Saturday, April 26, 2008


Via 37signals, an article on luck and how it is entirely meaningless, ending with, "Your luck, in the end, is pretty much what you choose it to be." This is part of a vast literature, generally written by people who have succeeded, that claims that attitude is everything, that all events bow to the way you handle them. "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade" - "Luck is the residue of design" - "A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck."

At least as fascinating are the comments attached to the article, which I'll let you read for yourself; suffice it to say that they go back and forth between the people who buy into the author's thinking that luck is something you control by good old positive thinking, and people who think that there are exogenous events which affect outcomes. [Perhaps my favorite:
There is no such thing as luck; it is a delusion we ascribe blame or credit to for the effects of the causes we make. It is no different that blaming the devil, the boss, the spouse, etc. When we take responsibility for our own lives, we make our own “luck.” The cause of being born poor or suffering a hurricane is not so easily seen; it may come from the karma of a previous lifetime.
That's great, reaching for reincarnation as a mechanism to explain luck.]

This is an outgrowth, I think, of the idea that, if you wish real hard and are noble of spirit, that good things will happen to you. It suggests that life is outcome-based, that is, the result is proof of some innate wonderful quality.

It is this line of reasoning that suggests that Bill Gates is somehow a better person than the rest of us; he must be, otherwise he wouldn't have $60 billion. He must be more positive, more clear-thinking than anyone else.

From the article:
Luck is random—that’s what chance means—so they (lucky people) are just as likely to suffer setbacks as anyone else. What’s different is their response. When things go wrong, they quickly look for ways to put them right.
Talk about a misunderstanding of randomness, and a total failure to grasp how luck can create a different plane of existence. You can't argue that being born in Darfur is simply a bad break compared to being born a Kennedy, and that you can catch up just through having the right attitude. The Darfur-born person ends up with a structural set of problems that the Kennedys will never have, and pluck won't ever make up for that.

Most talk of luck is ex post. Successful people don't believe in it, because that would undercut their sheer wonderfulness. Bill Gates can't talk about how lucky he is, even though, had he been born 10 years earlier, or 10 years later, or 8000 miles to the east, he wouldn't be Bill Gates (this is not the time to discuss theories of history, like the "Great man theory").

If unsuccessful people try to talk about it, they are derided, as in the article. They must have an internal problem, a bad attitude, a congenital negative feeling, and, if they'd just "get over it," their luck will change and the world will be better.

I'm not saying anyone should wallow in their misfortune; becoming paralyzed by one's situation is not the way to go. You have to get up and go on, and hope for better things.

But it is insulting to people who've had a bad break (or two, or ten) to imply that they're deficient as people and somehow deserve it. That's the self-aggrandizing philosophy of successful people, and only shows that good luck can demonstrate as many deficiencies as can bad luck.

No comments:

Clicky Web Analytics