08.09.16 | The Role of Luck (Chance) in Life

What was the chance? What was the chance that the club library would open up this Tuesday (8/9/16) for a special Member Monday session?

What was the chance that Member Monday would even get off the ground in the first place; and, indeed, that the 1979 overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty would impel some kid from Iran to find refuge in, of all places, Boulder where he would learn English, buy a broken-down building for the price of the bricks, and create a club to house it all.

This special Tuesday session will address the article by Robert H. Frank,  "Just deserts: why we tend to exaggerate merit--and pay for doing so" (link:go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA458268321&sid...v=2...).

As to the likelihood of even having this special session -- that all the contingencies would precisely align -- the easy answer is 100%. Current reality is, by definition, certain.


Such would be the position of many a successful corporate chieftain, Hollywood luminary, derivative speculator or anyone else steeped in the rhetoric of meritocracy. They would bridle at the very suggestion their success could be attributable to anything other than talent, hard work, and an appetite for risk taking. They sniff and sneer at the very notion that the mumbo-jumbo metaphysics of luck is part of the equation. They do so at their peril.

And so it extends beyond the individual. A company often confuses luck with talent. Ensuing hubris may even contribute to its demise once fortune changes. Civilizations come and go, some so strangely and precipitously (e.g. Mayan) that some inexplicable randomness must have been at work.

We may also discuss man's attempt to tame luck through divine intervention. Some will recall the satirically pious story how a soldier's breast-pocket Bible stopped the bullet en route to the heart. And, of course, it depends upon whose luck we're talking about. Remember the Aztec's habit of ripping out the still-beating heart of a human sacrifice to the gods.

Steve SmithComment