Noel Byrne 🖋 with a piece which featured in the Irish Freethinker November-December 2020.

Luck is what is beyond our control. We are not responsible for our existence. We did not ask to be born. Nor had we any control over the circumstances of our birth – not our parents, not our genes, not our sex, not our ethnicity, not our culture. Yet all of these play a major role in what we become and what we attain in life. Birth and life are a lottery and luck plays a major role in that lottery. There are no known certainties in life, (except perhaps in maths. and logic.) 

In our minds we see events as serendipitous or zemblanitous, but they are not so. If the universe is determined, then all events are determined. However in our perceptual world we see those determined events as good or bad, as lucky or unlucky. Luck is a human concept covering events that cannot be changed as well as haphazard events. It is a binary concept in the human psyche, whereby events are considered as in our favour or not in our favour. Outside humanity luck does not exist. As Robert Ingersoll famously said “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments only consequences”. But humankind at the top of the tree of life is now able to affect and influence both nature and society, and is in a position to influence causes and thereby effects and in so doing can affect the influence of luck.

Luck of course works both ways, both positively and negatively. However it is primarily with the negative aspects of luck that I am dealing with here. Luck in life is a spectrum. Some people have extremely good luck and others have extremely bad luck, whilst most have a reasonable combination of both. To try and flatten that curve and get those on the extremes of the curve nearer the middle would make for a fairer and more just world. Only humanity can do that, as the universe itself has no care for fairness, equality or justice. It continues unfolding in its own way. Fairness, equality and justice are human concepts and we as humans, and especially as Humanists, must incorporate them into our thinking and into society and help to overcome the unfairness and injustice in life. We can see unfairness everywhere we look: disease, war, poverty, injustice, prejudice, racism, accidents. Much of the injustice and unfairness in the world is manmade but many other unlucky events are outside humanity’s control. As Humanists, it is our duty to try and overcome this unfairness and injustice to our fellow man and to try and tip the scales of chance in favour of those affected particularly unfavourably by luck. Anything can happen to anyone. Malice and misfortune choose their victims blindly.

Luck is also time, opportunity, place, genes, parents, education, economic status, health, gender, colour, culture. Luck is random. For the successful, this is important to realize.

There will always be the talented, the beautiful and the genius, and these are products of luck. Yet the most capable and talented in the world will come to nothing without opportunity. There may be Einsteins, Darwins or Marie Curies in slums and ghettos whose potential the world will never see through no fault of their own.

We will never make a perfectly just and fair world, utopia must always be our dream, but we must endeavour to assist those that were dealt a bad hand by luck. Equality is not something that the Universe disperses. No two things, events or life–forms are the same. There is always difference. And so with humanity, no two people that have ever lived or will live are the same and as such none are equal. We are of course equal as human beings in terms of rights and it is here that we must strive to overcome the vicissitudes and vagaries of the Universe and try and bring those in need and those with much to spare closer so that we can all live with full basic human rights and the possibility for all of achieving full potential.

We must accept that nothing is really owed to us and where we are in life has been assigned to us by fate, and realize our lives could not be other than what it is. Intuitively we do not fully comprehend how much chance events affect our individual lives and also worldly affairs.

The term “The Matthew Effect “ was coined by the sociologist R.K. Merton. It refers to the concept of “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” and comes from the end of the parable of the talents in Matthew's gospel 25.29. “for everyone who has will be given and he will have abundance; but for him who has not, even that will be taken away”. So it seems to be in the modern world. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Many, if not most, of those extreme cases of wealth, power and success are probably down to luck. How many of the rich are conscious of the luck involved in their achievements? What lucky breaks or opportunities did they get? Were they born with a silver spoon in their mouths? Did they inherit wealth? Look at Donald Trump or Prince Charles. Privileged individuals may take umbrage at the thought that luck may have played a larger role in their success than their talent or work ethic. On the flip side of the coin are the poor and downtrodden, born in the wrong place, or with physical or mental disabilities. Amongst them may be potential geniuses, great scientists or even great statesmen, but luck has not allowed them to manifest their talent.

The idea of luck is generally disliked by the successful as it places achievement outside one's control. We are generally inclined to take full responsibility for our successes and we don’t generally apportion any responsibility for our success to parents, education, upbringing or any of the other factors involved in our success. That would take away from our significance. Many would be insulted if told their success might be down to luck.

