Depending on what point of view you have, entitlement can be invisible or blatant. Basically when you have internalized it, you don’t see it. When you haven’t, it stands out like a sore thumb. I think of entitlement as the behavioral aspect of privilege.

“If the government runs health care, it will be rationed” said with no awareness that it is rationed in the US now (and always has been) on the ability to pay.

My mother was from a working class family. She was the first in her family to have an education beyond high school. She was a nurse. My father was a doctor. He came from an upper middle class family. They met in Hawaii in an army hospital after Pearl Harbor. My mother was quite proud of “marrying up.” My sister and I copied the mannerisms and attitudes of my father. For this I was sometimes accused of being “too big for my britches” or acting “high and mighty” by my mother. She knew entitlement, which often is the same as arrogance, when she saw it. It would take me years to see it.

“This is so not me. I just don’t wait.” Heard in the check out line at Costco.

Entitlement, “the fact of having a right to something” or “the amount to which a person has a right”, is part of the landscape of your childhood. Where your parents/caregivers go and how they act when they get there is internalized. It is visible in posture, tones of voice, gestures, comfort/discomfort with the surroundings and comfort with the social mores of situation. It determines your frame of reference – those you think of as having advice that is significant for you (scientific studies, fiction or non-fiction books, neighbors, family, history, street smarts, on-the-job training, college education, etc).

“Socialized medicine is nothing more than welfare.” Said by someone on social security and Medicare in the US.

You’ve seen it. Someone walks into a room like they own it. They interrupt. They take over the agenda. They make it about themselves/their concerns. The concerns of others are only considered if they overlap. Otherwise, they are dismissed. Perhaps more interrupting. Certainly changing the subject to the one they are interested in. They act and sound as though their ideas and conclusions are the right ones. Everyone feels it and acts according to where they lie on the entitlement spectrum. We’ve all been trained to the system.

“Why would I come to these meetings if I can’t get something for myself from it?” Heard in a meeting of a community organization.

Some “see” it. Those who do aren’t usually the ones with the entitlement. If they come from entitlement and see it, they probably have fallen from grace -came out as gay/lesbian/transgender -gave up a professional job for factory work or working with their hands – married someone from the “wrong” race or class. Or they went out into the world and found out things aren’t as they were depicted at home. Were confronted by someone trusted so that all of a sudden, they “got it.” Saw the “others” as people with value and worth respect. Saw that they were lied to. Repudiated the values of the entitled. Formed respect for different values. Sometimes this is forgiven by your family and friends. Often it is not.

Entitlement to the most places/situations is a product of growing up male in an upper middle class or upper class home. You belong everywhere. Especially everywhere “that counts.” The values, mores, actions, thoughts and politics of your social strata are assumed to be the only right ones, the only ones worthy of respect. Other values are “less than.” Because those like you are in power in all the institutions in every society (schools, religious institutions, businesses, government) and determine the course of events, these values are taken as the norm.

There are variations in the particulars of different countries, but when we watch the photo ops showing the leaders of countries together, we see the same behavior/posture/gestures/angle of the head/smiles in all the leaders. Entitlement.

Entitlement isn’t just about class and class values. Unless you are in the most undervalued group in your society, you have internalized some entitlement over those “below” you. And we all know who is above and below. Lighter skinned men over men of more color; men over women; lighter skinned women over women of more color; adults over children; straights over gays; economic privilege over those with less economic privilege; the thin over the fat (in Western countries), etc. Variations on this system operate world wide along some hierarchy according to the values of the privileged in that society.

What the entitled must never do is betray/leave behind the values that produce entitlement. In the upper middle and upper classes in the US these are professionalism, status, personal achievement, conformity, respectability, tastefulness, modesty. Because the US has so much power in the world and the world is so interconnected, these values have become the values to aspire to in the world. Repudiating these values, aligning/partnering with “the others”, especially if your alignment includes political alignment, joining an angry group that objects to the entitlement and becoming vocal about your anger can result in banishment from the family. The closer you are to power, the more punishment you get for your transgression. No inheritance. No getting bailed out if you need money. Not being invited to family gatherings. Not being able to see your grand kids. Becoming dead to your family. Attracting the scorn/ridicule/contempt/violence of those outside your family who are invested in the system. In extreme cases, you are killed ( i.e. Matthew Sheppard).

The price is made clear from early on. You learn this as you hear what is said about those who have transgressed. She caused her mother such shame. He was disinherited, as he should have been. They aren’t welcome at the country club any more. That’s a good family except for so and so who is the black sheep. Stories are told in great detail about the consequences of “rocking the boat.” The media also tell the stories. Gay and lesbian teens on the streets, thrown out of the house by their parents – disowned. Political careers, marriages ended in scandal.

