Theory of the Leisure Class, The

Chapter Eleven ~~ The Belief in Luck

The gambling propensity is another subsidiary trait of the barbarian temperament. It is a concomitant variation of character of almost universal prevalence among sporting men and among men given to warlike and emulative activities generally. This trait also has a direct economic value. It is recognized to be a hindrance to the highest industrial efficiency of the aggregate in any community where it prevails in an appreciable degree. The gambling proclivity is doubtfully to be classed as a feature belonging exclusively to the predatory type of human nature. The chief factor in the gambling habit is the belief in luck; and this belief is apparently traceable, at least in its elements, to a stage in human evolution antedating the predatory culture. It may well have been under the predatory culture that the belief in luck was developed into the form in which it is present, as the chief element of the gambling proclivity, in the sporting temperament. It probably owes the specific form under which it occurs in the modern culture to the predatory discipline. But the belief in luck is in substance a habit of more ancient date than the predatory culture. It is one form of the artistic apprehension of things. The belief seems to be a trait carried over in substance from an earlier phase into the barbarian culture, and transmuted and transmitted through that culture to a later stage of human development under a specific form imposed by the predatory discipline. But in any case, it is to be taken as an archaic trait, inherited from a more or less remote past, more or less incompatible with the requirements of the modern industrial process, and more or less of a hindrance to the fullest efficiency of the collective economic life of the present.

While the belief in luck is the basis of the gambling habit, it is not the only element that enters into the habit of betting. Betting on the issue of contests of strength and skill proceeds on a further motive, without which the belief in luck would scarcely come in as a prominent feature of sporting life. This further motive is the desire of the anticipated winner, or the partisan of the anticipated winning side, to heighten his side's ascendency at the cost of the loser. Not only does the stronger side score a more signal victory, and the losing side suffer a more painful and humiliating defeat, in proportion as the pecuniary gain and loss in the wager is large; although this alone is a consideration of material weight. But the wager is commonly laid also with a view, not avowed in words nor even recognized in set terms in petto, to enhancing the chances of success for the contestant on which it is laid. It is felt that substance and solicitude expended to this end can not go for naught in the issue. There is here a special manifestation of the instinct of workmanship, backed by an even more manifest sense that the animistic congruity of things must decide for a victorious outcome for the side in whose behalf the propensity inherent in events has been propitiated and fortified by so much of conative and kinetic urging. This incentive to the wager expresses itself freely under the form of backing one's favorite in any contest, and it is unmistakably a predatory feature. It is as ancillary to the predaceous impulse proper that the belief in luck expresses itself in a wager. So that it may be set down that in so far as the belief in luck comes to expression in the form of laying a wager, it is to be accounted an integral element of the predatory type of character. The belief is, in its elements, an archaic habit which belongs substantially to early, undifferentiated human nature; but when this belief is helped out by the predatory emulative impulse, and so is differentiated into the specific form of the gambling habit, it is, in this higher-developed and specific form, to be classed as a trait of the barbarian character.

The belief in luck is a sense of fortuitous necessity in the sequence of phenomena. In its various mutations and expressions, it is of very serious importance for the economic efficiency of any community in which it prevails to an appreciable extent. So much so as to warrant a more detailed discussion of its origin and content and of the bearing of its various ramifications upon economic structure and function, as well as a discussion of the relation of the leisure class to its growth, differentiation, and persistence. In the developed, integrated form in which it is most readily observed in the barbarian of the predatory culture or in the sporting man of modern communities, the belief comprises at least two distinguishable elements—which are to be taken as two different phases of the same fundamental habit of thought, or as the same psychological factor in two successive phases of its evolution. The fact that these two elements are successive phases of the same general line of growth of belief does not hinder their coexisting in the habits of thought of any given individual. The more primitive form (or the more archaic phase) is an incipient animistic belief, or an animistic sense of relations and things, that imputes a quasi-personal character to facts. To the archaic man all the obtrusive and obviously consequential objects and facts in his environment have a quasi-personal individuality. They are conceived to be possessed of volition, or rather of propensities, which enter into the complex of causes and affect events in an inscrutable manner. The sporting man's sense of luck and chance, or of fortuitous necessity, is an inarticulate or inchoate animism. It applies to objects and situations, often in a very vague way; but it is usually so far defined as to imply the possibility of propitiating, or of deceiving and cajoling, or otherwise disturbing the holding of propensities resident in the objects which constitute the apparatus and accessories of any game of skill or chance. There are few sporting men who are not in the habit of wearing charms or talismans to which more or less of efficacy is felt to belong. And the proportion is not much less of those who instinctively dread the "hoodooing" of the contestants or the apparatus engaged in any contest on which they lay a wager; or who feel that the fact of their backing a given contestant or side in the game does and ought to strengthen that side; or to whom the "mascot" which they cultivate means something more than a jest.