There is a concept in psychology called correspondence bias whereby most of us have a tendency to attribute our successes to ourselves and our failures to others and to see the failure of others as being of their own making. To overcome this we need to try and put ourselves in the shoes of others and attempt to see how lack of opportunity or bad luck influenced their lives.

Life has two parts, what we consciously do and what happens to us. As such we can divide luck into two divisions, capricious luck as in our birth, genes, upbringing, culture etc. but also the luck imposed on us by the society in which we live such as the various discriminations within our societies, the class systems, bigotry, no equivalent opportunity for all, the lack of basic rights for many, prejudice, racism, religious and sexual discrimination, ageism and so on.

Because the Universe is completely uncaring of our concepts of equality and justice, it is up to us as Humanists to ensure those concepts become reified in society. However some in society continue to exacerbate and continue with unfairness and try to make society moreso. It is our duty as Humanists to counteract this unfairness.

We are now in a position in the 21st century to help deal with both of these forms of luck. In relation to the problems in the first instance, those involving our birth, upbringing, culture etc, we must ensure full human rights and entitlements for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality or disability, as well as allowing opportunities for all to achieve their full potential. In relation to societal issues the same applies. We need to eliminate all bigotry, injustices and discriminations and allow and assist everyone to achieve full potential.

Prejudice and racism are two of the most insidious standpoints which make for inequality and are very difficult to remove from society. But we must try.

In our efforts we cannot strive to achieve full equality for all. That is an impossibility. There is no equality anywhere in the world. Not all religious leaders are equal, nor are all politicians equal, nor are all doctors or whatever grouping you wish to take equal. We may supposedly all be equal under the law, but this only ensures that the legal system includes no biases. But we can make a society which is more equal, more fair and tries to ensure that all have the opportunity to achieve their potential. This will require controlling the wealth and power of individuals and corporations.

Understanding luck's major role in life increases our gratitude when we are successful and likewise lessens our self-criticism when things go wrong.

If we understand that most of life is out of our own control it helps to free us from arrogance when things go right and from being too self-critical when things go wrong. As mature adults we must deal with the unfairness of life, but likewise we must strive to eliminate the consequences caused by bad luck both to ourselves and to others.

As Humanists an awareness of the major part played by luck in life will help us to be more understanding and compassionate to those who are less fortunate than ourselves-the victims of the lottery of luck.

It is important to understand that success and luck are inseparable. If we keep this in mind we reduce the tendency to develop pride-filled egos when successful. It might even make some of the extremely rich resist tax evasion.

We obviously cannot make everyone of equal intelligence, talent, or physique. Nor in a capitalist society can we nor should we suppress those benefits in those who possess them. But we must try to help everyone to achieve their potential and ensure everyone lives a decent and comfortable life.

Many socially dominant groups ignore luck, despite being the recipients of large unearned wealth and advantage. They refuse to acknowledge their power and wealth as luck and because of their position have every incentive to do so. To acknowledge luck might probably raise in their psyches uncomfortable questions regarding obligations to others less fortunate than themselves. They will inevitably resist. We must somehow deal with those who want to perpetuate the unfairness and inequality in society.

It is up to us however to awaken in society the role of luck and make society in general understand that much success, wealth and power is generally luck and not always ability. Yet even ability is luck. By acknowledging luck's part in society we might lay a foundation for fairer economic and social policies and a more compassionate society. By understanding luck it means we accept that no one deserves to be hungry or homeless, in ill health or subjugated. It also means the opposite, no one deserves huge fortunes either. It might mean the end of the millions who are immiserated annually. Nobody deserves to suffer.

Luck cannot be eliminated as it is part of the universe. What we need to do is to cushion its more bitter effects to ensure everyone has access to a dignified life.

We cannot allow anyone to be in a position by virtue of wealth or power to negatively affect the rights, opportunities and entitlements of others.

⏩ Noel Byrne is a retired Civil Servant and a Humanist, with a principal interest in Philosophy, and a particular interest in Ethics and Morality.

Luck In Life

Noel Byrne 🖋 with a piece which featured in the Irish Freethinker November-December 2020.

