Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Wheel of Misfortune

Jonas Burgert, Roulette
Predating all of the wonderful props at Harry Potter's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (HSWW), the original Wheel of Fortune surfaced in Monday Begins on Saturday, a Soviet-era science fiction novella by brothers Strugatsky, where we find it installed at a the Scientific Research Institute of Sorcery and Magic (НИИЧAВO). It looks like the side of a moving conveyor belt protruding out of a wall: since it never repeats its course, the wheel must rotate slower than one RPE (revolutions per eternity) meaning that its radius must be infinite, and its edge, projected into our physical universe, appears as the edge of a conveyor belt moving past us.

Unbeknownst to most of our contemporaries, Fortune is actually a deity, like Allah or Jesus, but unlike them she has been worshipped since most ancient times, as Tyche in Greece and as Fortuna in Rome. She continues to be worshipped in the present times, around the world, but especially in the US, where her temples and shrines are everywhere, from the humble lottery machines at every corner shop, gas station and liquor store to the casino capitalists who inhabit the glass towers of Wall Street. Millions of mortals supplicate before Tyche daily. Virtually unnoticed, the cult of Tyche dominates the religious landscape in the US: just compare the sizes of the casino buildings in Las Vegas and Atlantic City to the country's largest cathedrals and temples: except for a few mega-churches, the former consistently dwarf the latter.

The essential act of worshipping Tyche is by drawing lots, from which derives the term “lottery.” Tyche's promise is that you too may win some day, and this simple promise is powerful enough to allow her to hold much of the population captive to her every whim, ready to gamble away their last dollar. Tyche's spiritual solace is that, whatever happens, it is never your fault, just your luck. Tyche also keeps the peace, allowing us to overcome the envy and rancor we inevitably feel against our betters: they succeed not because of their superiority, but because of sheer dumb luck; we could all be just like them, if only the all-powerful Tyche would favor us.

Of our two biggest religions, Islam was far more successful of purging all the older polytheistic deities, locking up their idols within the Kaaba at Mecca. (I would love to take a peek inside the Kaaba to see if Tyche is imprisoned there, except that, being an infidel, I would get beheaded for even trying.) While the Christians have attempted to negotiate with Tyche, thinking that there is room in the universe for both God's will and Tyche's random chance, Islam did no such thing: Allah is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omni-licious, so, if you please, check your questioning mind at the gate and prostrate rhythmically in the general direction of Mecca. Wagering is allowed, but only at camel races, and only among the participating camel jockeys, while “intoxicants and games of chance” are, according to the Quran [5:90-91], “abominations of Satan's handiwork,” and so they are haram (verboten). In a strict Moslem society the cult of Tyche can gain no purchase.

Meanwhile, Christianity seems to have utterly failed at resisting Tyche's charms. In the middle ages Fortuna and her wheel were temporarily absorbed into Christian dogma, making her a servant of divine will. But this gambit has failed, as we recently saw when the Pope tried and failed to answer a simple question posed by a young girl from a war-ravaged land: “Why did God allow my friends to be killed?” Why does a just and merciful God allow the murder of innocents? The real answer (“They were unlucky”) cannot be spoken, because it would indicate that Tyche's authority supercedes that of the supposed Almighty, causing cognitive dissonance within the flock. At a less intellectual level, salvation can be seen as an infinitely long winning streak, and the faithful feel luckier from being sanctified in the blood of the Lamb. At the almost completely non-intellectual level of superstition wherein many believers dwell, Jesus is a sort of good luck charm. But what all of this points to is that, in Christianity, nobody is really in charge up there, so Tyche feels free to step in and fill the void, incidentally absolving God of any responsibility for what actually happens. He may be all-merciful and love mankind, but then He is not really the one issuing the orders on a day-to-day basis. Bewildering, isn't it?

More bewildering yet, Tyche's claim to dominance is not limited to religion or gambling or finance. In modern science, randomness (that is, chance, which is Tyche's domain) is at the heart of all explanations of what happens at the level of elementary particles. The functioning of the transistor—the device at the heart of all electronics—is explained by saying that the instantaneous location of any given electron is not a point in space but a probability distribution, with the actual location picked at random. In spite of this, the observed behavior of transistors is quite deterministic (except for a bit of hiss which we ignore).

