There’s a turn of phrase that’s been around for a while now: “entitlement culture”. The right wing has this meme that they’ve been foisting on the public that people who are on welfare, people who are on disability, people who are on social security, believe themselves to have certain “entitlements” and that their laziness — read, their expectation that they should get these things — suggests by itself that they shouldn’t actually get what they think they deserve. Interestingly enough, the targets of these particular memes are uniformly the underprivileged — those who are the hardest done by this society, those who have fallen on hard times and aren’t even allowed bootstraps by which to pull themselves back up.
It’s especially noteworthy that the language around this phenomenon is already so polluted by people horrified at the idea that people with nothing might actually need resources to help pull them out of the depths of their despair, and that this is one of those times when the truth of who has a sense of undeserved entitlement is the inverse — it’s always the people who already have it all and think they won it fair and square. The people who’ve spread the meme so successfully have turned the whole argument on its head. And what’s worse is, this same argument about entitlement is happening over and over again, in every single community, under a number of different names, about topics as diverse as birth control and police brutality and video games. In every case, the language is twisted to the advantage of the right-wing reactionary mindset, and somehow we who are anywhere left of Glenn Beck are caught flat-footed by it all, time and again.
There are dozens of disparate threads within my fields of interest with which I’m going to attempt to pick them all up and weave into a single unified tapestry. I may jump around quite a bit, apologies in advance. I’m going to have to start by defining some terms, before I start giving you some examples of what I’m talking about.
To begin with, as I’ve hinted, the phrase “entitlement culture” is bandied about quite a bit by the people with the biggest senses of entitlement, so I’m going to more loosely define entitlement and entitlement culture to indicate the generalized way in which society inculcates a sense that we are each owed a certain amount of leeway, resources, opportunities, and favours from one another with respect to things that we may desire. While right-wingers usually only include things like food, shelter, or money as “entitlements”, I’m perfectly happy to include things like preferential treatment, respect, the right to use someone else’s property how you see fit, the right to control others how you see fit, and the right to have a monopoly over any particular sphere just because a monopoly is what you virtually have presently.
The “culture war” in my title is the very real war-of-ideas happening in cultures constantly, between schools of philosophy, morality and even epistemology, especially as regards who should get what resources under what circumstances. The “warriors” on both sides are ideologues and philosophers, polemics and people who try to take a nuanced approach to topics.
There are a great many people for whom the current setup of society benefits. These people are privileged, to define the term in exactly the dictionary sense of the word. For these people, conservatism — in the sense of keeping things the way they are, fighting for the status quo — is directly beneficial, because to do otherwise might come at the risk of a loss of resources. This mental calculation seems to be made by conservatives in exactly this manner, even if re-balancing a privilege does not come at the cost of actually losing any rights, as with the case of gay marriage — allowing gays to marry does not in any way prevent straights from marrying or abridges or abrogates any of their rights, but right-wingers will often complain that gay marriage will “destroy the institution”, or otherwise cheapen the right that they have, simply by virtue of that right no longer being exclusive to them.
Imagine if you will a very twisted version of the Ultimatum Game, wherein one person gets a hundred dollars no matter what, and gets to decide how much money out of a second pile of cash to give to the second (underprivileged) person, and that underprivileged person has absolutely no say (not to mention no interest) in removing money from the first player’s pile. If the first person is the sort of conservative reactionary we’re talking about, they will act significantly differently with regard to the position of power they now have over the other than a progressive might. For the conservative, if the underprivileged person asks for any money, it somehow devalues the money the first player has, even though they can’t actually give themselves more than that hundred dollars. Even though it affects their pile of cash not one whit, the very idea that there would then be TWO hundred dollars between the two players, that there would be real equality between them, is abhorrent to someone who desires not only all the rights, but to have bragging rights that they have money and the other player doesn’t. Somehow to people of this mindset, only having THE SAME rights as someone else, rather than having MORE rights than someone else, makes those rights “cheaper”.