Luck is what is beyond our control. We are not responsible for our existence. We did not ask to be born. Nor had we any control over the circumstances of our birth – not our parents, not our genes, not our sex, not our ethnicity, not our culture. Yet all of these play a major role in what we become and what we attain in life. Birth and life are a lottery and luck plays a major role in that lottery. There are no known certainties in life, (except perhaps in maths. and logic.) 

In our minds we see events as serendipitous or zemblanitous, but they are not so. If the universe is determined, then all events are determined. However in our perceptual world we see those determined events as good or bad, as lucky or unlucky. Luck is a human concept covering events that cannot be changed as well as haphazard events. It is a binary concept in the human psyche, whereby events are considered as in our favour or not in our favour. Outside humanity luck does not exist. As Robert Ingersoll famously said “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments only consequences”. But humankind at the top of the tree of life is now able to affect and influence both nature and society, and is in a position to influence causes and thereby effects and in so doing can affect the influence of luck.

Luck of course works both ways, both positively and negatively. However it is primarily with the negative aspects of luck that I am dealing with here. Luck in life is a spectrum. Some people have extremely good luck and others have extremely bad luck, whilst most have a reasonable combination of both. To try and flatten that curve and get those on the extremes of the curve nearer the middle would make for a fairer and more just world. Only humanity can do that, as the universe itself has no care for fairness, equality or justice. It continues unfolding in its own way. Fairness, equality and justice are human concepts and we as humans, and especially as Humanists, must incorporate them into our thinking and into society and help to overcome the unfairness and injustice in life. We can see unfairness everywhere we look: disease, war, poverty, injustice, prejudice, racism, accidents. Much of the injustice and unfairness in the world is manmade but many other unlucky events are outside humanity’s control. As Humanists, it is our duty to try and overcome this unfairness and injustice to our fellow man and to try and tip the scales of chance in favour of those affected particularly unfavourably by luck. Anything can happen to anyone. Malice and misfortune choose their victims blindly.

Luck is also time, opportunity, place, genes, parents, education, economic status, health, gender, colour, culture. Luck is random. For the successful, this is important to realize.

There will always be the talented, the beautiful and the genius, and these are products of luck. Yet the most capable and talented in the world will come to nothing without opportunity. There may be Einsteins, Darwins or Marie Curies in slums and ghettos whose potential the world will never see through no fault of their own.

We will never make a perfectly just and fair world, utopia must always be our dream, but we must endeavour to assist those that were dealt a bad hand by luck. Equality is not something that the Universe disperses. No two things, events or life–forms are the same. There is always difference. And so with humanity, no two people that have ever lived or will live are the same and as such none are equal. We are of course equal as human beings in terms of rights and it is here that we must strive to overcome the vicissitudes and vagaries of the Universe and try and bring those in need and those with much to spare closer so that we can all live with full basic human rights and the possibility for all of achieving full potential.

We must accept that nothing is really owed to us and where we are in life has been assigned to us by fate, and realize our lives could not be other than what it is. Intuitively we do not fully comprehend how much chance events affect our individual lives and also worldly affairs.

The term “The Matthew Effect “ was coined by the sociologist R.K. Merton. It refers to the concept of “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” and comes from the end of the parable of the talents in Matthew's gospel 25.29. “for everyone who has will be given and he will have abundance; but for him who has not, even that will be taken away”. So it seems to be in the modern world. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Many, if not most, of those extreme cases of wealth, power and success are probably down to luck. How many of the rich are conscious of the luck involved in their achievements? What lucky breaks or opportunities did they get? Were they born with a silver spoon in their mouths? Did they inherit wealth? Look at Donald Trump or Prince Charles. Privileged individuals may take umbrage at the thought that luck may have played a larger role in their success than their talent or work ethic. On the flip side of the coin are the poor and downtrodden, born in the wrong place, or with physical or mental disabilities. Amongst them may be potential geniuses, great scientists or even great statesmen, but luck has not allowed them to manifest their talent.

The idea of luck is generally disliked by the successful as it places achievement outside one's control. We are generally inclined to take full responsibility for our successes and we don’t generally apportion any responsibility for our success to parents, education, upbringing or any of the other factors involved in our success. That would take away from our significance. Many would be insulted if told their success might be down to luck.

