Finding a Meaningful Life in America’s Entit...

Finding a Meaningful Life in America’s Entitlement Culture

In his 2005 book, Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism Is Corrupting Our Future, Ben Shapiro griped about his generation when he said, “Never before in our country’s history has a generation been so empowered, so healthy, so privileged – and yet, so empty.”

Senator Ben Sasse discusses a similar notion in his new book, The Vanishing American Adult, where he makes the case that the average American teenager is living an unfulfilled life, absent a sense of accomplishment, and is outrageously entitled. In Shapiro’s words, they are leading “empty” lives. Sasse credits this in part to parenting, but also to American culture where many obsess over television or video games and forget the worth of literature, for example.

Although Sasse doesn’t explicitly say this, the juxtaposition of people’s emptiness and their entitlement exists because they are correlated. Unreasonable spending and poor work ethic are a product of entitlement. People who exhibit all three of those qualities have an emptiness that is a result of their upbringing. They live lives with excessive consumption and lack productivity and meaning in their lives.

Sasse blames all of these micro-issues on an umbrella issue which he titles “perpetual adolescence” as he discussed further in a Wall Street Journal article. But Sasse isn’t the only individual to discuss this trend.

Yale professor Mitch Prinstein makes the case from a psychological vantage point through a historical analysis. Prinstein published his arguments on everlasting adolescence in a book called Popular which was later reviewed in an article published by The Atlantic.

Professor Prinstein and Senator Sasse both blame the problem on our education system, though in differing ways. Senator Sasse advocates for education reform that would have children raised by communities as opposed to by Washington. He blames the issues of our youth on educational bureaucrats.

Professor Prinstein makes the case that high school specifically is causing teenagers to behave like kids, even after becoming adults. High school is a time when almost every student tries to increase their popularity in an attempt to ameliorate their likeability, but this is an extremely unhealthy behavior given the expediency with which the brain develops during this period. The ramifications of this is that people never seem to mentally leave high school.

The life of a high-schooler, which many people take with them for the rest of their lives, is hardly a life filled with worth.

Prinstein continues to say that, “[M]ost American high schools [are] almost sadistically unhealthy places to send [the] adolescent,” and that, “ [O]ur adult brains began to form to help us survive in the hallways of high school. The problem is, we left high school  long ago—and our brains never got the memo.” According to research, “[Even] Congressional interns saw [personal] popularity playing out in the way laws were written and the American government was run.”

As a side note, this alone is a reason to respect Ted Cruz – who – has made a career out of standing up for what he believes in at the expense of alienating his colleagues. Despite that, his campaign was ridiculed for his inability to get along with his fellow senators. But is a glorified popularity contest a better way for our government to function?

This study by Prinstein is undoubtedly terrifying and it takes “politics is a popularity contest” to a whole new (and literal) level. It also explains why certain politicians (perhaps, I will suggest, of the Democrat variety) are willing to bankrupt the country as long as they can promise free stuff. Making people happy, no matter the expense, is a tendency they have had engraved in their head from a very young age.

Interestingly, Democratic Senators Corey Booker and Tim Kaine praised Sasse’s book even though they have oft supported legislation that exacerbates many of the issues outlined herein.

The argument made in Popular and its studies are consistent with that of Shapiro and Sasse. A life of pursuing popularity is not a life well lived, nor is it conducive to being a productive part of society. Of course having friends is a good thing, but spending your days trying to be well liked is a shallow endeavor and won’t help you find meaning in life.

Greg Gutfeld, a FOX News commentator and author of How to be Right, an exceptionally fun read, was featured in a 2015 Prager University video Why the Right is Right.

In the video, Gutfeld says that liberals often lead emptier lives because they pursue “short-term fun,” whereas conservatives seek a meaningful life of family, tradition, and often religious values. In other words, liberals search for a quick-fix while the conservative looks for fulfillment in areas proven to help achieve a meaningful life.

This lack of meaning in life and sense of entitlement is hurting the American liberal and, as a result, is hurting the general American populace. Gutfeld goes onto say that “Liberals live for now,” but “Conservatives live for later.” According to statistics, “liberals seem to have more fun,” but “conservatives are happier.”

Not everyone, however, had the luxury of growing up “accidentally wealthy” in what Ben Sasse refers to as “the pampered Republic.”

Take my parents for example.

My mom was raised on a farm in Russia (no, my family never colluded with the Trump administration) and she was the first in her family to grow up with indoor plumbing in her house. That was not the norm in the old Soviet Union of her parents, where only the richest of individuals were privileged to such amenities. She was very young while in Russia, but was a regular on the farm and dealt with its demands, putting her later American life in perspective. When she did immigrate to this country, she never lost those values just because of the change in government.

She wasn’t alone in maintaining a conservative lifestyle, but then America underwent a complete cultural revolution. The evident change in lifestyle, and the fact that the practices of past generations are considered by some to be absurd, is proof of an evolution away from these concepts which has led to America’s shallow routine of today.