You see the same sort of scenario with regard to the reactionary movement against feminists, the “Men’s Rights Advocates”. These are generally men (and a few token women) who only actually fight against women’s attempts at fixing or curtailing rigid gender roles and actual systemic biases against them, rather than fighting to fix actual inequities men might face. Despite the fact that men do in fact suffer indignities like being shipped off to war or denied custody, owing exclusively to the rigid gender roles that circumscribe him as breadwinner and soldier, and that circumscribe the woman as homemaker and child-rearer, these men will fight the women who argue against these rigid structures that also disadvantage women in other ways. These men often see gender equality as a zero sum game — and they strongly feel that since women now have the vote and are allowed to work and seek divorces, they have gained already too much control. The reactionaries range anywhere from deluded by the arguments presented, all the way to flat-out misogynist. They fight inequalities from the misperception that somehow women have all the power with regard to sexual relations, e.g. that they control the “supply of pussy” and therefore are only withholding that supply from these men’s demands out of spite or malice, all the way to the misperception that women somehow control everything and can get any man they please thrown into jail indefinitely, merely by lying and calling them rapists.
The ribbons of entitlement within the MRA movement should already be plain in the last paragraph, but I’ll highlight one of them nonetheless. Men are enculturated to believe that they should be purely sexual beings; that their worth is defined by how much sex they’re able to get; other factors like money or status only serve to improve their reproductive fitness and help them to fulfill their sex quota. They are further enculturated to believe that if they can’t get the sex they deserve, it’s because of the adversarial nature of the process — that men should seek sex from women and women will do whatever they can to avoid it — never mind that women actually enjoy sex and that these women actually enjoy sex more specifically with partners that they do not find repugnant for any of a number of reasons, including that these men happen to think of sex as both their birthright and something they have to wrestle away from or somehow trick unsuspecting women into giving up.
And religious privilege inculcates in its participants the idea that sex is only good for procreation, and that once babby is formed, the only correct course of action is to see it through to term. Any attempt at granting the woman who would otherwise be forced to carry a baby to term the right to choose whether or not this should happen, is somehow an abrogation of the religious’ right to decide what others get to do with their bodies — that these religious folks, even though their holy books don’t actually say anything like “every life is sacred” or “life begins at conception”, somehow get more of a say about what happens to a real, living, viable human being than she herself does if there’s the merest possibility that that real, living, viable human being might be pregnant with a parasitical clump of cells that might, potentially, eventually become another human being. By virtue of following the right imagined god for a region, suddenly you are granted more rights over a potential-mother’s body than that woman is herself. And woe betide anyone who tries to right that imbalance of power.
This is the sort of entitlement that society actually enculturates in people — not entitlement to health care to keep the populace alive and productive, in Western culture, where even in Canada that notion is under assault. Not entitlement to enough cash to keep yourself and your family alive long enough to scrape by and try to find enough work to bring you back up to the middle class. Not entitlement to withdraw from the lifelong insurance policy that is welfare that you might have been paying into for decades. Entitlement to things that you already have, that other people might want some of too, like in the jacked-up version of the Ultimatum Game I described earlier. That’s what our society actually enculturates in us. The idea that people simply want to live off the government dole while other hard-working citizens can barely scrape by is laughable on its face. And yet you still see Fox News and other right-wing outlets truly outraged that poor people have refridgerators and microwaves, or that they might have television sets, with zero regard to how old the set or what its origins might have been.
While I was working-poor in Nova Scotia, I had a dishwasher, because I saw one on the side of the road and dragged it home — physically, on foot — and repaired it. I was barely able to meet all my bills while working all the overtime I could get, and I still managed to use my good fortune and brains to save me on dishwashing, that little bit of labour that made my days already significantly more labour-intensive. I will not judge a person for the appliances they’ve managed to pull together for free or cheap, I will not judge a person for having access to an appliance that actually makes it so you do not die of starvation or heat exhaustion. Nor will I even begrudge them an appliance that lets them actually engage in the culture they need to be able to interact with other human beings on a regular basis, like cell phones to communicate, or televisions to receive culturally-important communications that help shape your interactions with others. I’ll also point out that it’s only since I’ve reached a point of financial stability and since culture itself has become more accepting of alternative forms of entertainment in a world so bountiful with diverse forms of entertainment in recent years, that I’ve been able to forego cable with its one-size-fits-all entertainment value, and use video games and Netflix to play and watch what I please.