As Einstein famously said, “God doesn't play dice with the world.” And he was right: it is not God who plays dice with the world, it's Tyche, and she is not shy about it. The scientists are certainly keeping her busy with the so-called Monte-Carlo models that are widely used in particle physics, which are driven by randomness. The gigantic particle accelerators at Fermilab and at CERN are the largest prayer wheels ever built, praying that Tyche might show us an exotic particle or two. Impressive though these are, perhaps the largest playground science has given over to Tyche is in evolutionary biology: we are who we are thanks to a sequence of random mutations. Thank you, Tyche, for the opposable thumb, for bipedal locomotion, binocular vision, and for the fact that we possess language! Without you, not only would we not exist, but life itself would not have evolved out of primordial ooze incessantly zapped by lightning.

I see all of this particularly clearly because I am by nature highly resistant to Tyche's charms. The idea of gambling revolts me, and I have never gambled, or purchased a lottery ticket or a raffle ticket, or made a bet. To me, chance and randomness are noise and garbage. I try to construct pockets of difference and meaning within what appears to me as an indifferent and meaningless universe. Any explanation that hinges on the work of chance strikes me as one lacking explanatory depth. I do whatever I can to eliminate chance from my life, and I actually detest the very idea of luck. This puts me at quite a considerable advantage vis à vis those who waste their energies on Tyche. This has nothing to do with luck; it just has to do with conserving energy, because that is precisely what Tyche is (in my opinion): a demon that haunts feeble minds, forcing them to expend their energies in futile pursuits, in order to keep other, even worse demons at bay.

Such futile pursuits can be quite pleasant (not to me, but then I will concede that I am unusual) when there is plenty of energy left to squander. But when that energy starts to run out (along with most other resources on this overcrowded, depleted, polluted planet), which it is currently showing every sign of doing, then everyone's luck starts to run out at the same time. As the situation goes from bad to worse, people gamble away their savings and drop out of the game. The US labor market since the financial collapse of 2008 is a case in point: the labor pool has shrunk to the point that something like 10% have lost their jobs, never to gain them back. There is a term for that: it is called a decimation.

Decimation is a Roman military practice that was used to discipline legions that did not perform well in battle. Soldiers were organized in groups of ten and drew lots. Out of each group of ten, one comrade drew the shortest stick, and was promptly bludgeoned to death by the others. This, to them, made perfect sense. In a superstitious culture, victory is a matter of luck, and so to achieve victory, all one needs to do is to identify and purge the unlucky ones, by the luck of the draw. Once they are gone, then by definition all those who remain are lucky, and can go on to victory confident in the knowledge that Tyche is on their side.

The decimation in the labor market has had a similar effect: a lot of people are gone and have faded from view, but the ones who were dismissed as companies “trimmed the fat” are seen as the unlucky ones. Those who remain are, by definition, lucky, and try to make the best use of their luck by working ridiculously long hours. That may work once, but what if the cycle of decimation is to repeat endlessly? The only historical case of repeated decimation (the Legion of Thebes) was an act of martyrdom, and so is not relevant. If a single round of decimation fails to rally the troops to victory, the next one should drive them to mutiny.

The labor market is just one example of this sort; the retirement debacle is another. Those people in the US who have managed to save for retirement are gambling with it, by investing it in stocks (whose upside is limited by the economy's inability to grow) and bonds (whose upside is limited by runaway public debt, currency debasement, and eventual sovereign default and/or currency devaluation). The financial collapse of 2008 has decimated their retirement savings, and yet they are still gambling with them. At what point will they refuse to keep playing? When all of their savings are gone, or at some point before then?

At what point does a society made up of gambling addicts refuse to gamble? Once they have lost everything? Or once it has become clear to them that the game has degenerated into “Heads you lose, tails you lose”? Tyche's charms are appealing only when she isn't cheating. But if you are invited to play, although you (and just about everyone you know) always loses while some perpetually “lucky” group always wins, then that fails to satisfy the gambling urge, and Tyche fades away, to be replaced by the far more destructive demons of envy and rancor which she previously held in check. It will be very interesting to see how this will (pardon the pun) play itself out. Obviously, I am not making any bets.


Lynford1933 said...

Thank you for your bicycle essay as it caused me to get my bike in shape. I am not a winter biker.

I live in Nevada and nowhere do you see gambling against slight odds like in a casino. Everyone knows the long odds with the lottery but few consider the slight odds of two or three percent and the long term advantages for the casino. For one, there are more winners which further encourages play. The casino only gets a couple percent of each play on most games and machines no matter how many wins. This is because there are hundreds of players. If a brand new casino started with a few hundred players within a few minutes the casino would up to statistical odds even if there were winners in the first few minutes and they will stay with those odds forever. The legend of the player that put three dollars into a machine and won thousands is prevalent and does happen enough to keep the legend going.

odamaki said...

Muḥammad is said to have destroyed all the idols kept in the Kaʿba in his time, whether or not Tykhē or her Arab equivalent among them. However, al-Lāt would certainly have been among the idols, and it would be curious and cute if al-Lāt (sounding like English "lot") had in fact been identified by the peoples of the region with Greek Tykhē ( ). There are some pictures of the interior of the Kaʿba floating around the web: The things between the pillars are probably censers rather than bottled-up deities.

Wiglaf said...

Citation, please, for the claim that decimation had the superstitious dimension that you describe and was inflicted on underperforming troops? I have only read of it as a punishment for actual mutiny, e.g. flat-out refusal to fight.

I doubt that the practical-minded Roman aristocrats who commanded the legions would waste such manpower and embodied training (to say nothing of morale) on a bloody luck spell.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Logan - see

Silenus said...

It seems like the two options, or the two poles of the spectrum, are belief in a Just World in which people get what they deserve, on the one hand, and the notion that the world is random and life outcomes are the result of chance, on the other. Neither view is very comforting.

The salient problem with the first one is that innocent people obviously suffer misfortunes all the time, so to ascribe responsibility to the sufferer in such cases is callous as well as individually and socially deleterious. The salient problem with the second view is that if life is just a game of chance, then people lack an incentive to behave responsibly when there are obvious ways to do so.

Existence is shaped by some mix of the two, perhaps. Some people are obviously far luckier than others, for example simply by virtue of birth. But within one's lot in life, there are usually opportunities to make the best of it.

I was born with a rod up my butt: very serious, responsible, a contingency planner yet flexible and adaptable, and a delayer of gratification. Like you, Dmitry, I never liked games of chance either and have always taken whatever precautions were available to avoid bad outcomes. On the whole I think I've lived far more responsibly than most. But that capricious little wench Fortune enjoys kicking me in the balls on a regular basis. Maybe she dislikes those who spurn her and wants to deflate their seriousness.

It would be nice to think my responsibility will pay off someday (not monetarily), but I won't bet on it. There's a good chance it's all been for naught. If I adopted the belief that responsibility will lead to a good outcome and it didn't come true, the psychological blow would be hard. So I refrain from getting my hopes up, yet I still behave responsibly. It might just be my nature as a serious person. If that's the case, then I deserve no credit for being responsible, because I didn't choose my nature.

We tty to find ways to make sense of the world. When a theory is satisfying, we believe in it. But all ways of making sense of the world are riddled with problems and inconsistencies. Ultimately the world doesn't make sense in any way that would satisfy human notions of justice. Yet that doesn't stop us from trying to make sense of it.

All is vanity and chasing after wind.

Believer said...

The writers over at Yahoo Finance seem to be spinning the wheel with regularity. One day it's "Stocks up on jobs report" and the next day it's about 3 families going from $100K to flat broke due to unemployment.

russell1200 said...

The appeal of Furtune seems to have been an understanding that people do not know how the world works, and the various results of life often hit people unprepared. Earlier socieites did not even have an effective knowledge of the mathematics of chance so they did not even have the language to explain much of the phenomina.

However, as Taleb (either in The Black Swan or Fooled by Randomness) has noted. If you cannot predict an end result (and in complex systems that is often the case) than it may as well be random.

The key is to find ways to use randomness to your advantage.

Jeff said...

