Published for www.commentarymagazine.com, May 4, 2012
George Will has a lovely tribute to his son Jon, who is a Washington Nationals fan who also happens to have Down syndrome.
Apart from his evident love and appreciation for his son, Will takes aim at the “full, garish flowering of the baby boomers’ vast sense of entitlement, which encompasses an entitlement to exemption from nature’s mishaps, and to a perfect baby.” He goes on to write about Jon’s gift of serenity. “With an underdeveloped entitlement mentality,” Will writes, Jon has “been equable about life’s sometimes careless allocation of equity. Perhaps this is partly because, given the nature of Down syndrome, neither he nor his parents have any tormenting sense of what might have been. Down syndrome did not alter the trajectory of his life; Jon was Jon from conception on.”
Here Will is touching on an enormous shift in human expectations that has occurred in modern times – the belief that we are owed, that we are entitled, to certain things, including a life very nearly free of hardship, of pain, and of loss. The reason for this shift is progress. In the West, we’ve seen fantastic gains made in medicine, technology, and standards of living. Early death was once a common feature; according to historian Lawrence Stone, during the Middle Ages, two or more living children were often given the same name because it was so common that at least one of them would die. Today, in America, early death is blessedly rare. We are also far less patient and far less willing to be inconvenienced than ever before. We forget that there was once a life before GPSs and ATMs; before iPhones, iPods, and iPads; before e-mails, Twitter, texting, Skype, Google, ESPN, and flat screen televisions.