The “Carefree” Entitlement

US Hunger Belt - InfographicNew Orleans   Even after bingeing on the popular cultural phenomenon of Thanksgiving, we still dove deeper and did a bit of binge watching on the clever, funny, and even somewhat political, new Netflix series by comedian Aziz Ansari called “Master of None.” The title is a giveaway obviously, signaling that this will entail self-deprecation of sorts, but that’s just a head fake, like so much of the show.

There’s a throwaway line that is hardly a spoiler alert, but like so much, gets you thinking when Aziz or Dev, as he’s known in the show, is thrown into a typical bit of existential funk towards the end of the run of episodes and wonders what happened to his “carefree” youth and whether he’s running out of time in his early ‘30’s to still chart a different path for his life. What to do? Work? Relationships? Family and children? Stay or go? Watching the show and laughing where appropriate and thinking where forced, I though little of it at the time. This early-30 decision point was common among organizers and staff I supervised over the years. We would often anticipate the conversations, try to preempt decisions with new plans, deeper commitments, promises around projects and locations, and pretty much throw anything we could in front of the path to keep from losing good organizers at the crossroads of their futures.

But, mi companera asked me later about that notion of feeling “carefree,” and caught me short, and made me think about it harder. I can’t remember “carefree” except in the most episodic and haphazard circumstances since before I had memories I guess, or much of them, maybe when I could count my age in single digits. What a fascinating cultural observation of young, middle and upper class privilege to believe that there is a “carefree” entitlement that keeps ticking through the teens, twenties, and into the thirties.

Somewhere in that sense of entitlement is a bridge too far for billions. Bread for the World issued a report saying that 50 million Americans daily face hunger and good insecurity, where they literally have to worry about what to eat and where their next meal will come from. This is a long way from the dominant cultural fear of FOMO or fear of missing out. For the vast number of people in the huge 60% to 80% of US families and likely way more globally, there’s no FOMO, there’s just missing out period, and there’s definitely not a “carefree” entitlement.

And, once lost, it’s gone forever. It’s not something where we catch up again once we’re old as dirt. In fact, the numbers seem to indicate that somewhere between 5 and 10 million elderly are hardly able, or completely unable, to care for themselves and are bilked and abused when they need to be most “carefree.”

Not sure how we demand the right to be carefree, but the more you stop and think about it, the more it seems to be another huge marker of our inequality and the vast divisions between us both financially, and it seems, culturally now as well.