Thursday, March 24, 2016

Luck - I

Some in the upper strata of society lose no opportunity to say that their success is entirely due to their hard work and luck has nothing to do with it, that everyone can achieve their dreams. They will give the credit for their success to factors like passion, hard work, skill, focus, and having great ideas. These answers will get plenty of air-time since they make for more inspiring stories than any credit given to luck or privilege. Saying that everything is within your control is an appealing story but that doesn't mean it is true.

When I hear statements like 'you can be whatever you want to be', 'Champions are not born, they are made', 'the only person standing between what you are and what you want to be is you', etc. I get the feeling that these people are living on  a different planet from the one I occupy. It is often seen that the advantages that give us a head-start and the accidents that open up avenues play a huge part in our lives. Small, random, initial advantages can balloon into huge ones. Nick Cohen writes in You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom about many of the super-rich:
...they are unshakable in their belief that they are entitled to their wealth, and have every moral right to resist attempts to reduce it. It never occurs to them that they are lucky...To outsiders their luck seems self-evident. Yet nowhere in the recorded utterances of the plutocracy does one find a glimmer of an understanding that time and chance played a part in their good fortune.
The same book quotes the Russian oligarch Mikail Khodorkovsky before his fall from grace, 'If a man is not an oligarch, something is not right with him. Everyone had the same starting conditions, everyone could have done it.' Every one had the same starting conditions? This guy must have been hallucinating when he said that. As somebody said, 'You cannot make your opportunities concur with the opportunities of people whose incomes are ten times greater than yours.'

Our existence begins with a genetic lottery. Only one out many sperms in an ejaculate can fertilize an egg. It is estimated that the set of people allowed by our DNA far exceeds the set of actual people. In The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins, I came across a poem by Aldous Huxley:
A million million spermatozoa, 
All of them alive:
Out of their cataclysm but one poor Noah
Dare hope to survive.
And of that billion minus one
Might have chanced to be
Shakespeare, another Newton, a new Donne -
But the One was Me.
Shame to have ousted your betters thus.
Taking ark while the others remained outside!
Better for all of us, forward Homunculus,
If you'd quietly died!
If you are lucky to be born on the right side of the social  and economic divide, you can think of Gabbar Singh in the movie Sholay putting a gun under the chin of one of his henchmen, pulling the trigger, seeing that nothing had happened and saying, 'Bach gaya saala.'  The lottery starts before the moment of conception. What happened to your forefathers, the country and culture in which you are born etc. make a big difference to how you end up. Richard Dawkins writes in Unweaving the Rainbow:
Your parents had to meet, and the conception of each was as improbable as your own. And so on back, through your four grandparents and eight great grandparents, back to when it doesn't bear thinking about. Desmond Morris opens his autobiography, Animal Days (1979), in characteristically arresting vein:
Napoleon started it all. If it weren't for him, I might not be sitting here writing these words...for it was one of his cannonballs, fired in the Peninsular War, that shot off the arm of great-great grandfather, James Morris, and altered the whole course of my family history.

1 comment:

  1. Serendipitous that I read this recently: