January 22, 2010

Where's Wallet? Or, Luck Out!

I lost my wallet yesterday. I didn’t actually, but for ten minutes it felt like I did. And then it showed up, in the sleeve of my jacket, having made its way there somehow from my inside pocket. Lucky I found it. Lucky.

I don’t believe in luck. The worst thing a man can do is to believe in luck. It shortcuts work, fastens his attention on false hope, makes him complacent, slack-minded, and liable to curse everything but himself when luck does not last. Luck is for losers, as George Eliot knew well:

She had begun to believe in her luck, others had begun to believe in it: she had visions of being followed by a cortège who would worship her as a goddess of luck and watch her play as a directing augury. Such things had been known of male gamblers; why should not a woman have a like supremacy? (George Eliot, Daniel Deronda).
Gwendolen, the subject of this passage, proceeded to lose everything by the next chapter. And if you care to show me a male gambler who is a talisman of good fortune, I will show you a highly skilled practitioner of this or that game, or a cheat. One can have occasional good fortune – nothing ventured, nothing gained – but nobody is lucky per se; lucky to the core. My luck today was merely relief. And had I lost my wallet, or anything in it, it would have been through my own complacency. Trifles, you say; yet the rule holds good. There is no substitute for hard work. As Jefferson is thought to have said: ‘I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it’. If you are in the right place at the right time, it is invariably because you, and the world you live in, have set a million things in motion to put you there and then. And if you have a rotten streak, then you can find real causes, out of which you may derive real solutions.

Even the things that affect us most deeply cannot be ascribed to luck. Redundancy is not bad luck: it is economy, and so is redundancy’s cure; illness is not bad luck: it is pathological. Its cure is medicine or not, but that is the nature of being a being. We may explain these things by luck, for it makes them easier to handle, and we may be forgiven for it. But in the day-to-day, I hate to see a man rueing his luck. It is not reasonable, and a man should above all else be reasonable.

1 comment:

  1. Doctor,

    It is always pleasing to hear a man who wishes people reasonable. But do you suppose that a cause can be found by science or by morality? For there may be things beyond either, or both. I remember how the Athenian stranger counts the seven titles to political rule in the Laws, Book III, the last of which (690c) is said to be being beloved of God (teophile) or lucky (eutuche). The title to rule referred to, of course, is that of true democracy: casting lots.

    Americans at least use this expression: don't confuse luck with skill - surely, one ought not to confuse them: but there are limits to skill, perhaps even to science, so there seems to be a realm where no confusion is likely: it may not be luck to the core, but merely luck at the core. - Ironically, people refer to the luck of the Irish. - And men do play and win the lottery.

    P.S. Gamblers might be skilled, but they still respect the chance meant by a throw of the dice; sportsmen do so with a coin-toss.

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