Crime and Entitlement.
This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
Are people essentially uncaring, selfish cheaters who are kept in line only by the threat of punishment, or are they, at their core, naturally caring and fair?
The theme in a few recent posts has been that, in general, people would prefer to play by a set of rules that are common to all, without giving themselves undue advantage. However, various disrupting factors cause people to act unfairly in their own interest, in an attempt to disadvantage those who are not in their immediate circle.
This post will focus on one such disruptive factor: the sense of entitlement.
People seem to cheat at all levels, from interpersonal cheating and cheating on society such as tax evasion to inter-nation cheating such as aggression and war. Perhaps one factor driving such personal and group misdemeanors is the sense that the rules of the games we all play have failed to safeguard some of the rights that are due to us.
If something truly belongs to me, or if I deserve a certain benefit, but for some reason, the group fails to acknowledge this, I might have to resort to cheating or aggression in order to correct what has gone wrong and restore the situation back to where it should have been all along.
It is as though there exist two sets of rules: an overarching sense of what is fair and just, and the system in its practical implementation. The idealized framework is enforced through a set of norms and laws that uphold and enforce the ideal. Unfortunately, the practical system frequently falls short of the idealized system. The practical system cannot be everywhere and know everything and it has to make compromises in the interest of stability and efficiency.
Each person has their own interpretation of the ideal conclusions that a set of rules should produce. People typically tend to selectively perceive information that aligns with their prior beliefs and may disregard or be unaware of facts that contradict those beliefs. The ideal system consists of several values or principles of fairness that can sometimes conflict. People tend to prioritize one principle in situations that suit their argument and may focus on a different principle in situations where it supports their position.
If the sense of entitlement is a major impediment to the creation of a fairer and more peaceful world, we need to address the idealized framework of fairness as each person perceives it. There are a number of ways to pursue this goal.
First, we should address the fundamental arguments that underlie people’s sense of entitlement. When this involves conflicts between groups, it is important to engage not only with the leaders and elites but also with the individuals within the group. Second, we should promote education that enhances people’s rational faculties and supports the value of truthfulness, even where presenting all the facts might lead some people to the wrong conclusions
Finally, we should examine the principles that underlie the main arguments supporting entitlement. We need to identify these principles and question whether they are applied consistently across all situations, or selectively to favor specific conclusions.