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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Reasoning With Lottery Dreams

The ringtailed monkey is very difficult to catch, but for the Zulus it's simple. They've been catching this agile little animal with ease for years, so the method the Zulus employ is based on their intimate knowledge of the monkey. Their trap is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. Ringtailed monkeys love the seeds of the fruit. Knowing this, the Zulus simply cut a hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand to reach the seeds inside. The monkey will stick his hand in, grab as many seeds as he can, then start to withdraw it. This it cannot do because the monkey's fist is now larger than the hole. It will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours. But it can't get free of the trap unless it gives up the seeds. Meanwhile, the Zulus sneak up and nab it.

"Historically we are emerging from an era with no clear ideology, but an era in which materialism and business has expanded powerfully and internationally, and out of the vacuum two old, discredited ideologies, laissez-faire and Social Darwinism appear to be rising again in modern guise. These ideologies are still flawed; the first (contained in modern Libertarianism) vigorously promotes freedom but ignores justice and is indifferent toward democracy. The second is supported by science, is disinterested in humane values and accommodates exploitation as part of the nature of things. Is this a society of individuals rationally maximizing happiness? Among the disadvantaged, it is a political economy of hope and fear." (Julian Edney,"Greed II,, 2005)

Yesterday, I patiently waited my turn in line at the mini-mart to pay for some gas. In front of me stood a man and his family -- a woman and a couple of young children. Judging by their very needy appearance (I realize I was making a huge leap here.), I thought the people were unfortunate victims of the cruel poverty state of Appalachia. The man checked out a six-pack of Natural Light and... began calling out the various names of the many instant lottery tickets he wished to purchase.

So, I became a witness to the dilemma faced by so many in a poor, rural environment. I believe the thinking process used by the poor, lottery-obsessed individuals is steeped in greed and in despair. Despite the odds of winning any significant amount of money, they hold a belief that lottery dollars represent their only chance to obtain significant wealth. The thinking likely follows this pattern:

Poor people are desperate.
I am poor.
Therefore, I am desperate (with a slim chance that some great stroke of luck falls into my lap).

Of course, accepting this pitiful state is nonproductive. By doing so, people convince themselves that their hope for improvement is rooted in luck, not in initiative and industry. Really, people in this state have learned to accept poverty in their lives, but they still feel the need to "invest" their limited dollars in pure speculation.

The argument may be valid, but the major premise is false. All poor people are not desperate. Many are just not satisfied with their station, and these people have interpreted their own circumstances as fateful desperation. They believe "The Man" has kept them down, and that's just "the way it is."

Simplicity and bare existence do not have to contribute to desperation. Indeed, many hard working people are poor due to various circumstances: their environment, their health, their limited abilities. Some merely prefer and accept a life that doesn't provide great riches. As long as they work to achieve this life, they are doing nothing wrong. It is not a crime to be poor, and if an individual accepts being poor as a crime or as a detriment, the individual is guilty of bad judgment.  

Harry Browne, libertarian writer and politician once stated, "There isn't any society to disapprove, to disallow, to denounce or to ostracize you. It's a myth. I wonder how many millions of lives have been tossed on the junk pile to appease an entity that never existed." In other words, strong individuals infused with a little hope  can usually, with enough effort, overcome adversities that exploit their lives. This invaluable truth is essential knowledge for living. Though more difficult to attain for those not blessed with assets at birth, success, to a large degree, lies in the realm of possibility but does require considerable effort in its acquisition.

If people truly believe more wealth equates to more happiness, they may resort to desperate measures to satisfy their thirst for "the good life." I'm not saying that buying a bunch of lottery tickets is bad or even necessarily harmful. Instead, I am saying that an individual must give education and industry significant attention: both of these will likely lead to quicker, more stable dollars. The good people with great material possessions understand this. Unfortunately, some who want money let greed lead them to unproductive, even detrimental enterprises. These people are greed-driven bad guys.

In the defense of the hopeful lottery players, I understand the draw of the gamble and even the entertainment value of shooting for a wild dream. I just don't know why some people accept the desperation of their circumstances without striving for improvement. A gamble is nothing more and nothing less. An investment in the intellect, with enough equal effort from the investor, most often pays great dividends. In addition, people willing to learn establish themselves among those who receive continued returns, both financial and virtuous.

I understand and accept the quote from Julian Edney in the beginning of this post. Are we a society that rationalizes happiness? Many do base their value of existence on rationalizing happiness through the acquisition of material possessions. Of course this inevitably leads to exploitation of the poor and to injustice for those with less; however, those without wealth must avoid self-condemnation which eventually will lead to slavery.

The hopes and fears of those in Appalachia can be exposed and can be understood. It takes quite a bit of self realization to reach this point though. People who rail continually about the sad state of the environment and who repeatedly take no positive action to improve it don't even purchase a ticket in the "Better Days To Come" grand drawing. Happiness and security do have their costs just like any other asset.

The key to a better future is changing focus. Greed and materialism play major roles in the needless destruction of human lives. People consumed by greed, given the opportunity, will take everything from anyone without a thought of morality or mutual respect. The greed drives such people to feed upon others and to obtain money that satisfies their personal desires. If the focus changed to fulfilling desires of unselfish love in life, people would soon realize that true happiness cannot be purchased in a lottery.

If we are all just monkeys in a zoo, I hope I am not genetically programmed to be a ringtail. To have my greed be responsible for so much wasted time seems unthinkable. Not only that, I wouldn't like having to worry about the added risk of getting caught because of my desire for an overabundance of purely selfish rewards. The Zulus out there are constantly poised, ready to capture their prey.

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