My dad grew up in Brooklyn. His parents, also immigrants, felt that they weren’t obligated to give him anything other than the necessities. They wanted to build his work ethic, something they also developed by requirement. He paid for all luxuries on his own. At the age of fourteen, he started his first job so that he could afford to hang out with his friends after school, and by the age of nineteen he built up a small business in the craft that he had mastered – the same business he owns and operates today.

Parenthetically, studies show that our generation will be unable to hold onto a single job for 35 years as my dad has. Our inability to sit still will wander with us from our days in school and join us in our professional careers.

Instead of playing ball after school like most kids, my dad went to work – even though he didn’t want to – because it was the responsible thing to do. Because of that, my dad is the true American adult who started from nothing and was able to turn a small business into an extremely successful one.

My childhood was very intentionally choreographed to train me to have the same work ethic. But Ben Sasse says that he and I are of a dying breed.

My parents are fiscal conservatives, not because they ever wanted to be but because they had to be.

On the other hand, a Liberal mindset can make less successful people demand entitlements, or make wealthy elitists ignore the vast amounts of money taken from them to pay for said entitlements.

Take this paragraph from an article found in AOL finance which discusses a spending habits of liberals vs. conservatives.

“the survey did show that consumers who call themselves conservatives are more likely to describe themselves as savers (66 percent vs. 53 percent of liberals calling themselves savers). On the flip side, consumers who label themselves as liberals are more likely to call themselves spenders (47 percent vs. 34 percent of conservatives who say they’re spenders).”

This article is for the latter in the sense that they shouldn’t support egregious taxes and spending. It is for the former in the sense that they should lose their sense of entitlement and get to work if they want to be financially stable.

A person who doesn’t take even one dollar, or a “necessity” for granted, can’t help but be a fiscal conservative. Take this and contrast it to the American upbringing Sasse and Prinstein have laid out for us and it serves as a stark difference to the spending habits and upbringing of the liberal elite today. For many fiscal conservatives, saving the money we have earned is not only intelligent, it was the way we were raised. It is a sense of pride and an homage to our family ethics.

Similarly, A recent survey found that Republicans “definitely” tip their waiters, baristas, housekeepers, and other workers more than Democrats do. This doesn’t come as a surprise. Of course, the Republican, who understands, values, encourages, recognizes the worth of hard work is more likely to tip those who serve them.

In the video, Gutfeld describes this trend that Liberals are big spenders who, unlike conservatives, are willing to take “risks” at the cost of losing a lot of money. “conservatism makes,” and “liberalism takes,” he pronounced, as he tried to make the case that often, fiscal conservatives make and subsequently save money that liberals then spend. He went as far as to call Republicans the “clean-up crew,” that have to clean the financial mess that Democrats are responsible for.

He used the example of a minimum wage hike. He shows, with a great visual, that a businessman often can’t build a second store or business location because Liberals are asking for salaries that they feel that they deserve even though the market dictates that is not the case. If the market suggested they did in fact deserve that salary – they wouldn’t need to push the minimum wage legislation.

In essence, people raised like Sasse and my parents value every dollar, whereas Democrats continue to spend irresponsibly. Perhaps the greatest proof of this is the fact that the national debt went up more under President Obama than under all the previous presidents combined (PolitFact).

Perhaps even more important than that, however, is the fact that this upbringing not only teaches responsible spending but it breeds a sense of accomplishment, an appeal to productivity and a sense of self-respect and pride, which combats the aforementioned “emptiness.”

For these reasons, Liberalism is good in theory but doesn’t work in practicality. It seems nice to give everyone money – and it will definitely help ameliorate those favorability ratings — but many liberals don’t account for where the money comes from or the fact that their, often, unfortunate lives is why they demand the exorbitant spending in the first place. They also don’t appreciate that what they consider poor in this country is actually especially privileged in other locations around the globe. People in this country consider themselves poor if they don’t have two cars but don’t realize that elsewhere even owning even one car is an incredible feat.

Professor Scott Sonenshein argues as much in a New York Times article. “In American culture, abundance tends to be seen as a symbol of success,” he explains, and therefore people or the government will sometimes spend money they don’t have to make it look like they have things they don’t.

Liberals find themselves in an unfortunate “catch-22” where their emptiness demands spending and their exorbitant spending results in emptiness.

Renowned constitutional lawyer and talk show host Mark Levin discusses these exact points in his book Liberty and Tyranny where he states:

“The Statist [Leftist] searches for significance even glory in a Utopian fiction of his mind’s making the earthly attainment of which, he believes, is frustrated by those who do not share it…”

He continues that the Leftist is “angry, resentful, petulant and jealous” for his own misfortunes but “evades” his “miserable situation” by blaming it on the conservatives who refuse to pay for the happiness he “thinks he deserves” [emphasis added]. The miserable situation Levin alludes to is a life not well lived which is, perhaps, the worst possible situation a human can experience.