Notice that the established organizations and members of them in the acupuncture world object to the anger found on CAN. Anger simply isn’t tolerated by the entitled for it can lead to action and overthrowing of the establishment. Revolutions are made up of those fed up with the entitled, their values and how they treat the rest of us.

What have you learned about entitlement? Please contribute and make this a discussion.

Author: annmongeau

I've been a member of CAN since the beginning.  It just makes sense to me to offer acupuncture at affordable prices.  Then, because it's so much fun to do community acupuncture and it's so useful to people, I got active in spreading the word. 

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  1. Hey Ann, thanks for this

    Hey Ann, thanks for this thoughtful post.  I have a couple of thoughts to add…one thing I think about a lot lately is the difference between the sort of annoying entitlement which you describe, and the kind of entitlement that all members of a society should have, towards the fruits of that society and for the fulfillment of their basic needs.  

    This quote:

    “Socialized medicine is nothing more than welfare.” Said by someone on social security and Medicare in the US.

    seems to me to be different from the rest, and this is the kind of thing I’m thinking of, because I think this speaker actually suffers from a LACK of a sense of entitlement (hence the need to distance him/herself from people he or she would otherwise be in solidarity with).  

    See this interesting article – especially the last paragraph – for a description of how poor & working class folks are encouraged to identify with segments of the elite (mostly along racial lines) instead of, say, joining with their more natural allies and fighting for their entitlement to a fair share of the wealth that they create.

    Later in your post you seem to go back to equating entitlement directly with privilege, which was a little confusing to me.  Also, I think the example of people coming out and being rejected by their families or communities (which of course doesn’t always happen) is not the same as people rejecting the values of their family or class for other reasons.  Often there is overlap – perhaps especially in upper middle class families?; and I know you know that being rejected and rejecting are not the same.  I just wanted to put that out there.  


  2. Thanks, Nora

    I really appreciate your observations.  They caused me to think deeper and to clarify some things.

    I was looking for another example for entitlement besides those from the upper middle and upper classes so as to illustrate that entitlement is not only from those classes. Think of how men of any class/race show entitlement in the company of women of their class & race and below.  So here’s how I was thinking:

    This quote, “Socialized medicine is nothing more than welfare.” Said by someone on social security and Medicare in the US, illustrates another aspect of entitlement – thinking that “I have a right to this.”  The speaker in this case didn’t think much of welfare or those on welfare by the tone of her voice.  However, she also clearly thought she had a right to medicare and social security and didn’t consider them welfare or even government run.  So, to me there is a congnitive aspect of entitlement.  “I have a right to X and those below me don’t.”

    I agree that this woman doesn’t feel solidarity with those she otherwise should and I’m glad you pointed that out.  The article that you referenced gives us even more ways to think of how those in power keep us fighting amongst ourselves and not noticing that the vast majority of us are losing out.  I doubt if many of us have considered the notion that the Left is directing our attention away from our economic circumstances by encouraging us into identity politics and PC behavior/thinking.

    Definitely being rejected and rejecting are different.  I was pointing out the price that some have paid for rejecting their entitlement.  I also think that the closer you are to power, the higher the price.   And, if you break a huge taboo, the price is even higher (Mathew Sheppard).


    Nora, I really liked that article. It made a whole bunch of thoughts sort of explode in my head at once, so let me see if I can articulate them decently. I think we’re back to talking about intersectionality.

    Since I’m white, I figured I should just shut up about the fact that some of what I understand as  neoliberal multicultural/diversity approaches bother me. But they do bother me, for all the reasons that Walter Benn Michaels lays out — and a few others, that relate more directly to my class background. Yeah, I think it is a huge improvement that at least, say, in a lot of workplaces, people can’t get away anymore with slinging around the sort of horrendous racial slurs that I heard all the time as a kid. Language does matter, attitudes do matter, but sometimes I think structures matter more, and sometimes multicultural/diversity stuff sounds to me like it’s mostly about presentation.