Bravo, kollapsnik. You have put your finger on a key problem; that of saving within the monetary system. If you or your pension fund bought any kind of fixed-income securities (also known as bonds), you loaned some of your savings to debtors. Private debt is created by banks expanding their balance sheets. Some of it remains on the bank balance sheet and some of it is sold to savers like you. But when the debt defaults, the savers take the loss. The system will write down the debt held by savers before that held by the banks, to protect the system. The system will be protected at all costs. In today's system, securitized debt is the way various tranches of debtors bid savings away from the savers. Fortunately, there is a solution; hold your savings outside the monetary system!

There is a difference between preserving purchasing power and trying to increase your purchasing power by navigating your way through risk. Savers are "risk averse". That's the very definition of a saver. Any deviation from full risk-aversion and a saver becomes something else; an investor, a trader or a speculator.

It's really obvious what the best medium to save in, isn't it? The zero interest rate bound is bringing exter's pyramid into focus, and soon everyone will understand it intuitively. Where does money go to die?

Where do we go when we die?
We go back to where we came from
And where was that?
I don’t know, I can’t remember

Virginia Woolf, “The Hours”

DeVaul said...

I am so glad you wrote about this. My own father was a victim of gambling until I "decimated" his income by removing it from him. He then pursued more productive activities like reading history and stuff.

As for my wife, her Buddhist religion has proven stubborn to overcome with Tyche holding such a firm grip on it. I've tried to explain to her that machines are not "lucky" or "unlucky", that they explode, burn, breakdown, stop working, whatever, because the filters, belts, oil, etc. are not cleaned and replaced on a regular basis (or ever).

This clashes with her experiences in Thailand, where people would run cars and machines till they dropped dead, then stand there on the road and say: "Gosh, I guess I'm just unlucky." That would require a trip to the temple to pray for good luck and also pick-up a "sacred text" that would tell you your fortune. (Mine seemed rather unclear, but then I was new at it.)

Of course, you can go to another temple and pray there, and then, after pressing gold leaf onto Buddha's head, try your hand at a different fortune -- perhaps a "lucky" one. (Mine did not seem to improve in clarity, but my wife said it did. I guess it was the random English translations that threw me off and prevented me from seeing Tyche's obvious favor.)

If only I could learn Thai. I would be lucky!

Mario Grant said...

batThe idea of being "rewarded" by a deity because one conforms to the required behaviours is part of the "prosperity gospel". I think is a Calvinistic concept that was transformed by some US preachers during the 20th century: "If you are pious you will prosper", otherwise, it says that "your lack of material prosperity is a mirror of your low morality". Luck then is "purchased" from God and your lack of it is consecuence of your sins.
Being a Christian, I think that Christianity's leaders lack some honesty for not pointing very clearly that salvation and its rewards are not for this world. Of course that behaving virtously makes life easier for us and those around us, but it does not substract us from the laws of probability and natural phenomena; if anytime God suspends the natural laws, it is then called a miracle. On the other hand, faith consoles and aides the acceptance of reality.

Luciddreams said...

After reading this blog, I can say that your blog is a wordsmithed version of the painting "Roulette." Excellent essay! Also I'm glad to get a glimpse into your spiritual side, although I'm not sure you would like that word, "spiritual."

I've recently written a blog about the myth of temptation...the tempter Mara and Satan. I believe it's a common myth of the perennial sort. I love myth and I have been studying Arthurian Myth lately, very interesting and it resonates with my WASP ancestry. I suppose Tythee would be just another tempter? The guardian at the gate beyond which is seeing reality clearly.

I am seeing it very clearly here of late. Thanks to people like you and many other leaders in the consciousness movement. I was recently published on, so I'm sure you won't mind if I plug it here.

Thanks for your contribution to the Post Petroleum Human Tribe Dimitri.

Silenus said...

DeVaul, I think Buddhism is so luck-based and pessimistic due to, at least in part, the history of legalistic, conformist, grandiose monarchies in the Far East. Those societies have been so rigid that people's prospects are very much the outcome of luck.

It's much the same with Quietism, the withdrawn monastic approach to Islam found in Persia. Or with the Hellenistic philosophies that sprung up in the wake of Alexander's self-annointment as a God-king and the establishment of huge impersonal states in the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East. Prior to Alexander, the ancient philosophy that came out of the polis was much more civic-minded, outward looking, theoretical, and optimistic.

