This is the second in the series of my reflections on the “shifts of being” proposed by Jem Bendell in Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos (UK/USA 2021).
The word “entitlement” did not enter my vocabulary until I arrived here in the United States. In Guyana, we used the word “spoilt/spoiled” to describe other kids and youth our age who believed that they deserved the biggest and the best of everything, and that the rules of good conduct did not apply to them. In Brazil, the Portuguese equivalent of entitlement translates as “to have the right of or as deserving of.” In Brazilian vernacular, the spoiled or entitled rich kid earns the label of “daddy’s son or daughter.” Entitlement takes on additional manifestations among white, rich, and male humans in the advanced rich economies: the right to the pursuit of happiness; the right not to feel emotional pain and suffering; the right to have one’s feelings heard and validated; and the right to have one’s basic needs met (Jem Bendell, pp. 125-127).
It would be great if we could all have our basic needs met and have a voice in issues that affect and govern our lives. Instead, the entitled few among us take a far greater share of Earth’s natural resources and offer little return for our collective human production. They also hold the power to silence our voices when we cry out against the extreme inequality and injustice. While the entitled rich and powerful get away with major crimes—including our current threat of omnicide—minority and poor populations face draconian punishment, even death, for simple infractions of the law.
The entitled few use their power to rewrite and erase the painful, historical truth of the genocide of indigenous peoples, colonialism, chattel slavery, and Jim Crow laws. It’s one thing to deny the truth of information that would make us feel bad about ourselves. On the other hand, it’s disastrous for the rest of humanity when distressful reality affects our lives and demands collective action, on a global scale, for dealing with the situation.
People who pursue happiness as their life’s goal are entitled to their personal choices. Yet, what brings happiness today can lose its luster tomorrow, leading to cravings for new stuff, new excitement, and new distractions. Those of us who live outside the privileged “happiness bubble” must endure the fallout. The incessant human consumption and the waste generated degrade our planet’s ecosystems and destabilize its atmospheric system. Our species have now entered an uncertain future of unknown outcomes.
I don’t think of myself as having an entitlement mentality. But am I justified in declaring my innocence? After all, I enjoy the trappings of a comfortable lifestyle: indoor plumbing with hot and cold water, electricity at the touch of a switch, gas-operated heater in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer, to name a few. What’s more, five supermarkets, within a five-mile radius from my home, offer a diverse variety of fresh and other food items to satisfy my taste and diet. Do I share some degree of entitlement in thinking that my lifestyle is normal and acceptable?
You were raised from birth with a sense of entitlement, Child of Men. It is the Ancient Sequoia who speaks. You hold dear your divine right of dominion over the fish of the river and sea, the birds of heaven, all animals that roam the land, all seed-bearing plants, and all trees with seed-bearing fruit. In your short lifespan, you grasp for more and is forever on the move to expand your reach.
For over 2000 years, I stand tall as guardian over the Great Forest of the West. I have witnessed the vast and powerful empires of men rise and fall. Men have destroyed great forests to build their dwellings and their cities. They think nothing of all the living creatures, left homeless and hungry.
The Great Forests give freely to all and ask for nothing in return. Together with the Rain Goddess and the Sky God, we give life to Mother Earth. How foolhardy and fatal when men forget the source of the sweet air that quickens their hearts and mind. Take heed, Child of Men, lest you lose that which is most precious for your being.