    An example: in Portland there has been an ongoing brouhaha about whether or not a major street was going to be named after Cesar Chavez. The people who were against it (mostly white, working class people who lived on the street in question) were accused of being racist, mostly by middle/upper middle class political/liberal types who were the ones who picked the street. Lots of Hispanic/Latino people were in favor of the renaming. I was totally frustrated with the whole thing, because it just seemed like a really successful division of people who should have common interests. In other words, upper middle class people tell us that renaming a street is a really important anti-racist action (maybe another way to describe entitlement is the ability to define what is important for everybody else to focus on?); they pick a street that none of them live on, thus ensuring that the people who do live there will be infuriated about something being imposed on them from the outside (and from above); and when they complain, the discussion becomes all about racism. And then working class white people have one more reason to see anti-racism as something that doesn’t benefit them at all, in fact as something that is forced on them. And while I think Cesar Chavez definitely deserves to have a street named after him, how exactly does that benefit all of the farmworkers in the Portland area who, say, have no access to medical care? (If Cesar Chavez could choose his own memorial, would he want a street named after him, as opposed to oh, I don’t know, a school or a community center in a neighborhood that really really needs one? Somehow I doubt it.) Shouldn’t important, highly visible anti-racist actions deliver a little more tangible benefit? It seems like some upper middle class people are really talented at getting the rest of us to fight each other over things that don’t really matter, thus making sure that we won’t work together on the things that do.

    I remember at my last job, which was a long time ago, we all had to go through diversity training. On the one hand, it was interesting. On the other, it pushed a bunch of my low-class-white buttons. I don’t know if other white people from working class backgrounds feel like this, but I felt like a message I’ve gotten a lot from people with more class privilege is, you people just don’t know how to act. So we’ll tell you. That goes along nicely with feeling unsophisticated and ignorant, like you don’t know anything and have never been anywhere — especially in reference to other cultures. So from that standpoint, “diversity training” can just feel like more of the same: that it’s all about being “sensitive”, for you insensitive, low class brutes who can’t act right.

    What I would really have appreciated at some point was somebody telling me that in most ways that matter, I have more common interests with working class people of color than I do with white upper middle class people, and maybe I should approach my relationships by remembering that. (There is a great essay by bell hooks, White Poverty: the Politics of Invisibility, that basically says just that.)

    AND. And white privilege is very real. I may have common interests with working class people of color; I also have privilege relative to them. I still have to look at the entitlements that go with being white if I want to perceive my reality with any degree of accuracy. For example, if I were African American, and I decided to put a five-foot fist on the outside of my acupuncture clinic in Northeast Portland, what are the odds that 450 people a week, of all different races, would be walking through my doors? What do you think the odds are that I would have gotten access to this building in the first place, when my ability to pay rent was extremely questionable and I had no prior business experience? If I were a working class African American woman, would I have had the entitlement to ask my white landlord for what he gave me,  a really extraordinary level of generosity and good faith?

    And, surprise surprise, it seems like lots of what’s written about anti-racism for white people is directed at middle class and upper middle class white people. It took me a while to realize when I read things like that, on a certain level I have to translate them before they make visceral sense. How many working class white people just get turned off altogether, and think it’s because the subject is racism and not because of the way it’s written?

    So it all seems very complex. Except for the part that isn’t complex at all: most of us, of all races, are getting screwed.

    Thanks, Nora and Ann. You got me thinking.

  4. Entitlement comes in all forms, in all places.

    Even in acupuncturists who think of themselves as altruists.  I suspect that sense of entitlement contributes to the unlovable side of new acupuncturists, even those who say they subscribe to the CAN concept, because they have had years of brainwashing from every single life influence, that they are indeed entitled to high rates of pay.  I think it’s safe to say that unless the new graduate comes with a built-in training and foundation of belief in social justice, it’s going to take several years of constant work to erase those old programs of entitlement.

    Scratch the surface, and I think you’ll find under most of this entitlement is plain ol’ fear.  Entitlement can protect someone from their deep feelings of lack of support and self-confidence.

  5. Outliers

    Have any of you read Ouliers by Malcom Gladwell?  I used to think a sense of entitlement was always a bad thing but after reading this book I changed my mind.  There is such a thing as a nomal, healthy sense of entitlement where someone is able to speak up for their own needs to authority figures.  This is an extremely important life skill as he illustrates in the book.  When someone has zero sense of entitlement they often end up getting victimized by people and cannot stand up for themselves.

    Tom Riordan 




  6. Tom, thanks for the book

    Tom, thanks for the book recommendation. I will definitely pick it up. I think that’s the point Nora was making, that there’s the in-your-face uppity overpriveledged kind of entitlement mentality, and then there’s the healthy self-protective kind. I do wish I had more of the latter. It would have been helpful in negotiating a better lease deal, for example. I think having deficient self-protective entitlement mentality makes the former more intensely obnoxious.