Right-wingers confuse rights and entitlements.

I’ve been talking a great deal about both rights and entitlements because they are key concepts in framing socio-political issues. They are, to a certain extent, opposites: rights are things we believe people are rightfully owed, and entitlements are things people believe they are owed on the sole basis of their social role. The former is seen as reasonable and legitimate, the latter as unjustified greed.

This can lead people to make switcharoos by framing rights as entitlements or vice-versa. Right-wingers rant that poor people feel “entitled” to get free food or money. This is linked with hatred for the poor. This is also applied to other segments of society.

Why do lazy people and abominations feel entitled to the money of those who work?

Why do people assume it is fair to take money from somebody who bothers to get out of bed and work, to feed the lazy cockroaches who don’t bother to take responsibility for their lives and such?

It is not. To force somebody to pay for the idle and unworthy is no more than an abomination.

In the view of many commentators and pundits, all citizens have an entitlement to be relieved of their poverty, which they believe, would best be accomplished by throwing other people’s money at the poor. This article makes the case that not only do the impoverished not have any such right, but the attempt to furnish them with wealth earned by others constitutes theft and does not help them in any case.
Sexual harassment and child rape advocate Walter Block

Feminists as a whole have a sincere belief that they are entitled to having society – and in particular men and taxpayers – adapt to and support their absurd beliefs. They feel women are entitled to murder their unborn babies if they can’t be bothered look after them, with the taxpayers picking up the bill. The feel entitled to maternity leave on full-pay, compensation if their feelings are ‘hurt’ in the workplace, jobs they’re not qualified for through positive discrimination. They feel the world not only owes them a living but that it owes them a comfortable and responsibility-free life as well, and they feel entitled to carry on whining even when they’ve largely achieved this.

There is a strong link with the concept that this “entitlement” is wrong because it’s about taking “other people’s money.” But this argument is predicated upon an atomistic view of labor, that those who are rich “earned their money through their own labor,” which right-wingers also hold. This of course is nonsense. If we earned our resources through our own labor, we would not have cars, computers or electricity, as no one person has all the knowledge to produce any of these things. Everyone’s labor is intricately linked to everyone else’s labor. So however much money you have, it’s not “your money,” and if you claim more than your share of the social product, you are the thief.

From the right-wing perspective, an entitlement is something we “assume,” something we “feel,” it is a “belief.” This language demonstrates that they believe they are the rational response to the “emotional” minority (as minorities are always portrayed as irrational and angry). So we find that their distinction is based on the same old stereotypes that they use to stigmatize poor people, black people, women, and so on; they are rational, fact-based and honest, and poor people are irrational, belief-based and dishonest thieves who are just looking for an opportunity to steal people’s hard-earned money (if you’re a poor woman, then you’re doubly irrational and dishonest).

In the right-wing view, rights can only be negative rights (i.e. rights to not be subjected to something), and there is no such thing as positive rights. So welfare must necessarily be an entitlement, not a right, since it involves receiving something from others. But as I’ve argued before, it does us no good to say a person has a right to something if ey does not have access to the resources necessary for that something (e.g. talking about a right to health in a society where most cannot afford health care). There is no difference between stating an exclusively negative right and no right at all; a right that cannot be expressed or enforced in any way is a mere theoretical curiosity, not a reality.

It’s interesting that these right-wingers, who berate poor people for feeling entitled to welfare, don’t identify their dependence on firefighters when a building goes up in flames as “a culture of entitlement,” or the presence of lifeguards on a beach as “swimmers feeling entitled.” The difference, of course, is that people who need the help of firefighters or lifeguards are not as easily stereotyped as poor people, so they are bad targets for right-wing prejudice.

What is the root of the right-wingers’ complete confusion between rights and entitlements? It is quite obviously a case of projection. Right-wingers constantly accuse the dispossessed of feeling entitled because they themselves are, or support, entitled assholes:

Britain, like much of the developed world, is imploding under a culture of entitlement, a species of socio-economic pestilence that collapses the superstructure of modern life into its soft and rotten core. The trouble is that the people with this dangerous and misplaced sense of entitlement aren’t jobseekers, homeless youngsters and single mothers. They’re the people sitting on the boards of investment banks, none of whom will be worried by the Prime Minister’s recent proposal of further cuts to the welfare budget – including stopping housing benefit for under-25s.