There is a concept in psychology called correspondence bias whereby most of us have a tendency to attribute our successes to ourselves and our failures to others and to see the failure of others as being of their own making. To overcome this we need to try and put ourselves in the shoes of others and attempt to see how lack of opportunity or bad luck influenced their lives.

Life has two parts, what we consciously do and what happens to us. As such we can divide luck into two divisions, capricious luck as in our birth, genes, upbringing, culture etc. but also the luck imposed on us by the society in which we live such as the various discriminations within our societies, the class systems, bigotry, no equivalent opportunity for all, the lack of basic rights for many, prejudice, racism, religious and sexual discrimination, ageism and so on.

Because the Universe is completely uncaring of our concepts of equality and justice, it is up to us as Humanists to ensure those concepts become reified in society. However some in society continue to exacerbate and continue with unfairness and try to make society moreso. It is our duty as Humanists to counteract this unfairness.

We are now in a position in the 21st century to help deal with both of these forms of luck. In relation to the problems in the first instance, those involving our birth, upbringing, culture etc, we must ensure full human rights and entitlements for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality or disability, as well as allowing opportunities for all to achieve their full potential. In relation to societal issues the same applies. We need to eliminate all bigotry, injustices and discriminations and allow and assist everyone to achieve full potential.

Prejudice and racism are two of the most insidious standpoints which make for inequality and are very difficult to remove from society. But we must try.

In our efforts we cannot strive to achieve full equality for all. That is an impossibility. There is no equality anywhere in the world. Not all religious leaders are equal, nor are all politicians equal, nor are all doctors or whatever grouping you wish to take equal. We may supposedly all be equal under the law, but this only ensures that the legal system includes no biases. But we can make a society which is more equal, more fair and tries to ensure that all have the opportunity to achieve their potential. This will require controlling the wealth and power of individuals and corporations.

Understanding luck's major role in life increases our gratitude when we are successful and likewise lessens our self-criticism when things go wrong.

If we understand that most of life is out of our own control it helps to free us from arrogance when things go right and from being too self-critical when things go wrong. As mature adults we must deal with the unfairness of life, but likewise we must strive to eliminate the consequences caused by bad luck both to ourselves and to others.

As Humanists an awareness of the major part played by luck in life will help us to be more understanding and compassionate to those who are less fortunate than ourselves-the victims of the lottery of luck.

It is important to understand that success and luck are inseparable. If we keep this in mind we reduce the tendency to develop pride-filled egos when successful. It might even make some of the extremely rich resist tax evasion.

We obviously cannot make everyone of equal intelligence, talent, or physique. Nor in a capitalist society can we nor should we suppress those benefits in those who possess them. But we must try to help everyone to achieve their potential and ensure everyone lives a decent and comfortable life.

Many socially dominant groups ignore luck, despite being the recipients of large unearned wealth and advantage. They refuse to acknowledge their power and wealth as luck and because of their position have every incentive to do so. To acknowledge luck might probably raise in their psyches uncomfortable questions regarding obligations to others less fortunate than themselves. They will inevitably resist. We must somehow deal with those who want to perpetuate the unfairness and inequality in society.

It is up to us however to awaken in society the role of luck and make society in general understand that much success, wealth and power is generally luck and not always ability. Yet even ability is luck. By acknowledging luck's part in society we might lay a foundation for fairer economic and social policies and a more compassionate society. By understanding luck it means we accept that no one deserves to be hungry or homeless, in ill health or subjugated. It also means the opposite, no one deserves huge fortunes either. It might mean the end of the millions who are immiserated annually. Nobody deserves to suffer.

Luck cannot be eliminated as it is part of the universe. What we need to do is to cushion its more bitter effects to ensure everyone has access to a dignified life.

We cannot allow anyone to be in a position by virtue of wealth or power to negatively affect the rights, opportunities and entitlements of others.

⏩ Noel Byrne is a retired Civil Servant and a Humanist, with a principal interest in Philosophy, and a particular interest in Ethics and Morality.

1 comment:

  1. " Full many's the flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness in the desert air " .... Luck is in most cases accidental and plays no logical part in its existence ,,,,

    ReplyDelete