So, I’ve been a fan of this band:
…for more than 20 years, ever since I read Rolling Stone review of their 1990 album “Third Eye” and thought – that sounds like something I would like. I did. They put out 2 more albums before breaking up in 1997, but just reformed and issued a new disc, and scheduled some dates along the East Coast, including Philly.
Philly? I’m there.
And so I was, Sunday night, with 3 amigos at a place called “Kung Fu Necktie,” basically a small hipster bar in the Fishtown/Kensington area. I never in a million years thought I’d get a chance to see this band live, so I was psyched. Ran into the lead guitar player in the bathroom before the show and asked him a few questions about his guitar tone in the above video – which led to a very cool rockstar moment, when the guy broke his high E string on the first song. I was right in front of the stage – more on that in a moment – and he thrusts his gold-top Les Paul and me and shouts – “You play guitar, right? Can you change the string?”
Somehow in the darkness and jostling I managed to do it, but – as you musicians will note – the damn thing wouldn’t stay tuned up, breaking the string threw his whole guitar out of whack so he swapped it out with another one. Ah well – guitar tech to the obscure stars. I’ll take it.
Anyway. When I go to shows like this, which isn’t very often anymore, I like to get **right** up front, I like to see what pedals the guitarists are using, I like to see how they’re playing things, I like to rock out. So I made a point of grabbimg a full beer and making my way toward the stage as the second opening act was finishing up. Made it all the way up front, chatted with a few people, etc. – and then they were on. And it was freaking awesome.
There were two women behind me. One, a waif-ish, short girl; another, much larger, in a huge heavy overcoat. Both wanted to get in front of me. The waif let others do the talking for her – Hey, she’s a big fan, she can’t see, can she get in front of you? The one in the overcoat did her own talking – “Why don’t you let someone else up front, huh?” She began pushing me and yelling: “You’re a f****** arsehole,” and things like that.
I edged over so the waif could see, but the one in the overcoat – nope. And she kept pushing me, kept being obnoxious, kept saying that I – who had made a very specific point of getting up front early so I had an up-close-and-personal view of one of my favorite bands – should move back and let her up front. Because. She deserved it and I didn’t, apparently. And so I should move.
This went on, and on, and on.
And in that moment, I went full-on conservative Republican howl.
You know how, in the Incredible Hulk, when Bruce Banner gets angry and morphs into the creature? That’s how I felt. I was furious; I wanted to scream at this woman – EFFFF YOUUUUUUU, I was here first, kiss off. I wanted to push her back, really.
I didn’t do either of those things. Instead, two-thirds through the band’s set, I bailed out and went back to the table for a desultory beer. Plunged back into the crowd a few songs later, but only got about halfway to the front. Still angry. Then it was over, and I ranted about it – to my companions’ amusement – all the way home.
There are times, in stupid little moments like this, when I completely understand where conservatives are coming from with their resentment of those who would take what they have, what they worked for.
Why is it that those who have worked and planned ahead and made provisions for themselves should be compelled to provide for those who didn’t plan ahead, who haven’t made provisions for themselves?
Why should I give you what I’ve got when I made a specific effort to get it, and you didn’t?
The political reality is that it’s never this easy. A major illness, for example, has a way of upsetting the most carefully laid plans. As does a layoff. There are some who simply cannot provide for themselves – I’d lump all children in any situation into this category – and I fervently believe that this society does indeed have a duty to those people, that in a just society, individuals with should help provide for those without.
But I’m also increasingly sensitive to the reality – and I think it is reality – that there is a sense of entitlement out there. You see it in the small places – and honestly, you could probably catalogue your own experiences with this sort of things a dozen times a day. That’s indicative that it exists writ larger.
And so – let me throw a curve with this example – I may feel a moral obligation to the pensioner who worked all of his/her life and did sock money away, but in retirement has incurred medical or other expenses, rising property taxes and other things that have seriously eroded his/her purchasing power. Preserving Social Security – even expanding it – for such people is a good and moral idea.
But what of – I know folks in this exact situation – people who now can’t retire because in their late ’50s, just as their kids were getting older and on the verge of moving out, moved from a modest home into a McMansion they could barely afford – all about keeping up with the Joneses, of course – then had to move when the father lost his job, and have been playing catch-up ever since.
What is society’s obligation to these folks?
There is a pragmatic obligation, and that’s where I have tended to come from. Whatever you think about why a person needs government assistance, be it food stamps or Medicaid or whatever, the reality is that social welfare programs support the economy; they provide a degree of purchasing power that otherwise wouldn’t exist. More money it injected into the economy, which helps the economy at large. There’s no moral case to this at all – or if there is, it’s the macro case, that government has a moral obligation to foster an economy that fires on all cylinders, or gets as close to that ideal as possible. And if that requires subsidizing both those who can’t support themselves, and those who won’t – the greater good requires it.
The difference, I think, is that conservatives tend not to take the macro view – they take the micro view. They get offended at the micro level; they see the behavior of individuals and realize that this behavior is subsidized by the government. And it pisses them off.
Now, too often conservatives base this resentment on things they “know” to be true, on mythical welfare queens they’ve never personally encountered, or on some forwarded e-mail from their brother’s co-worker’s father who – really and for true – saw someone buying prime rib with her food stamp card.
But the sense of entitlement does exist. If you’re honest – you’ll admit you’ve encountered it personally. Liberals rationalize it; conservatives loathe it. Well, every now and then – I get that resentment. And I get why some conservatives think liberals – with their lofty, macro focus – have their heads lost in the clouds.
I’m pretty far afield now so I’ll stop. The woman at the Redd Kross show, of course, had nothing to do with government. She was just a jerk, nothing unique about that. But she really did feel entitled; she felt entitled to my spot, she felt entitled to what I had, she really did assume that I should give it to her as a matter of course.
And even though I’d wager this woman votes for the same people I have voted for – that really is the entitlement culture, right there.