[OPE] fantasy intermission

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Mon Nov 16 2009 - 16:44:08 EST


You raise a complex topic on which I cannot pronounce so very quickly, and I
have all this stuff to do, and get confused about priorities. I made a
mistake today, and somebody didn't get his dossier on time, I cannot keep
that up.

I have ideas about the topic, but verifying that against experiential data
is something else again. To assess objectively the proportion of the world
population which is desperate, is quite a task. Gambling is a social problem
in Holland but perhaps not such a large one. According to my source, the
annual lottery turnover here is circa 1.5 billion euro, there are circa
40,000 gambling addicts, and circa 76,000 gamblers "at risk", 60% of
gamblers gamble on fruitmachines in pub, snackbars and the like, and 105
million euro is spent on online gambling. About half of the students have
gambled at some time or other.

I usually never gamble in lotteries, but one day a German lottery sent me an
invite, and that night I dreamt I would win a lot of money, and if I had
that, I could just study and write, without having to worry about my income
anymore. And I enrolled in the lottery. I won a few small prizes, I don't
actually know whether they credited them to my account, still have to check
that. But anyway one day I checked my messages after being out of town, and
one message said I was invited by the lottery to participate in the great
draw in Munchen, I had to hop on the train fairly smartly. Only trouble was
that I was too late reading the message! So I couldn't participate anymore.
What a shame, it might have solved a financial problem. I was game to do it.
Well I couldn't say, I didn't get offered a good deal!

Generally religion forbids gambling, you have to have faith, and I was
raised in that tradition, although I am not religious by inclination, and
find God a difficult concept. But to the extent that we all have to take
risks, we do end up gambling to some extent in some or other form. It is
just that we do not normally gamble so much for the sake of gambling, apart
from things like "can I pick up somebody today" or stuff like that. Like
that Abba song, "take a chance on me".

You are correct - hopes, wishes and desires are prone to manipulation for
monetary gain. One of my good friends in New Zealand, a socialist trade
union leader, regularly bought lottery tickets though he never won a major
prize. But often when people buy lottery tickets these days, it's because
they think, that even if they don't win a prize, they might win something
else in daily life :-) You cannot prevent gambling anymore than you can
prevent prostitution, but you can place limits on it. But I am not sure what
the best policy is there, because unlike some sociologists I haven't studied
this in detail myself. For me the best policy is really not to gamble in
lotteries, and I've advised friends the same, noting that the odds of
winning more than you lose, are not favourable anyway, unless you borrow big
capital up to the point where winning becomes almost certain (which is what
some people and companies do).

You may be poor, but being poor, you don't have the responsibility for all
the assets either, which can be a big worry. When you are rich, everybody is
after your money, and expects you to dispense it liberally to all those who
think you ought to give it to them. Damned if you do, and damned if you
don't. But for me the biggest problem is really that the world's elites, who
normally are expected to "set a good example", have in recent years been
gambling speculatively with truly enormous amounts of capital, including
borrowed capital, in all kinds of ways.

The social effect is that ordinary people also think "if they can do it,
it's allright for me to do it", and it creates a general gambling culture,
it legitimizes gambling all down the line. If everything is "deregulated",
this massively increases the amount of uncertainty in society, which
promotes a gambling culture. As a corrollary, there is also a massive
increase in attempts to insure capital against risk, but it turns out that
this insurance system also breaks down, and multiplies the amount the risk.

The end result is that people think "I cannot be sure anymore about anything
very much, even about my pension" and they just live for the day. If they
live for the day, they do not think anymore about tomorrow, because they
think, you simply cannot know anything anymore about the future, who knows
what will happen. And their children start to think the same way. And I
think that has massive implications for the "moral fabric" of a
civilization, the structure of social and personal norms if you like, and
for human character. How can people then plan their lives in a meaningful
way? In some respects, it has a corruptive effect. But you could also argue
to some extent, that it revolutionizes or radicalizes social consciousness,
insofar as taking more risks becomes "normal". The contradiction is that
bankers and creditors do have to think about tomorrow.

Contrary to some Marxists, I don't regard speculative activity as being all
bad, because it does develop important skills of forecasting, prediction and
risk assessment. It is just that, as Marx says, capitalist development
develops new human powers and capacities often in an "inverted" or twisted
way, or even in a perverted way, a highly self-contradictory way, these
abilities are made to serve a purpose really alien to the needs of humanity,
and any reasonable relationship between means and ends is lost - means
become ends and ends become means. And just as they think that they've
finally cracked the problem of insuring capital against risk, the economy
comes crashing down...

In the end, we end up saying that some people are risk-prone, and some
people are not, and that this depends on lifestyle, and that lifestyle is a
product of personal choices. This sort of idea leads to the justification
that if people fare badly, that's because they made bad choices, and they're
to blame themselves, but also to the justification that it is correct not to
associate with some people, because of their choices, and because of their
lifestyle. In this way, armed with the concepts of risk and choice, we can
justify anything. But the deeper problem is, that it is no longer clear what
you can take social responsibility for, beyond yourself, or why you should
take responsibility for it, other than as a personal preference. That in
turn leads to a big problem of valuation, because then how do you evaluate a
social problem, and why should you be concerned with it? There's a big
potential for social decadence there.


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Received on Mon Nov 16 16:50:11 2009

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