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From Chronicle of Higher Education: Secular rationalists bank on luck


Curious piece here:

There is an implicit optimism in the word luck. Unmodified, we supply the adjective “good”: Naked luck means good luck, as with the “luck of the Irish,” the obvious irony having been forgotten, except by the Irish.

The Irish think luck means being alive.

Even a dyed-in-the-wool secular rationalist, every once in a while, banks on luck. Yet the rather superstitious person no differently knows that his luck, the good kind, must be husbanded, not banked on in the sense of “count on,” but banked in the sense of “saved up,” with its deployment deferred and economized. The lucky person knows not to press his luck, not to draw on it too often, nor ask too much of it.

I can imagine some paint-by-numbers evolutionary psychologist inventing an explanation for the adaptability of schadenfreude and envy. One theory might go like this: Our ancestors lived in conditions of great scarcity; indeed it took the agricultural and industrial revolutions before people could envisage that economies could grow, the pie get bigger. Before then, if someone took too big a share of the communal pie, or was too good a hunter and did not share, well then everyone was worse off for his being better off. To hell with skills qualifying him for survival of the fittest; his loser cavemates had the embryos of schadenfreude and envy growing in them and killed the good hunter. So we get norms of sharing enforced by fear, and the survival of the less fit assured by our ancestors banding together out of sheer annoyance at the big man’s success.

Who knows? Stories like that are a dime a dozen these days, without any explanatory value whatsoever. … More.

See what I mean about how evolutionary psychology has lost credence in the academy? Dude, you are playing my song. But that’s fine.

See also: Science Fictions on the human mind

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