Entitlement comes in many shapes and sizes, from the gym to parking. And religious people. It's pretty much baked into the system.

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I work out at a local gym almost every day. Today it was too much. Too much workout? No. Too much entitlement. When I walked in and looked at the exercise machine that I usually start with., it was unoccupied…

Or so I thought.

As I approached, I saw a towel draped across the seat. Somebody was staking a claim. So, on to the next machine on my list. Nope. This one had a cell phone on the seat. The owners of the towel and phone were nowhere to be seen. Visiting the restroom, getting a drink of water, or just having a friendly little bull session with their buddies. Meanwhile, nobody else could use those machines. They apparently felt that their time was more valuable than others in the gym. They should not have to wait an instant for access to the machine, but they didn’t have a problem with making others wait.

There are countless other examples of such self-centered behavior. Many in our current society prattle about “my body, my choice,” with regard to masks or vaccinations. Even if they are willing to accept the risk to themselves, they know damn well that their actions put other people at risk. It’s all about them. Nobody else matters.

Will we ever return to a ‘we’ society, where citizens share common goals, and work together to hammer out compromises to achieve them?

Back to the gym: There is a big sign on the front door stating that masks are required even if you are vaccinated. But most of the people in the gym were not wearing masks! The young people on the front desk are not courageous enough to confront the violators, and I don’t blame them. They are not paid enough to take on that kind of enforcement role. There should be a uniformed guard at the door denying entrance to unmasked people.

Another example: One of my pet peeves is people who blithely assume that the rules of society don’t apply to them. You know the type. They park in no-parking zones, or in handicapped parking. Sometimes they have the little blue tag hanging on their mirror. But when they bounce out of their car and run into the supermarket, it’s clear that the only handicap they have is their sense of entitlement.

On the freeways around here, traffic is horrendous. Some people get frustrated if anybody is holding them up. I was driving along at a nice sedate 75 mph, only ten over the speed limit, but a guy in a huge pickup came up behind me, right on my rear bumper. When I didn’t move over to the next lane, he illegally crossed into the commuter lane, and then crossed back in front of me. It was very close. His rear bumper was no more than a few inches from my front bumper. His lane crossing was violent, meant to scare me. It did. If he had hit me, I probably would have spun out of control, and the result would have been a very bad accident. Entitlement and testosterone are a lethal combination.

And finally, we get to the core of entitlement in our society: Religious entitlement.

Religious believers enjoy a multitude of special privileges…the churches get tax exemptions, and their members get tax deductions on contributions to them. These entitlements are granted by the government. They claim that the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution trumps (sorry) the Establishment Clause. But the reality is that the Christian majority in this country has mandated those entitlements from its very beginning. Now that secularists are growing in political power, those entitlements are defended on the grounds of history, tradition, and legal precedence. Slavery defenders used the same arguments a hundred and sixty years ago. The day may come when organized religion’s free ride will be seriously challenged.

But wait, there’s more! Now, since the passage of the infamous, and egregiously misnamed, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, religious believers are allowed to discriminate against people they don’t like on religious grounds. Talk about entitlement! A nonbeliever can face criminal prosecution for doing the same thing. A “get out of jail free card” is an incredibly empowering special entitlement granted only to religious believers.

It would be negligent of me to leave out the most extreme example of entitlement this nation has ever seen…a person who considered himself above the law, who flouted the principle of separation of powers defined by the Constitution. His support for the insurrection that was intended to overthrow the election that he lost puts this individual in a class all by himself. Only a colossal ego would allow a person to feel so self-entitled.

That applies, to a lesser extent, to all the people in the above examples. No person without an inflated sense of self-importance would do such things.

It has been said that America is in the grips of a ‘me’ society. Entitlement is only one aspect of that. We have lost our sense of community, and commitment to the common good of all citizens. Instead, we have divided ourselves into tribes of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Each demonizes the other, but only one of those tribes actually attempted to destroy our democratic society.

Will we ever return to a ‘we’ society, where citizens share common goals, and work together to hammer out compromises to achieve them?

Maybe that’s too idealistic. I would settle for everybody wearing masks at the gym, and when they leave a machine, they take all their stuff with them.

A trip of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

Bert Bigelow graduated from the University of Michigan engineering school, and then pursued a career in electronic systems and software design. He has always enjoyed writing, and since retirement, has produced short essays on many subjects. His main interests are in the areas of politics and religion, and the intersection of the two. You can contact him at bigelowbert@gmail.com.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...