the Government of the United States.
And you, my friends, are the ball they're running with and how does it feel?
To me, it feels like I'm being used and abused. I dunno, maybe years of poverty have made me feel like I'm not entitled. Maybe my father's pounding on me pounded that notion out of my thick little head.
But I still get pretty pissed-off when that barrista doesn't fill my cup to the lip. And I have to constantly remind myself that the other bloke is a human being, too.
And he or she may be perfectly aware that there's a price on their head but they're equally aware that some things are just not for sale.
I'd like to think that it applies to me, too. That you're not entitled to abuse me, use me and screw me out of my humanity and my alleged right to existence. Unless you happen to be a black/Hispanic/white/Asian kid from the bad part of town that wants what I have in my purse.
And if you have a gun, well, you're entitled, aren't you?
Le fortmaine. The strong right arm. Droit de signeur. The right of the master. Might makes right and a millennium ago it was a man at arms that could take what he wanted from a peasant, including his life. Of course, he might have to pay a small fee to the owner of that peasant but that was merely a minor legal matter. The man at arms didn't go to jail or suffer execution because he ended another's life, he just paid a pittance and that was that.
Is it any different now? I think not.
Look around you. Listen to the conversations drifting past your ears, especially that jerk with the cellphone who feels entitled to bellow into it while he's making the Deal Of The Century. Listen to the cadence, the substance of that speech and ask yourself:
The Constitution and Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence aside, exactly what am I entitled to?
Nothing, my friends. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Everything that you have, everything that you are or will ever be can be taken from you in the blink of an eye by the mugger's gun, the terrorist's bomb or the enemy fusion missile.
You are entitled to nothing. You exist by pure happenstance, even if you believe in God and His Master Plan for you and yours. Justice and law and entitlement are all human conceits and have nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of this existence.
You might have thought of me as a socialist somewhere in the middle of this article. No. I am a stochastic. Broadly speaking, that means that I, as a rational human being, have a responsibility to impose order upon the chaos and white noise of the Universe and human existence.
Responsibility. To me, to you and to this good, green Earth of Hours. Responsibility to behave graciously and courteously and with urbanity. I do otherwise at my peril, for to do otherwise means to sink back into the murk and mire of competition and fang against claw and the ubiquitous sense of entitlement that pits us against one another as if this were still the Stone Age and the winner--and still champion!--is the meanest ape with the biggest club. Or the shiniest Mercedes.
I try. Goddess, I try. I fail and I feel horrible guilt when I dis' that poor barrista and I go home and lay on my bed and stare at the ceiling and wonder if I'm ever going to evolve. I pray and I wonder if She's listening and then I realize that it doesn't matter if She is because it's my responsibility, not Hers.
Yours, too. Remember that, please. It's your responsibility to evolve beyond that hairy ape, that man at arms, that bad-tempered Italian or arrogant Mad Man.
It's up to you and me and all of us.
And good night and good luck.