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"We're lucky and cursed not by the lottery gods, but by ourselves."

I don't play the state lottery, mostly because I don't know how to play it. When I stop into our local inconvenience store, I usually find somebody buying a ticket, often several. I don't know what they do with them or how winners get selected. I do know that the odds of winning seem infinitesimal, and that I'm too embarrassed to ask how one 'plays' the game. I figure that if I was meant to know how to do that, I would have already learned how. I figure that I automatically win another sort of lottery by not knowing how to play the lottery, my lottery prevents me from ever losing a dime playing that other lottery. My ignorance serves as an insurance policy against the almost certain prospect of losing whatever I spend playing that other lottery.

I suppose that I play in many different lotteries. So far, I'm winning the health lottery, though I expect to eventually lose it. That's the thing about lotteries, play one long enough and you're guaranteed to lose.
I'm told that I won the ethnicity lottery, though this was no game of skill. I was born white and male in an era when being born white and male bestowed certain advantages, as if everyone holding that particular ticket would win something all those not holding that ticket would be denied. I did okay in the looks lottery, too. Not exactly arm candy, but also not a cringe-worthy warthog, either. I've steadfastly failed to win the wealth lottery, but to be fair, I just as steadfastly refused to play the more popular forms of it. I'm a buy dear, sell cheap sort of fellow.

I'm trying to make the point that much of what society seems to ascribe to skill, talent, aptitude, and ability actually amounts to chance. Luck, good or bad, determines most lottery outcomes. Run the numbers and you'll see that most competitions devolve into random chances to win. Even if you have the best pitchers and hitters, odds are that you'll not win every game, that you'll barely win half the time. Variance, the probability surrounding each individual act within a game, tends to explode, leaving a nearly absolute certainty that you cannot know the outcome beforehand. It's a crap shoot. Being human, though, we deflect this rational analysis in favor of a more satisfying intuitive sense that we can somehow smell a winner when downwind of it. The best teams in baseball play just above .500.

Winning a lottery seems like a great gift, so we struggle to understand how losing one might prove to be an equal, though opposite, gift. We take even lottery losses altogether too personally, the same way we take lottery winnings, as if we were playing the role of something other than a bouncing pachinko ball ricocheting through a maze. We seem equally suckers and saints, full of ourselves even when feeling hollowed out after losing. Our ego strength exceeds our intelligence. Our innumeracy, our most profound feature. We're lucky and cursed not by the lottery gods, but by ourselves.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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