Thursday, August 26, 2010

Our complete sense of entitlement

This morning we were at a friend's place watching the rough cut of his new documentary film. Some one in the film says "given the amount of money in the city we really dont have to treat our poor so badly" This was in reference to a sloppily executed(as they all are)slum rehabilitation scheme. In response, George said, but there can be money in the city only if the poor are treated like this.

Stark and cynical, George uses this idiom often to make a point.

I got back to work and was nudged towards this link by some friends. Ofcourse it made me laugh out loud, but the chilling and accurate look at ourselves made me sit up.

We belong to a class that has a sense of entitlement that is probably unparalled in history. I deserve what I earn, I worked hard for it, implying you deserve what you get, thats probably how hard you worked for it. This view denies the privilege of class, education, even the basic nutrition that we take for granted. Two years back I was doing research in a cluster of villages where the HB levels of pregnant women was commonly below 5 ( the normal level should be above 12), and new born babies were considered healthy if their birth weight was above 1.5 kilos ( the normal level is above 2.5 kilos). It is absurd to say that my child and the child born in that village would be equal if given the same education. There is a difference and it goes way beyond these two little children. It begins with the mother's health, and a million other small details that seem inconvenient to us while discussing maids'demand for higher salaries and their unprofessional work ethic.

And I find a strange way of getting around this moment in history- a personal narrative of benevolence, of giving of one's free will but refusing to be cheated, or coerced into parting with what rightfully belongs to us. We have worked hard for the house we bought, my parents have worked hard for the house they bought. What they took for granted and so did we are some "small" privileges, access to the best education available at the time, and on the basis of that we now have the privilege of being called by our bankers offering loans, benefits and all kinds of perks available to their "dependable" customers! Ofcourse we are dependable, our mothers were not malnourished, four generations of women in our families have had access to education, our friends and family are the teachers, the law makers, the law enforcers, the bankers, the producers of goods,the marketers of these goods, the producers of the desire for these goods!

It is our perspective that defines our times. Ofcourse,we will have a complete sense of entitlement!


dipali said...

So much that we take so totally as our right, when it should be:
'There, but for the grace of God, go I.'
I hate the tone the so-called middle class uses when they talk about 'these people.' As though they have opted for poverty:(

Banno said...

Very well said, Sur. The circumstances of birth apart, most middle-class and rich people just fail to accept that they do everything in their power to keep the poor, poor.

ChoxBox said...

Yay Sur notes again!

The Soul of Alec Smart said...

Strangely this reminds of a completely different (and frustratingly closed) discussion I had with another blogger some time back, where she had suggested that there's nothing wrong with not wanting kids because there are so many kids in need of a home and love today. I disagreed and to summarize it - "There's nothing wrong with not wanting kids. Period. There are a lot of homeless kids. Period. Those are two separate statements. You want to do or not do something - great either way. But don't act saintly with the whole pitching in for society thing, and make it worse by imagining a halo over your head. That way, we must not have houses/ cars/ anything because really, compared to kids, these are much insignificant no?"

So you see it works both ways.

It's not so much entitlement, as it is dealing with chaos. The same people who crib about the maid's salary feel the guilt and pay the beggar child inspite of all the mumbo-jumbo about how it'll not go to them anyway. How - in this fortunate (because I know I am am) and unfortunate (because I am one of the fortunate ones) situation - am I supposed to react to the rest of the world? The best justification that comes up is the one associated with hard work: you keep yourself sane by telling yourself that you deserve this.. that it's not your fault that you have a roof over your head and someone else doesn't.

Why I said it works both ways in this case is because have you met the unapologetic rickshaw-wallah who thinks fleecing you isn't a big deal because you have everything? Isn't that a sense of entitlement? Sometimes I let it go, because I know it's his own way of dealing with the fact that he needs the money and this is one way of getting it apart from slogging his butt off. Sometimes though I snap, because my own defence mechanism kicks in - I'm not bloody Bill Gates either.

Hope I make sense. I missed your blog when it went private.. you write really well.

SUR NOTES said...

soul of alec smart: i am trying to take the focus away from my individual acts of benevolence or anger towards the "cheating" auto driver, or the "thieving" maid. I am referring to our generation feeling entitled to the comfortable life we have and linking it to our individual hard work/ education alone. I think in earlier generations the middle class was far more aware of the system that allowed our access to health, education and opportunities, a system that excludes more than half the population.

I emphasise again we are the law makers, the law enforcers, we are the bankers who decide who should get loans and who is a dependable customer.

The research i talk about in my blog post led to a film on a community health programme run by a bunch of gandhian doctors. One of the doctors admonishes a younger doctor "pregnancy is not about prescriptions and protocol alone. you have to engage with the context..." Our bankers, law makers, policy makers are a lot like the young doctor.

Space Bar said...

Sur: lovely post. Thanks for the note of sanity.

The Soul of Alec Smart: I think you perhaps unwittingly put your finger on it with these words: "The best justification that comes up is the one associated with hard work: you keep yourself sane by telling yourself that you deserve this."

The sense of entitlement that Sur talks about is nothing short of justification and burying one's head in the sand rather than face up to the reality of what's around. One's sanity depends on it, after all.