What Does Luck Have To Do With It?

Max Gunther wrote a book several years back and it is being pushed by the blog Farnham Street.  It’s called “How To Get Lucky”, and like most of its genre, is generally a how to type of tome.  The tenor of the book is that we, human beings, deny the role of luck in our daily lives, or at least in western civilization.  The author then proceeds to give us thirteen steps to changing and taking advantage of our luck.  But luck is a lot like fate, some sense of predestination.The essence is that somehow luck is some commodity that one either has or can acquire.  Fate is that thing of that one’s stars and planets guide as they move across the heavens.  Of course the book is a rejection of the so called fatal flaws them both men and women possess.  Actually, all three ideas are perhaps a bit over worked as to how the reality of life really happens.

If you watch some of the nature shows and you see a lion or other predator make a successful kill, then the target of the attack, lord, not the victim, please get that ideal out of your head, the target, the prey captured, the thing that is attacked and captures and killed for food, is hardly the subject of bad luck.  No lion takes on the fastest or the strongest in the heard and it may not always choose the weakest, but it does chose the weaker members of the herd.  Here, luck has nothing to do with anything.  Yes, if you watch the wildebeest pushing the weakest, the oldest, the most unfit of the herd into the river where the crocodiles nasties wait for a fast food meal, you might see one of those unfortunates actually escape the jaws of death.  The crocodile doesn’t get the right hold, it relaxes its grip too soon, other crocs get in the way, any number of excuses for why the weaker animal avoids death this one time can come to mind  If one is a card player, then one calls it the luck of the draw.  But that really isn’t luck.  The cards are shuffled and dealt.  If the shuffle resorted in a fair deck, that is, no obvious stacking of the cards, then the cards are more or less dealt in a random order.  There is no over advantage given any of the players.  Where one sits in the order of the deal has little relationship over time as to any particular advantage in the deal.  True, the deck may not always be shuffled correctly and thus one player may be given an advantage but not by that players own dealing.

So what is luck?  Good or bad or indifferent, luck is little more than one of four conditions: being in the right place at the right time, being in the wrong place at the right time, being in the right place at the wrong time, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But all of this depends on independent events or a more or less random nature.  On the other hand, if one can recognize the patterns of these random events, meaning that such events are not really random at all, then one can make one’s own luck, so to speak.  The idea that one can improve one’s luck means events are not so random as to preclude any effort by the individual to change some course of events that would normally occur.  In Baseball, if the pitcher commits the error of giving the batter some slight hint of the kind of throw coming at him, that batter can take advantage of that hint and hit safely or even hit a home run.  The pitches thrown by pitchers are not random events nor are the swings on the pitches mady by the batters random attempts to hit the ball.  The statistics we used to compute batting averages do not mean that if a batter has a batting average of .333 that he will hit the ball every third time at bat.  One can watch such good hitters go for many at bats with no hits and then suddenly hit safely four or six times in a row.  Is it luck?  No, never was.  No more than that third baseman playing the line and finds that the batter has hit the ball too far to the third baseman’s left.  That third baseman is guessing that the batter will pull his swing closer to the line.  Guessing wrong is not a matter of luck.  Most of our guesses are based on some calculation, some judgement of past events, where we try to compute the statistical averages and hope that the average will apply in our decision.

But Gunther wants to go farther afield.  He and a few professors of literature decry the idea of the character possessing a fatal flaw.  Well, just what is a fatal flaw?  Would greed be a fatal flaw?  It has been shold that mammals possess a degree of greed.  If one wishes to capture monkeys, then take a gourd, cut a hole just barely large enough for a monkey’s hand to fit through and them place some rice in the gourd.  The monkey can’t withdraw his hand because he has made a fist when scooping up the grains of rice.  And the monkey will not let go of the grains of rice when a human approaches to capture him.  Basic greed is a fatal flaw, so to speak.  Luck has nothing to do with the capture of the monkey, grees does.  Of course if the monkey had consulted the astrology charts he may have seen that his fate was foretold.  Of course astrology has no scientific evidence of truth.  The stars and planets neither compel nor impel, they have no affect upon our daily lives.  What matters is whether one just happens to be standing under that overpass when if fails.  Luck or chance occurrence?  Okay, so you can roll sevens and make your point at craps fairly regularly.  Is it luck or a certain amount of control of the die?  A fair roll of a pair of dice means that you would have no greater chance at rolling a seven or your point and you would rolling craps or not your point.  Each roll of the die is an independent event and each roll should be a random event.  If it is not, then one is controlling the dice in some manner to one’s advantage.  Vegas frowns on that, greatly.

No, fatal flaws are personal problems with the choices one makes in life.  Didn’t study for that math test and don’t know the material and you still passed, that was not luck.  You simply answered enough questions to pass the test.  Maybe the professor loaded the test with sufficient number of easy questions and a few harder questions that you could actually work.  No luck involved.  You married the wrong person?  Well, that was a matter of poor choice.  Did you date long enough to find out if they might be the wrong person for you or was it one of those several week affairs and you hardly knew the person.  Luck has nothing to do with poor choices, with impulsive behavior.  Did we act too prematurely?  Then what does luck have to do with it?  Did we ignore that flashing warning signs?  What does luck have to do with it?  Did we never really achieve a sense of mastery over our wants and desires?  Did mommy and daddy indulge our every wish so that social skill sets are negligible?  Maybe your bad luck was choosing the wrong parents.  Oh, that’s right, we don’t get to choose our parents.  But between chance occurrence and poor choices or decision making, we can blame “luck” for our failures.  Can you really increase your luck?  In a sense, yes, but that is more directly a point of observation.  The baseball hitter who takes batting practice longer and with an eye to practicing hitting those pitches he has the most difficulty, can improve his average.  He hasn’t really improved his luck as he has improved his skills at bat.  The boy who dates a lot of girls has a better change of finding that “perfect mate” than the one who only dates a few girls.  And so it goes.  Luck does nothing for improving skills, practice does far more.  You want to influence people, then you must encounter more people through basic networking.  Writing blogs just doesn’t do it.


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