Entitlement, you see, is relative. Poor people tend to feel entitled to three meals a day and a place to live that doesn’t make their kids sick. Rich people occasionally feel entitled to enormous tax breaks, speedboats and, in some cases, actual titles. Only the first type of entitlement is being outlawed, even though a reasoned, widespread sense of entitlement to a decent basic standard of living has been one of the few things dragging human progress forward over the past several centuries.

So we’re talking here about a level of blaming-the-victim as insane as right-wingers claiming that “immigrants” are responsible for sinking the economy or taking away jobs, or that women are responsible for their own rape. We are the victims of rich people’s sense of entitlement, and their supporters deflect attention by talking about the “entitlement” of people who just want three square meals a day. The rhetoric of entitlement is a strategy used to nullify human needs and human rights so the rich can benefit. But furthermore:

Evidence suggests it is rich, well-educated, higher-status people who feel entitled, not the poor.

A Berkeley University study last year found that people in the upper echelons of society were more likely to lie, cheat, take things meant for others, cut off other road users and endorse unethical behaviour in others. Why? Because they feel entitled. They are clever and have the money to cut corners and hire lawyers if needed. These elite are less empathetic to others, less altruistic, more individualistic and more greedy.

Another study by Professor Howard Gardner at Harvard University, on the meaning of ”good work”, asked professionals how they juggled their ambition to succeed against their desire to work responsibly and ethically. They claimed that values such as fairness, scientific objectivity, truthful reporting and work-life balance were important to them. But, in practice, many compromise these principles to advance in their professions. They will, they say, change their behaviour once established and successful.

Note that, unlike right-wingers who believe that all poor people are lazy dishonest cheats, I am not arguing that rich people are all lazy dishonest cheats: people are people, no matter how much money they have. But radicals are well aware that, while they are decried as angry and irrational and do their very best to remain objective and fair in order to escape that stereotype, they face off against opponents who have no incentive or desire to be objective or fair. Anything from beating up protesters up to genocide is fair game to “suppress dissent.” Any excuse can justify attacking people’s basic human rights, as long as it sounds good.

So we must state clearly that having enough food and having a place to live in are basic human rights, and that no amount of elitist whining can turn it into an entitlement. We must state clearly that the equality of all persons is necessary and that arguing against this is bigotry. We must state clearly that people who already are equipped with everything they need not only to live but to flourish should not be laying claims over those who do not or suppressing their rights. We must state clearly that we are sick and tired, as workers, as consumers and as taxpayers, of subsidizing rich people’s lifestyles.

Ayn Rand was wrong: the leeches, the moochers, the second-handers, are not the socialists, but the capitalists. Incidentally, Ayn Rand herself made a fortune off preaching the trader principle and a neo-liberalist government, and then drew government assistance for the rest of her life, so she truly is a great symbol for the current parasite class.

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7 thoughts on “Right-wingers confuse rights and entitlements.

  1. Arno Noack May 18 2013 at 22:25 Reply

    I would just like to point out that the wealthy are indeed all lazy greedy moral relativist cheats and thieves.

    • Francois Tremblay May 18 2013 at 22:27 Reply

      Well, I don’t think they’re all lazy. As I wrote:
      “Note that, unlike right-wingers who believe that all poor people are lazy dishonest cheats, I am not arguing that rich people are all lazy dishonest cheats: people are people, no matter how much money they have.”

    • Francois Tremblay May 20 2013 at 15:16 Reply

      I’ve got an entry on self-identification on my queue, so I’ll make sure to add a quote or two from this entry. It’s very good.

  2. […] lead to a muddled ideology (here is one example). They believe that social safety nets are “entitlement.” They assume that our current property scheme and distribution scheme are not only the way […]

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