e I had a great run this morning. Averaged 8:45 per mile over six miles, with a warmup mile of 9:25 and a closing mile of 8:49. Between those miles were an 8:22, and 8:25 and and an 8:47.
That 8:47 mile was run on the gravelly edge of a very busy road. It’s really not a good place to run. The road shoulder is narrow, and traffic has increased greatly since Nelson Lake Road was connected to Deerpath Road that leads to an expressway entrance. Now cars zoom along at 45-60 mph most mornings. Commuters in a rush. Who care only about getting where they’re going. Not much willing to budge.
But I’m a stubborn bastard sometimes, so I kept on running along Nelson Lake Road. Normally I only cover a quarter mile on that road shoulder before jumping back on a quieter street. But something in me today was determined to run where I wanted to run, and traffic be damned.
Blue bird demise
As I traipsed along the one-foot-wide gravel shoulder, I glanced down to see the blue shape of an indigo bunting lying in the gravel. I stopped to snap a picture of that beautiful bird. It’s eyes were still intact, so it is likely that it only died that morning. The flies had not had time to find it.
That bird when alive has an elegantly simple yet structured song. You can hear it on this link: “Seebit seebit teww teew wheet wheet seebit seebit!”
Indigo buntings are known to sing all day long during the summer. I hear them while running or cycling even at the height of a sunny, hot day. When most other birds sit silent or lurk in the shade because the heat is oppressive, indigo buntings find a perch in the canopy and sing their full-throated song. They are often accompanied only by the calls of the warbling vireo, which sings a rambling, structureless song, and the red-eyed vireo, which is the most persistent singer in all of birdland.
One could accuse all these birds of being too vocal and too persistent. Why can’t they just shut up like the rest of birdland when the weather gets hot? Yet there they are, singing their guts out when they should be hunkered up on some shady branch with a full belly full of juicy bugs.
Bird should be entitled to some rest and relaxation, because being a bird is damned hard work. For one thing, they have to find their own food. They also have to build their own nests by gathering random bits of debris like sticks, grass and mud. And even when the nest building is done, some birds such as the American Robin carry literal poop sacks away from the nest to keep things clean and avoid evidence around the nest.
But the difficulties of life as a bird do not end there. Because when spring and fall arrive, migrating species fly thousands of miles north in the spring and thousands of miles back again in the autumn. Other species have learned to hunker down and make it through the cold winters. All those migration patterns are based on ancient cycles of food availability and the evolutionary advantage of occupying niches where prime habitat is most evident.
Even large mammals such as caribou migrate to reach ideal grazing and calving grounds. Even primates migrate vertically through forests to forage, or move up and down mountain slopes to feed with the season. The risks of these movements are balanced by the rewards. Individuals die in the process, but the species as a whole survives. The paths of evolution can be unforgiving, yet some of the glories in life are found in the redemptive qualities of pair bonds, altruistic behavior and outright luck.
Adverse forces at work
Until, that is, adverse forces interrupt the balance and flow of generations. For birds, there are many new adverse forces at work in this world. Domestic cats kill millions of birds each year. Hundreds of species of birds are ill-adapted to survive the onslaught of millions of murderous cats let loose on the North American continent and beyond. For every dead bird we see along the road there are millions more dead birds we never see.
Some pet owners believe their cats are entitled to hunt. “They’re cats,” the saying goes. “And cats hunt things. You can’t change them.”
Well, that’s not true. You can also keep them inside. Because cats the size and capability of house cats did not evolve across much of the habitat they occupy. Birds are frankly defenseless in many cases against small felines in large numbers. Cats are as bad as rats when it comes to damages wrought by their feral existence. Yet people let their cats roam because they love their creatures and wouldn’t want to make them unhappy in any way. Yet that also means they don’t feel a responsibility toward birds or any other form of wildlife.
And it doesn’t end there.
Symptoms of entitlement
Attitudes of entitlement grow from seemingly harmless habits. The person that doesn’t keep their cats in the house might also blanch at picking up after their dog. Or they allow their dog to pee on plants or lawns all the way down the block. Because that’s what dogs do. You really can’t change a dog.
And when raising their children, they might raise them similarly untamed. Thus they fail to reign them in when behavior gets out of line. “They’re kids,” the thinking goes. “That’s just kids being kids.”
Those kids grow into unthinking adults, and the cycle goes round and round until society is full of people who don’t care about birds, or feral cats, pooping dogs or snot-nosed progeny. We’ve grown a society entitled to live the way they want because that’s America. And that’s how Americans act.
Who’s to blame?
Some claim the cause of all the loose morals and lack of discipline in society on liberalism as if it were a disease of the mind. But the definition belies such claims:
liberalism: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy (see autonomy 2) of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties.
Autonomy is far different than lack of responsibility. Because the quantifying factor in liberalism is the protection of political and civil liberties. If anything, liberals encourage people to house their cats, considerately pick up after their dogs and share the road with cyclists and runners. There is no lack of discipline there, only a call to consideration.
Or is it a confused interpretation of conservative self-reliance that turns people into citizens who refuse to house their cats and clean up after their dogs? Are people so focused on their personal independence they have forgotten what it means to be part of a civil society? Have the likes of Donald Trump inspired an entirely new form of entitlement that bucks social conventions to the point where people don’t think (or want) to care about others anymore?
The entitled driver
Because from what political worldview do people refuse to separate hazards to the point where their vehicle forces a group of runners or cyclists off the shoulder of a busy road? “I pay taxes,” the selfish driver thinks. “Why should I give up my right to drive wherever I want on a public road?”
