Sometimes a symbol for the age saunters right past your face. I was growing older in one of those maxi-mart gas stations today when I noticed a 20-something teen entering the premises behind me. He had an air of languid insouciance that placed him at one of society’s two leisure poles. Whether his was the pole of indolent wealth or welfare I can only speculate–with reasonable accuracy.
Regardless, he first meandered to the potato chip lane and made his selection after a brief but conscientious review. He then strolled to the refrigerated soft-drinks and just as decisively chose his poison.
What happened next left me chuckling with the warm assurance of a man wearing a well-validated worldview. With chips and drink in hand, and a gait of assured nonchalance, he simply walked right out the front door. I lost sight at that point, but like to imagine he sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, and away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
Two things struck me in this: 1) the gratifying precision of his theft. Unlike most Looties he did not emerge with arms groaning under 47 rolls of toilet paper. But instead with a far more compact haul of one drink, one bag: clean and efficient. As a member of the oppressive paying class, I was mildly appreciative of his frugality. 2) the absolute absence of furtiveness. His face was uncovered, his exit unhurried. He would have acted no more apprehensive if he were retrieving snacks from his own pantry.
It reminded me very much of riding the subway in Paris. There I watched countless natives paying to the man, while their own white-teethed teens bounded gaily over turnstiles as if they were merely roots of the baobab tree. These parallel classes of rider seemed to be accepted with remarkable stoicism. There were the French who paid and the economy generators who did not. And I could discern no feelings of impropriety from either side. It just was.
As with my cavalier shoplifting countryman, the Parisian teens appeared imbued with a sense of serene entitlement. In both cases entitlement being a function of what is desired rather than what is earned. If you look closely–or not even close at all–you will see an identical perspective throughout America’s diverse communities. Space itself has no void like the one where immigrant appreciation resides. That is because they don’t see themselves as being given any accommodation from Western natives. It was simply what they were due. And they were due because they desired it. Ask an immigrant how they have expressed gratitude to their hosts and they will look at you with suspicious bewilderment: Gratitude for what? This is where I wanted to be. Who could rightly tell me no?
Trust me when I say vast societal disparities grow from where its members place the roots of entitlement. As the demographic heft of those roots increasingly favor the entitlement by desire perspective of disciplined shoplifters and turnstile hurdlers, society will shift in tangible ways. One of those being potato chips behind plexiglass.
Though in a more narrative sense, the shift will mean a billion small borders where one large one was found tasteless. That suggests quite a bear market for commons areas. For commons do not hold long once enough people see them as opportunities for plunder rather than cultivation. And plunder inevitably leads to walls, withdrawal, distrust, and Amazon drone deliveries. Occasionally it leads to more collectively vigorous responses. Perhaps even so vigorous as to return teen jumpers to the baobab tree.
I suppose we will see. Hopefully they’ll leave a few potato chips for the show.