Squashing human autonomy through the establishment of a rigid social structure, and through mystifying spectacle that presents leaders as "other" and divine, seems to promote pessimism, withdrawal, and a static culture.

Utilitopia said...

I hold dollars because I am gambling that The System will at least attempt to maintain appearances by dividing up remaining resources based on relative dollar share. My share may not be much, but it will be proportionally valuable to others' holdings.

At this time, I don't see a way to invest the current value of those dollars effectively in collapse-proofing myself without quitting my job, losing my income, and my health insurance, which is also quite a gamble.

Sometimes you are forced to calculate the odds and simply do your best.

flipjack said...

"Silenus said...
It seems like the two options, or the two poles of the spectrum, are belief in a Just World in which people get what they deserve, on the one hand, and the notion that the world is random and life outcomes are the result of chance, on the other. Neither view is very comforting."

The Big Bang didn't ask if it would be ok with us if it created the Universe. Random chance doesn't ask us if we are comfortable living by its rules. It is simply a fact. What comfort would it be to, falsely, pretend any different? False comfort?

The truth is we all get a smattering of good luck and bad luck. Chris Hitchens in G.I.N.G. says he always notices when he's arriving at his apartment that the bus is just pulling up, but when he leaves in the morning, its never there. Everyone draws these conclusions, but its the same old difficult issue of associating correlation with causation. Somehow, depending on our mood, its always easy to forget the other side of the ledger.

Also, Dmitry, you should have typed this whole article in bold, Fortuna would have loved it. Tee Hee, get it?

Luciddreams said...

Silenus said:

"DeVaul, I think Buddhism is so luck-based and pessimistic due to, at least in part, the history of legalistic, conformist, grandiose monarchies in the Far East. Those societies have been so rigid that people's prospects are very much the outcome of luck."

I think this view is missing the message. Speaking as an American raised Christian (no longer Christian by the way) I can say that there is a difference between the social control aspect of "religion" and the message from those the religion espouses.

The distinction between the two is the difference between exoteric and esoteric modes of knowing. The "luck" and "pessimism" of Buddhism has nothing to do with what Siddhartha Gautama said and everything to do with those dynasties and their need for control of the minds of their masses. The same thing can be clearly seen in Christianity with the like of the evangelicals and their ridiculous nonsense.

The literal word of God interpretation is missing the point. Buddhism has the same phenomenon. Buddhism is not pessimistic or concerned with luck. Regardless of how the exoteric followers of the East act and misinterpret.

This can best be seen with Islam and the fundamentalist Jihad type. Sufism is the esoteric teaching from that tradition. It has nothing to do with infidels and Jihadist fantasies.

John D. Wheeler said...

Dmitry, thank you for being willing to open up about your personal experience. That was very enlightening.

There is a good reason why this generation of Americans should so worship Tyche: because we are the most fortunate people in the history of the world. Those lucky enough to have been born in America in the late 20th century take for granted things that were beyond the wildest dreams of the aristocracy of a few centuries back.

I don't think you've truly grasped the concept of randomness as used in science (and religion, for that matter). There are fundamental limits to what can be known (see Heisenberg and Goedel). Probability is not about "getting lucky", it is about dealing with things that are beyond our grasp. And even if everything is God's will, we can't know what that is perfectly beforehand.

The biggest problem isn't those who believe in chance, it is those who believe they deserve what they have when they are merely lucky.

Dmitry Orlov said...

John -

What sort of experiment would you construct to differentiate god's will from random chance? If there isn't a test, then it's a distinction without a difference, isn't it?

Silenus said...

Lucid, I agree the Buddha's message was different from the social use that Chinese dynasties found for it. Just as Jesus' message is different from the way he's been used by powerful people.

Nonetheless, I do think the pessimistic, anti-theoretical view in Eastern cultures is influenced by the history of rigid social hierarchy and god kings over there.

DeVaul said...

Well, I would not say that my wife or other Thais are overly pessimistic, and they certainly are not Chinese in manner or custom. Chinese are not well-liked by the Thais and after meeting some here, I am not fond of them either. They tend to be somewhat unreasonable.

