why is "entitled" a dirty word? some thoughts on what we are all entitled to.
When did "entitled" become a dirty word? Why do we hear "entitled" being used as catch-all slur, a derogatory description to be thrown at progressive people working for change? And why should we permit this word to retain such a heavily negative connotation?
Here are some people I have seen called entitled in this negative sense by bloggers and commenters. Brigette DePape. Occupy protesters. Refugee claimants. Quebec student protesters. People opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Voters who believe they were defrauded by the Conservative Party of Canada.
Here is a synonym for entitled: deserve.
Here is another synonym for entitlements: rights.
Some of our entitlements are specified in national documents, such as the US Constitution or the more comprehensive and inclusive Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.
Other entitlements are specified in international documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are rights that most people in the world lack. Nevertheless, there is widespread agreement that these rights - these entitlements - should exist for all human beings, regardless of where they were born, what they look like, and their individual beliefs.
Other entitlements are those of custom, part of the aspirations and traditions of the so-called developed word, rights and privileges which many in our society already enjoy, and that many of us believe should be available to all.
Here are some of the things all human beings are entitled to.
• Democracy. Human beings are entitled to self-governance. In countries claiming to be democracies, citizens are entitled to vote without encountering undue obstructions or restrictions. They are entitled to the assurance that their vote will be counted fairly and meaningfully, and that no system exists that negates the concept of "one person, one vote".
• Dissent. Human beings are entitled to voice their grievances against governments without fear of harassment, intimidation, imprisonment, or abuse. Humans are entitled to access mechanisms by which we can meaningfully affect government policies and practices.
• Clean air and water. Human beings are entitled to breathe air and drink water that is not toxic at no substantial cost and without generating private profit for others.
• Healthcare. Period.
• Affordable housing. Same.
• Bodily integrity. Human beings are entitled to be free from torture, forced or coerced military service, forced or coerced reproduction or sterilization, state-sponsored death, and the fear of any of these. Human beings are entitled to express their sexuality in any way they choose with any other consenting adults.
• Education. As formal education is often a requirement of meaningful participation in society, all people in society are entitled to participate in that education, without being unreasonably burdened by debt for years or decades to come. This right has been established by custom and tradition by previous generations, many members of whom now deny the right to younger generations.
• A means of support. We are entitled to jobs by which we can support ourselves and our families, without fear of hunger, homelessness, or poverty. If we are unable to work or if no such work exists, we are entitled to an alternate means of support.
• Expression. Human beings are entitled to express their thoughts through discussion, debate, writing, music, art, and any available media without fear of intimidation, harassment, imprisonment, or other reprisals.
• Spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions, and the expression of those. This includes the right to wear what we choose.
Protesters who are engaged in struggles to retain these human rights, or to make meaningful rights that exist only in theory, are not entitled in some new negative use of the word. They are entitled because they are human beings and they have rights - rights that their detractors should also enjoy and exercise.
Fighting these struggles does not make us whiners, or spoiled, or lazy, or selfish. Indeed, if detractors and critics would put aside their preconceived notions and join us, however experimentally, even for one day, I believe they'd find it's exactly the opposite.