But as Gutfeld explained to us, the Leftist would be far better off if he found meaning in, say, family instead spending in an attempt to achieve an unattainable Utopian society. Unfortunately, he will never actually do that because he is being driven by his/her irrational sense of entitlement as opposed to a rational and logical approach.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is a film written by and starring Slavoj Zizek. Zizek is not your typical movie star. He is a philosopher who has authored countless books and is a lead researcher and professor at the University of Ljubljana and New York University. In it, Zizek uses other films to give a lecture of sorts on the concept of “ideology.” The guy says a lot of things, especially towards the end of the film, that I can’t get behind. But earlier on in the film he makes a very interesting point on dreams and trying to fulfill them.

He makes a crucial distinction between the “right” dreams to chase and the “wrong” dreams to chase. A proper dream to chase, he explains, is one where that points “toward a dimension beyond our existing society.” Such as, the long term enjoyment Gutfeld outlines.

The wrong dreams, however, are those that idealize a “consumerist mirror image of society.” That is the happiness  they attempt to achieve, through buying, buying, and more buying.

Fight Club  is, in my opinion, one of the best written movies of all time. Many lines should be memorialized in the cinematic hall of fame, but this one from Brad Pitt specifically teaches a great lesson:

“An entire generation… slaves with white collars… so that we can buy shit we don’t need. We are the middle children in history. No purpose. No place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.”

Of course Tyler Durden is not the economic role model we should follow. But his argument (here) is in line with mine. Our society is so caught up in getting the latest “shit we don’t need” that we don’t live lives of “purpose.” Because of this “our depression is our lives,” Durden articulates, the writer must have known that modern American culture has more of its own “demanding” antidepressants than our ancestors.

Like Professor Sonenshein argues, when American culture spends and gives freely, particularly to their young, it kills their ability to be creative and resourceful. Perhaps that contributes to the epidemic of welfare recipients not seeking alternative forms of revenue. To them “resourcefulness [is not seen] as an essential skill” because they are raised given things instead of creating things.

Full disclosure, I am not – as I am sure you can imagine — a parent, and I probably can’t even conceive the difficulties involved in raising a child.

But when I do raise my kids, I am going to start raising a generation who values hard work and are proud of the work they do. I am going to teach the youth they don’t deserve anything that they don’t earn. I will make sure that the young people in my home know that money is difficult to come by and securing it is commendable, not greedy.

By doing that, we can raise them to be adults who see past the glitters of materialism and understand the benefits of a wholesome lifestyle.

We have to fight Liberal incompetence when it comes to fiscal responsibility. We, who were raised to get it, must understand that because of the way they were raised, they never will. Supporting candidates who don’t have a plan to pay for their policies must become a habit of the past. Allowing “the-next-guy” to deal with the national debt so that they can push their agenda must be a disqualifying trait.

But of equal importance, it is time for us Conservatives – a call to action — to put up a fight against the madness of spending culture, and begin watching our wallets, before we look into them and find them empty.

But even more important than that, we have to combat living a meaningless life.

Viktor Frankl, was Jewish psychologist, who found himself suffering in a concentration camp in the middle of the Holocaust. In his best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning, where he outlines his time in the camp, he also develops psychological tendencies that he observed while suffering at the hands of Nazi Germany. Frankl had an opportunity to observe the individual in the most strenuous of conditions and no matter how tragic (and not worth it) it was; it gave him a unique opportunity to look into how the human mind works.

Frankl developed the science he called “logotherapy.” Frankl said that he often wonders why he was able to survive, while he watched so many colleagues and friends perish, over the course of those 5+ painful years. He answered, in short, that when a person has meaning in his life, it helps him will his way to do what the typical man would consider the impossible. When surviving with no food, or clothes, while in the freezing cold, and being forced to do the hardest of work, meaning will direct your path to survival.

While being separated from your loved ones, and watching them be gassed or burned at the hands of evil, meaning can help you survive. Frankl underwent the unthinkable, and the fact that he lived a meaningful life – mostly driven by his religion helped him survive. Our modern trials and tribulations are of little comparison to those suffered by Frankl and his generation. Therefore, our possibilities are endless if we live our lives with that same meaning. With it, you can do whatever you want or need to do in life.

In many ways, the culture of old underwent a paradigm shift, under the watch of the generation before ours. And it may be our job to restructure the way one finds long-term happiness in our new age of instant gratification. And even though Gutfeld’s options may seem archaic, going the conservative route may serve as a strong foundation in our effort to live lives worth living, once more. That way we can halt the age of entitlement that Sasse warns us of while simultaneously living the richer lives that Shapiro alludes too.

Elliot, a member of the class of 2019 at Yeshiva University, is a writer whose work spans the spectrum from politics to screenwriting. He started writing political analysis for his school newspaper and has subsequently seeked other outlets to make his arguments heard. Elliot enjoys mixed martial arts and reading anything he can get his hands on.