Speaking of video games, Gamergate. You knew this was coming, admit it.
The entitlement within Gamergate is so thick you have no hope of getting to the corrupt core of this movement if you haven’t been following it from the beginning (although this is as complete a history as you’ll find), especially given the tactics that have been employed in its service. This is a movement that began with the ex boyfriend of an indie developer going to a few hives of misogynist thought in 4chan and Reddit, those bullied-who-have-become-the-bullies after learning that they have some measure of power in the digital age, and convincing them that getting revenge on this ostensibly awful human being for dumping such a sterling example of humanity as Eron Gjoni. Regardless of their toxic relationship, regardless of how neither was well suited to the other or how either may have been emotionally abusive to the other, just look at the revenge Gjoni got on Zoe Quinn: he called down the wrath of hundreds of jilted misogynist nerds to make her life an ongoing living hell.
The kicker of the story is that none of Zoe Quinn’s supposed lovers ever reviewed her game. One of them mentioned it briefly in another review, before they’d even started seeing each other. The further kicker of it is, the game was released for free. And she had been a target even prior to Gjoni dishing to 4chan and Reddit, simply because her game — a simple text adventure about how a person with depression deals with daily interactions — wasn’t “game” enough for them. They were essentially horrified that anything so unlike the games they liked were actually still classified as games. Likewise with Gone Home, a story about a gay teenager coming to grips with her sexuality, which is still a game despite the fact that it doesn’t have a single character model in the game whatsoever. The fear of alien, the fear of emotions, the fear of story and making actual art out of video games, is so palpable amongst a young and blatantly misogynist crowd that it’s resulted in a number of women being bullied horribly out of the industry altogether — including a number of prominent women developers.
Of course, blatant misogyny and revenge against an evil woman for having sex with a number of people is simply not a good look for any movement, so one tiny aspect of the original story was latched onto by the braintrusts in the secret “ops” backchannels — that supposedly one of the guys with whom Zoe Quinn had allegedly had sex, thereafter gave her a good review for her (I remind you, FREE) indie game Depression Quest. This sort of action was deemed “journalistic corruption” within the games journalism industry, and the movement had found their nucleation point — they were going to be about ethics in journalism, and they would use that watch-word to finally purge the industry the love so much of all those women and minorities and anyone who actually gave a damn about diversity. They would purge the industry of these people, whom they know as “Social Justice Warriors”, e.g. anyone who disagrees with the rank conservatism of keeping video games a white male hobby by virtue of its preexisting virtual monopoly.
Indeed, one such example of this conservatism directly setting their agenda is when they deemed a 7.5 out of 10 rating for Bayonetta 2 to be corruption because the reviewer took issue with the hypersexualization of the game, when all the other industry’s magazines had given the game between a 9 and 10. To consider this corruption because one reviewer had a distaste for one of the main political aspects of the game with regard to gender relations, one must assume that none of the other reviews explicitly gave it high marks for the sexist displays. One must further assume that the default stance with regard to hypersexualization is to be neutral about it, as though it is in itself a neutral stance and has no implications on women in general. The “overton window” on this particular stance is so pulled far toward the sexist side that one must accept hypersexualization as a natural part of video games as though catering to the demographic that enjoys that sort of thing is the only reasonable thing to do, despite the fact that the actual population of video game players has shifted in their politics and their beliefs significantly over time, and that catering to the smallest subset of people exclusively results in alienating a large swathe of potential buyers.
