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The Jehoshua Novels


elevated from the diaries ~ Ford writes regularly on music, Texas and cultural issues for The Agonist

by Don Henry Ford Jr.

I saw a roundtable discussion of Martin Luther King and his legacy this weekend past featuring two panelists of African origin and one white guy. During the discussion, the topic of entitlement programs came up.

In my neck of the woods, most (but not all) conversations involving conservative white members of the community and entitlements will soon degrade into talk about those worthless niggers on welfare that won’t work for a living. Sadly, in some cases, they’re right.

One of the black panelists made this point also with the following analogy. You don’t hear anyone complaining about how members of the black community are stealing all the jobs immigrants need.

I don’t think a guy like Martin Luther King envisioned large groups of healthy people perpetually living on the dole. He wanted equal opportunities for all–the chance to compete on a level playing field and share in the success when it’s earned.

Here is what you’ll hear few members of the white community bring up–the larger their bank account–the fewer the number: We also are destroyed by entitlements. We don’t think we should have to do any manual labor. We expect to earn lots of money, live in huge houses with the latest conveniences and eat the best food the world has to offer. Every kid expects a car and a credit card to go with it by the time he or she is 18, if not, before. American kids test 25th on educational evaluations against kids from other countries. Truth is, many adults from this community sit on their ass all day talking on the phone or playing computer games and they draw disproportionally large paychecks. Then they go home and park in front of a TV, remote in their hand.

They don’t work for a living either. Nor do their kids bleed in our wars.

As I look at my country, I believe we have become victims of our own success. We have become the fattest country in the world. We consume the most drugs, burn the most oil. Our kids are on Ritalin, our moms, Prozac. Not just the rich but even in poorer communities. People from other countries do our work for us.

What do we do about this?

Damned if I know. But the first step in fixing something or in this case avoiding a total catastrophic collapse is an honest evaluation of the way things are.

Here’s one thing that might help (and few will ever do). If you run a company, do a little work alongside your hands once in a while and take the time to see what life looks like from their point of view. When times get tough, and they soon will, don’t look just at the wages of your laborers, cut some of the fat out of your own salary. (What are the odds?) Travel if you can. Get out of the luxury tourist trap and see what’s happening in the world outside our borders. Remember that in the end, we are all in this together.

And remember a few words MLK once offered. An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.

Stokely Carmichael once said people are incapable of judging themselves. We better hope he was wrong.

We will reap what we sow in this world, sooner or later.

5 comments to Entitlements

  • Anonymous

    is the way I think many people feel- , not just people about welfare, but “white-collar just- getting-by” US citizens, not belonging to unions,  reporters with skills that our society pretends to value highly- look at some of the hatshly critical writing about the NYC transit workers strike. What else should the TA workers do, faced by possible cuts in what they had been told they were “entitled to” for pensions?

    A good op-ed piece, for Martin Luther King day, on this is: MLK’s legacy reaches into this century

    I don’t think entitlement is a dirty word.

    The kind of thoughtfulness and individual generousity you talk about is commendable,,but by itself it cannot replace mass action, as Martin Luther King well knew – or as 19th century writers like Dickens knew. It is charity, a moral virtue.

    In NYC:

    1. crossing over into a “real job”  presently represents a loss in income( part of it is displosable income for mass-produced self-described entitlements, but part, like living wages,  for real entitlements, like living space.,
    2. most workfare jobs do not train people for much and people on welfare know it.  Why give up a good thing for an alternative that, for instance, does not allow you the time to go to school to get more of a real job while you are on workfare? YOu have to have real support or be exceptional to do that by yourself.
    3. Teachers are retiring at NYC schools as early as they can because of larger classrooms, problems with increasing numbers of ADD children, no supplies (many teachers have to buy them for their kids), no rooms for music or art or even sports in a lot of the public schools, with cramming for standardized tests replacing, not augmenting,other methods of learning

    These senior teachers want to get out before their “entitlements” are cut.

    Are the teachers not entitled to? What are the kids entitled to?

    I think it’s the much written about culture of learned helplessness, not of entitlement at the bottom of the heap that’s more true, but the two can be hard to distinguish.

    The kids I tutor, in the main seem passive, fatalistic, and have only magical(rock star, pro basketball) schemes for getting out of the welfare culture.

    America always values the exception, and some kids seem to know what they have to do to get up and out from the bottom from the beginning, but all Americans have every right to feel entitled to a “good enough” education for all, a “good enough salary”, a “good enough” place to live  and “good enough health care “for everyone.

    But we don’t.

    I look at the public swimming pools built
    with public funding up until the 60′s that are now closed most of the year due to funding restrictions (who would dream of building a public swimming pool or middle class housing in Manhattan today?).

    But when I see those pools I know that entitlement was once a word people were proud to use.

    The “better than good enough” , the “excellent” can still remain for the driven.

  • Anonymous

    We live in an empire.

    Even our poor live off the sweat, blood and tears of those from foreign lands.

  • Anonymous

    Even farmers now line up at the local government office and make decisions about which crops to plant based on subsidy payments.

    There are times when it is more profitable for a crop to fail than to succeed in producing something.

    This too is a form of welfare and counter productive, but farmers don’t want to see that.

    We have quite a balancing act to make our form of government work. And it needs constant re-examination and tweaking.

  • Anonymous

    Seems to me the goal should be to raise the standard of all rather than to live extraordinarily easy lives at the expense of others–both on a person to person level, and also between nations.

    The question then is how do you accomplish this.

    We are now headed in the opposite direction. If things continue on the present course, one day the middle class will be gone, replaced by an ultrarich minority elite and hoardes of poor people.

    When you scratch off the veneer, there is little difference in the reality people face in so-called socialistic countries and so-called free market economies.

    Both end up looking like Orwell’s Animal Farm.

    At least that’s how I see it.

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