Also, while I am not a Buddhist, I do know that Thai Buddhism is different than Chinese, but I don't know the particulars. Being of a non-jewish religion myself, I find that there is no discord between my wife's beliefs and my own, which is a kind of marital harmony that is worth more than any amount of money.

I just noticed that Thais feel they are either "lucky" or "unlucky", and if unlucky, they might feel sad or depressed. If lucky, they are happy -- until bad luck comes along. Sometimes it is difficult to deal with, but my own religion helps me to smooth out these ups and downs by taking a longer view of things.

Just last night my wife asked me if I had been buying lotto tickets (a common thing in Thailand), and I said I bought one 2 months ago. She was not pleased, but in my own defense, I stated that my deafness prevented me from remembering to buy them. She was not totally convinced by that, but fortunately the commercial ended and her TV show came back on, so I was saved.

One thing I do know: to be a good gambler, you have to remember to gamble, something I have a hard time with.

Jerry McManus said...

It's certainly true that casinos and lotteries are temples to fortuna, but I think it's a stretch to lump Wall Street in with that crowd.

Isn't the American economic narrative much more along the lines of "Rags to Riches"? Born of the egalitarian idealism of American democracy, married to the rugged individualism of the American frontier, the pervasive myth in contemporary culture is that everyone plays by the same rules, and with a lot of hard work (and maybe a little luck) anyone can make their fortune, no matter what their circumstances.

From that perspective the wishful thinking that compels people to put their money in the stock market isn't so much the luck of the draw, but the belief in winners being highly skilled players. The myth of the "smart money".

This mythology can be most clearly seen in the recent crop of New Age religions (I use that term loosely), where the idea is that you "create your own reality", primarily through no other agent than the state of your own mind. All responsibility falls on the individual, no luck or other gods involved. At its most superficial level this is generally taken to mean that if your life is sad, then you must not be thinking happy enough thoughts.

Not sure what the desperately poor and violently oppressed people of the world, who by now number in their billions would make of that, but there it is.

The economic narrative can also be seen in the recent wave of protest movements. If the myth of the level playing field is what keeps American hope springing eternal (and the rich safe in bed at night), then the recent economic calamity has clearly put the big lie to that.

As the one percent make out like pathologically criminal bandits the other not so "fortunate" ninety nine percent slowly wake up to the fact that the game is rigged. And not in their favor.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your discussion of the Cult of Fortuna in U.S. culture. I think it bears mentioning that there are a number of these weird belief systems at work here. Take the Cult of Mars, the breathtaking ability for U.S.ers to associate anything at all with war and to view that as a positive alignment of ideas. It's been said before: we go to war on diseases, drugs, children in gangs, delinquent student loans, baldness,cholesterol, teachers unions, opposing sports teams, mosquitos, masquara that doesn't last all day and party all night,invasive snails, impoverished nations...

Then there is the Cult of Hermes: sports, sports, and more sports, baby!! Of course, underlying all the cartoon bright uniforms, the super-mega-atomic-media hype, the imbecilic discussions of "Too much Manning!!",the charitably organized tax dodges, the early onset of dementia in injured players,and the 200$ sneakers crafted by slaves to fall to pieces within a few months is a constant, throbbing drum beat of "Competition. Competition. One must win, one must lose. Might makes right. Winner takes all." Sports culture, as least what I've experienced in the U.S., is ultimately about reaffirming the national ethos of sociopathic individuality, of violence as a just moral arbiter, and of course about white male patriarchy.

Then there is the Cult of Pluto, no, I'm not referring to the worship of death here although there is plenty of that to be found here as well: Watch a bit of video from that national organization for the families of fallen police officers at their gigantic death cult rallies and you will see it in full swing, idols of the fallen, mindless whooping prayer sessions, and not a whole lot of critical thinking to be found. But Pluto has another area of authority: wealth.