It’s ironic that the Gamergate phenomenon is ostensibly about corruption in video game journalism, but the only targets that these reactionaries have gone after have been small indie developers, while ignoring massive instances of collusion between journalists and game devs, like the purchasing of good reviews for Shadow of Mordor, or the ownership of Game Informer by Gamestop, or EA giving huge wads of cash to IGN. All of these are real issues of corruption, but none of these involve “social justice” journalists, so they are simply not targets on the movement’s radar. No, they’re far more concerned that someone like Leigh Alexander might say that the time of the “gamer identity” is over, now that games are so mainstream as to be nearly ubiquitous. To dare suggest that self-proclaimed “hardcore gamers” are already not the entirety of their own demographic is encroachment on their territory — territory to which they feel desperately and reactionarily entitled, and to whom any expansion of the core mission of games-that-white-dudes-like is anathema. Those formerly bullied have become bullying gatekeepers to the identity, and the idea that they may no longer be “special snowflakes” horrifies them to the point of revolt.
The people involved in Gamergate from the beginning even recognized that this entire endeavour was doomed to failure if they looked themselves like a small core of white dudes defending the industry against anything that might appeal to any group other than them — never mind that their Call of Duty and Bayonetta wouldn’t cease to exist if the gaming ecosystem were to grow beyond them and them alone. On top of creating a red-headed girl in a stripey sweater they call Vivian James as their mascot, to feminize the outward appearance of the movement, they also created a parallel hashtag on Twitter to go with Gamergate, called NotYourShield. In this hashtag, supposed women and people of colour and trans folk (most of whom were brand new accounts, used images found off the internet, added buzzwords they thought were Social Justice Warrior tells, and used names like “La’trine” — I mean, really) supported the movement. They apparently agreed with the idea that video games should cater exclusively to white dudes, and would act as tokens and would act as Gamergate’s shield while proclaiming themselves “not YOUR shield” — that their minority status shouldn’t be used by those fighting the Gamergaters as examples of minorities they were directly harming with their rhetoric. It’s a dirty tactic, but one that’s all the more deplorable insofar as it generally worked to a small degree and that some small percentage of these folks were actually underprivileged classes, though nothing like the majority of the participants. There are always people of colour and women and trans folk actually willing to justify the system that systematically underprivileges them. The effort is undercut when they accept literal neo-Nazis with giant swastika tattoos, of course, but I’m happy to let them show their slips.
And every time a woman is targeted by these sorts of harassment campaigns, and actually speaks out about it, the rhetoric turns quickly to them being “professional victims”, that they are somehow making a living off of all of the hard work that the trolls have put into harassing them. Or that the rape threats and death threats and targeted, concerted harassment are actually their own fault — false flag operations, or made up by the victims themselves. That when these people’s home addresses are published, that it was somehow their own fault for making these addresses available for other reasons, or that it was somehow their own fault because by discussing harassment they were actually inviting the concerted attention that they complain about now. That somehow the fame of being infamous is itself an enviable position, as the media tut-tuts about how awful they have it while nobody’s actually listening to the “legitimate” complaints or “mere disagreement” these trolls supposedly want to engage in. So there’s a sense of entitlement even over the spotlight that these people never actually asked for. There’s a sense of entitlement to write rape and death threats directly in the response fields to Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency videos, and if she doesn’t allow those, then she’s “censoring” debate.
We’ve all seen that sort of entitlement before around the blogosphere, too. Even here, wherein I’m but the smallest microcelebrity in a tiny subset of a tiny special interest group, a nobody who has simply had the good fortune of finding a berth on a blog network with a number of other like-minded individuals and a built-in rogues gallery of trolls, there are people who think that they are entitled to use my platform to spout their own nonsense — that if you make a user-input form anywhere on the internet, you are required by the First Amendment of the US Constitution to allow anyone to use it as they see fit, and if you don’t you’re somehow a fascist nazi something something enemy of free speech, squashing that speech that is obviously so devastating to your ideas simply out of fear of their sheer awesomeness. The wider the audience of the comment field in question, the more likely you are to encounter this sort of irrational and self-satisfied troll, for whom the absolute right to use YOUR hardware to post THEIR unrivaled genius to the intertubes is inviolable. That somehow, moderating them away from your page — or hell, even blocking them on social media, a form of muting them from your and only your own timeline, is enough to send them into paroxysms of righteous fury that their GOD-GIVEN RIGHT to a bullhorn in your face was somehow violated. That if I plug my ears, I’m censoring you. That freedom of speech somehow entitles you to a platform and a specific audience of your choosing.