These are the symptoms and trademarks of cultural entitlement. They start with seemingly benign things like letting cats out of the house and end up with people determined to own the road and carry concealed deadly weapons because they have selfish, often fearful definitions of what constitutes a civil society.
If you study its roots, the entitled worldview typically starts over frustrations with small limitations. “I can’t let my cat out” may seem like a small thing, but it feeds the same instincts as “Why do I have to share the road with cyclists” or “How come I can’t carry my gun out in the open.” The appetites for that brand of entitlement seem moral at their core because they relate to personal freedom. But they are often freedoms that impinge upon or threaten others. And to make matters worse, they cyclically feed upon themselves, as is the case with guns, wherein gun advocates now make the case the society itself is not “safe” without the right to carry a weapon. That is a self-fulfilling prophecy and a massive claim to entitlement all combined into one.
It is true that such actions of self-entitlement can add up to great levels of death and destruction. The temptation of Adam and Eve began with the simplest statement from the Serpent who both quoted and contradicted God in saying, “You will not surely die.” Then offered Eve and Adam a form of entitlement when he told them, and I paraphrase, “for you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
According to the Bible, that was the first-ever entitlement promise in history. And it is significant that it seemed to deliver a benefit that turned out to be a great loss in the long run. Let the cats out of the house, it can’t harm a thing. Don’t pick up after your dog, that shit will fade away eventually. Vote for this politician because he is a godly man.
All forms of entitlement. All lies of the spirit. And nothing at all to do with liberalism. So where does the road to entitlement begin?
The road to entitlement
The same people who seem to complain so bitterly about entitlement never seem to connect the dots that the ultimate ‘entitlement’ is the blind taking of life caused by so much selfishness, fear and greed.
These behavioral memes hold true in cultural frameworks where some people gladly accept cheap health insurance because they are employed by a big company while self-starting small business owners or the self-employed struggle to make monthly payments because they’re not part of a big enough “pool” where they can gain access to decent coverage. After four years of self-employment I recently married and now have coverage through my wife. Then I started a new job and there was health insurance available through that organization. Suddenly I had access to two full health insurance plans that in sum did not cost as much as the single health care policy I purchased on my own.
No fault insurance
That’s not the fault of Obamacare as some people might claim. I’ve paid COBRA rates before the Affordable Care Act was ever passed into law. We paid $2000 per month in premiums. My wife had a pre-existing condition with ovarian cancer. On top of premiums we covered costs that ranged into the thousand. But the game was clear. Medical providers threw costs of $47K at the insurance companies. By the time we saw the bill is was more like $4000. It’s all a shell game. A Ponzi scheme.
And the reason it remains that way is that politicians and the wealthy lobbies that own them are some of the most entitled people on earth. They simply don’t care that millions of Americans are going to be road kill on the road to entitlement. The American health care system is nothing more than a selfish highway of haves versus the have-nots. The haves gladly drive down the middle of the road well-insured and self-assured they have every right to act the way they do. “I’m responsible,” they tell themselves. “I do what responsible people do.” Just like the cats that eat birds. The dogs that poop on the neighbor’s lawn.
And the fact that they have to witness a few bloody stories about people dying from cancer due to poor coverage is just part of the commute on the way to another selfish day behind the wheel of entitlement. “I work hard,” they tell themselves and their equally entitled. “I shouldn’t have to worry about other people.”
Then they vote for politicians who talk and act like them. And those politicians hide behind closed doors or draft up legislation so fast no one has a chance to read it through. They are concerned more with the $800 million or billion tax break they’re going to give their entitled friends than they are about the 24 million people that will be road kill on the highway of entitlement. And they laugh when they sign the bills. They celebrate in public and crow that they did what they promised their base.
No small thing
You might think I exaggerate drawing a straight line from a dead bird on the side of the road to politicians drafting healthcare legislation in secret. But consider what the Bible says about the nature of relationship between the smallest creature and the human race.
Think about that passage. Birds aren’t really entitled to anything. They have to earn it all for themselves. They rely on the providence of nature (not even God) to find food, nesting material and the path through the night sky to fly south or north. They rely on the stars, and the earth’s magnetism, and combine the instincts earned through years of evolution to guide them through it all.
Yet the instant they fly a little too low, along comes a car and wham! they’re dead by the road. Life itself is a pre-existing condition, you see. There are no guarantees. But it is the blunt entitlement of that driver, their blind speed in the face of life and senses dulled by the appetite for so much casual death that makes carrying guns so benign and letting millions of Americans suffer without health care coverage acceptable. This is life on the road to entitlement.
People complain most about programs such as social security (actually an insurance policy against poverty in old age) and Medicare or Medicaid as “entitlements.” But what is corporate insurance if not an entitlement paid for by a third-party? And it is done to the massive exclusion of others, manipulating markets to its own purposes and shafting small businesses and the self-employed in the process. The benefactors of corporatized insurance are actually the most entitled bastards of them all.
Canary in a coalmine
Stop and think for a moment. The voice of each and every bird is a precious thing if you think about it. When I’m out running or riding past a deep green woods or a cottonwood grove and hear the calls of birds in the trees, I recognize the true preciousness of life. And when I see a cat slinking away with a bird in its entitled mouth, I get angry that people care so little about the balance of nature. Or human nature. Or caring about other human beings struggled to stay alert and alive along the road to entitlement. Where the cars drive fast, and the drivers keep their eyes on the road, and little else concerns them but their right to go wherever it is they want to go.
Christopher Cudworth is author of the book The Right Kind of Pride, a Chronicle of Character, Caregiving and Community. It is a memoir of guiding his late wife, family and friends through eight years of cancer treatment.