Now, sure, our wealthy worship wealth, but it's the 99%ers who worship the 1% that I fear. The preschoolers who inspect their peers clothing tags to see if they are worth befriending or if they are lowlifes in Gap Crap, the pastors who exhort us to realize "Jesus wants us to be wealthy!", the use of an airline "Mogul" to instruct school children on how to better run their young lives as a business,the constant advertising language buzzwords of luxury, privilege, exclusiveness, and achievement to be found on automobiles, candybars, colleges, and personal bottled water choices, the pop music lyrics that equate a totally industry fabricated, encounter group research driven musical career that successfully sells repackaged dog shit to children and idiots as a sign of artistic and business "genius." amounts to a constant homage to wealth, a constant diminution of all things to the "cash nexus", the dissolution of all meaning and all hope and all purpose to grasping, blood sucking, wealth acquisition.

Thats just a beginning of the list of U.S. cults, see if you can add some more for fun!

David said...

Thank you Dimitri and all the commenters for this discussion, it is very relevant to where we now find ourselves. The house always wins is a thought actively repressed by the gambler. Yet the casino is positively benevolent and democratic compared to crony Capitalism, where the fix is really in. The use of priests and preachers as our paid intermediaries to the favors and luck of the gods is a great racket, for them (tax-free, too). The support of many of the lower and middle class for the Republican agenda of tax cuts and deregulation is similarly based on the belief that they are just waiting for their luck to change, whereupon they will also partake of these same advantages. The historical use of religion, jargon and class to opiate the masses is a testament to our gullibility and superstitious nature. The Islamist view extends this self righteousness to the point of actual insanity, where it becomes your duty to kill your family member if they offend a rule or question the dogma. And then happily justify it by referring to a 7th century belief system.

My donkey said...

Thank God I'm not religious. If I was, I might believe that each of us has a purpose, and I'd probably feel guilty for not fulfilling mine.

Fortunately, my view is that the universe is indifferent, and that "good luck" and "bad luck" are equally neutral probabilities.

Likewise, events are not good or bad; they have no intrinsic value. This awareness is reassuring, allowing me to live the peaceful and contented life of a cow. Whoever says "the unexamined life is not worth living" thinks too much. As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.

William Hunter Duncan said...

The Powerball was 325 million this last week. I bought five tickets, the first lottery tickets I've bought in a decade. I stood in my living room and called out each number clearly to see if any spirits of gods would hear. I lost the ticket, and was sure I'd won, but then I found it, and I hadn't, not by a long shot. I would say it will be another ten years before I buy another Powerball ticket, but I don't really think there will be a Powerball in ten years. If I'd won I surely would not take the annuity.

Anonymous said...

Good article. Unfortunately I think we are very close to leaping from НИИЧАВО to Harmont's Zone.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Pay no attention to Atif, he is attempting to spread disinformation (I deleted his other comments.) Non-Muslims are strictly forbidden from visiting Mecca. If you somehow make it past the police checkpoints, you will get arrested and deported. If in addition manage to sneak into the Kaaba or other holy site, my guess is that you stand a fair chance of being beheaded for the crime of defiling it with your presence.

rubbell said...

About time someone poked into the issue of the masses ignorance as to the concept of luck and odds. I had this quaint belief that wars on everything and anything would raise the value of gold and oil. I was lucky that I happened to live close to an oil area so derivatives such as real estate and leverage could also be played.I was one foot in the gutter at 45 and now at 59, I am safe. Still after doing all the right moves for all the right reasons I still believe chaos is not far down the road. I just hope it is delayed enough so I get a chance to see wonderful Russia on my 60th birthday. Russians are so interesting and their points of view are not so tainted by living in the belly of the fish us Westerners do. R. Olausen.

Tatu Matti Akseli Portin said...

As I read this post, about chance, luck, randomness, chaos, you name it; It became to my mind that human mind can sort out, analyze the things that seem randomness in the beginning. As DO says, "I try to construct pockets of difference and meaning." This is what our minds do, this is what can give us (continuing) advantage, understanding the system (natural sciences). Thermodynamics and entropy. :) Like the transistor metaphor, even if it is all quantum mechanics and so, still human mind has constructed a deterministic, orderly device. There is a dualism thou, deterministic system can behave in seemingly random way, see Chaos theory. Somehow it came to my mind; Is there such strict category, random vs. deterministic, or should one think it as some kind of continuum, without borders, entering and exiting random realm vs. deterministic realm.