Hell, you even get people who rally to the defense of people who have very probably done something extremely immoral, and likely out of a desire to be able to get away with doing that same thing themselves. People who not only argue that the thing in question is not proven, but simultaneously argue that it’s not actually immoral, even while throwing out dog-whistle tells to other true believers that they actually themselves believe the event to have happened exactly as the narrative had unfolded publicly. This sort of undercurrent of spite belies the motivations of the people in question.
You see this with the memes about Gamergate that ultimately can’t actually point to any corruption, but rely on Zoe Quinn and subtle or overt references to the number 5, the number of guys she supposedly slept with within the games journalism community (either while seeing Gjoni, or thereafter).
You see this with the harassment that Michael Shermer has allegedly engaged in within our communities, where the people rushing to his defense and donating to his legal offense fund, or even the man himself in a tweet about a speech in Germany, give little nods to the idea of filling a woman’s glass without her knowledge even while they fight to undermine any societal structure in which a woman might be taken seriously about such an allegation.
You see this in the case of the Ferguson protests, wherein supporters of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot unarmed teenager Mike Brown multiple times, hitting him six times, created a Cardinals jersey in his honour with “Darren Wilson” and the number 6 on the back in order to raise funds for him — despite the fact that several fundraising efforts have already netted him more than half a million dollars. And we know the jersey is a nod to the shooting of Mike Brown, and does not actually support Darren Wilson because the people in question think he’s innocent — rather that they think the shooting of an unarmed black man was justified and ultimately laudable.
The financial aspect of entitlement culture is also palpable. When we human beings ask others for charity, even those of us who give generously of ourselves find we have to walk a certain line lest there be backlash. We are expected not to misrepresent what we plan on doing with the money, thus the huge backlash against an anonymizing router kickstarter because it claimed to use a custom board when it was actually using off-the-shelf parts and poorly configured open source software as its base for its prototypes. We are expected to use money given in ways that exactly correspond with how we claim to be using them, and even in cases where there was absolutely no misrepresentation — even when we’ve made it absolutely clear what the money is for — people can feel cheated if their own reading comprehension was shallow enough that they didn’t feel they got their money’s worth. But the funny thing is, the ambiguity of who’s doing the donating and who’s doing the complaining can lead to some astroturf campaigns by those entitled folks who feel a particular person threatens their cultural hegemony.
A good example was when Greta Christina was diagnosed with cancer, and was making ends meet but had no wiggle room in her budget, and asked for help — when she got a goodly amount of cash from her supporters, she bought herself a sensible pair of Fluevogs for travelling on the speaking circuit. This sparked an outcry… but not from anyone who’d actually given her the money, just from people who thought that she shouldn’t be asking for help doing something so self-serving as buying herself a pair of shoes.
Another interesting example of exactly this sort of entitlement to set the direction of a person’s life because they’ve asked for money is Anita Sarkeesian. She wanted to crowdfund a feminist critique series on sexist tropes in video games, with the target being $10,000 — a reasonable budget for making a video about such an expansive topic, for research, production, distribution and maybe even helping her pay rent on time while doing the above. She got a harassment campaign as a result instead, because how dare anyone invade OUR space with all these FEMINIST CONCERNS!. That harassment campaign led to notoriety enough and enough public revulsion at the response she got, that she ended up raking in a total of $160,000.
With the huge dollar figures coming in, she greatly expanded the scope of her original Kickstarter and turned it from a single video to a whole series. It was less than a month later that the trolls developed the narrative that she’d basically taken the money and ran — that she’d done the Kickstarter to profiteer off of her “professional victim” status and that nothing she turned in would actually be good enough. She’s since put out several videos, and with each, the trolls find some new angle of attack — one of the latest is that she used extremely short clips of video games from other gamers’ “Let’s Plays” when they were readily available. As though the copying of copyrighted material from one channel rather than recording it yourself is somehow an immoral shortcut for someone who’d just made a lot of money to make videos that these people really didn’t want to see in the first place. And all of this sturm und drang of ridiculous and contrafactual conspiracy theory about Sarkeesian drowns out any actual criticism that might be worth discussing, like her sometimes shallow and 101-level coverage of certain topics, or her often sex-worker-negative wording or phraseology. All because people think they have found purchase against her by attacking her for how much money she’s made and what people have gotten out of it in return.
Among other things that people feel entitled to that they shouldn’t, you’re not really entitled to directing how people use money freely given to them by others, nor to harassing them because you don’t personally like what that crowd-funding got used to do. Unless there are laws against it — like, for instance, profiteering off of a crime, the way Darren Wilson has made half a million dollars for shooting a black boy six times — you can’t actually tell people what they do or do not spend their money on. Down that route lies fascism, and not the “feminazi” kind where people are merely criticizing your shitty behaviour, but the real sort where you start dictating how people live. No more would you have the right to stop people from donating to Anita Sarkeesian’s video series than I would have the right to stop you from becoming one of Thunderfoot’s many, many Patreon contributors just because you like all the antifeminist conspiracy babbling he does.
And what’s more is the hypocrisy by which we police how people obtain and use funds. If you get money for having an opinion I disagree with, you’re the devil, but people who get money for opinions I agree with deserve every penny — even when the people you’re complaining about, the “drama bloggers” writing things “for the clicks”, are lucky to get double digit figures for ad revenue from a piece, whereas the people they’re disagreeing with might make six or seven orders of magnitude more for their speaking and writing careers. It’s less entitlement than it is tribalism, but the existence of money always spurs those with a sense of entitlement to make demands on people. For instance, I was recently privy to an email exchange wherein someone paid for a $3, thirty-day ad free subscription to FtB. They were outraged that they were banned from commenting at one particular blog for their sexist churlishness, and expected — despite several explanations by Ed Brayton that the subscriptions only remove advertisements — that because they paid their $3, they should have unfettered right to post whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted. Ed promptly refunded his money and told him to pound sand. I think we can stand not serving a person who buys a bottle of water clearly labeled as such, and having them complain that it doesn’t come with a steak dinner.
In basically every case of entitlement within our culture, you’re going to see right-wing reactionary behaviour. The thing that a conservative basically wants to conserve is their own entitlement. I’m seeing it time and again, in basically every topic I’m following lately. It seems like we should be pointing this out, because that entitlement is actually a very right-wing mindset, and it seems as though all our intellectual opponents on progressive topics — the slimepit, the MRAs, the 4chan and Reddit trolls, the antifeminists, the racists, the pure reactionaries — are overlapping to such a degree in these topics that it’s very helpful to identify the ways in which their Venn diagrams intersect. They are of a piece. They share more than just a xenophobia against inclusion and a hatred of progressivism generally. They share a reactionary mindset and streaks of right-wing authoritarianism. They look for heroes to worship, and they look for “heroes” on the other side (even when there are none such) to cut down.
If we are intersectional atheists here at Freethought Blogs insofar as caring about more topics than simply movement atheism or movement skepticism, it stands to reason that our ideological opponents will coalesce and intersect. It’s just very telling who’s allying with whom as these fights embroil every community in which I’ve ever had a stake.
This all shouldn’t be as tribalistic as it is, but it is. It’s rare to see the fights align in any community along any line other than conservatism or progressivism, and I’m seeing the same rogues in the gallery of every community. That’s important. It’s noteworthy. And I’m noting it here.