In its simple form the belief in luck is this instinctive sense of an inscrutable teleological propensity in objects or situations. Objects or events have a propensity to eventuate in a given end, whether this end or objective point of the sequence is conceived to be fortuitously given or deliberately sought. From this simple animism the belief shades off by insensible gradations into the second, derivative form or phase above referred to, which is a more or less articulate belief in an inscrutable preternatural agency. The preternatural agency works through the visible objects with which it is associated, but is not identified with these objects in point of individuality. The use of the term "preternatural agency" here carries no further implication as to the nature of the agency spoken of as preternatural. This is only a farther development of animistic belief. The preternatural agency is not necessarily conceived to be a personal agent in the full sense, but it is an agency which partakes of the attributes of personality to the extent of somewhat arbitrarily influencing the outcome of any enterprise, and especially of any contest. The pervading belief in the hamingia or gipta (gaefa, authna) which lends so much of color to the Icelandic sagas specifically, and to early Germanic folk-legends, is an illustration of this sense of an extra-physical propensity in the course of events.

In this expression or form of the belief the propensity is scarcely personified although to a varying extent an individuality is imputed to it; and this individuated propensity is sometimes conceived to yield to circumstances, commonly to circumstances of a spiritual or preternatural character. A well-known and striking exemplification of the belief—in a fairly advanced stage of differentiation and involving an anthropomorphic personification of the preternatural agent appealed to—is afforded by the wager of battle. Here the preternatural agent was conceived to act on request as umpire, and to shape the outcome of the contest in accordance with some stipulated ground of decision, such as the equity or legality of the respective contestants' claims. The like sense of an inscrutable but spiritually necessary tendency in events is still traceable as an obscure element in current popular belief, as shown, for instance, by the well-accredited maxim, "Thrice is he armed who knows his quarrel just,"—a maxim which retains much of its significance for the average unreflecting person even in the civilized communities of today. The modern reminiscence of the belief in the hamingia, or in the guidance of an unseen hand, which is traceable in the acceptance of this maxim is faint and perhaps uncertain; and it seems in any case to be blended with other psychological moments that are not clearly of an animistic character.

For the purpose in hand it is unnecessary to look more closely into the psychological process or the ethnological line of descent by which the later of these two animistic apprehensions of propensity is derived from the earlier. This question may be of the gravest importance to folk-psychology or to the theory of the evolution of creeds and cults. The same is true of the more fundamental question whether the two are related at all as successive phases in a sequence of development. Reference is here made to the existence of these questions only to remark that the interest of the present discussion does not lie in that direction. So far as concerns economic theory, these two elements or phases of the belief in luck, or in an extra-causal trend or propensity in things, are of substantially the same character. They have an economic significance as habits of thought which affect the individual's habitual view of the facts and sequences with which he comes in contact, and which thereby affect the individual's serviceability for the industrial purpose. Therefore, apart from all question of the beauty, worth, or beneficence of any animistic belief, there is place for a discussion of their economic bearing on the serviceability of the individual as an economic factor, and especially as an industrial agent.

It has already been noted in an earlier connection, that in order to have the highest serviceability in the complex industrial processes of today, the individual must be endowed with the aptitude and the habit of readily apprehending and relating facts in terms of causal sequence. Both as a whole and in its details, the industrial process is a process of quantitative causation. The "intelligence" demanded of the workman, as well as of the director of an industrial process, is little else than a degree of facility in the apprehension of and adaptation to a quantitatively determined causal sequence. This facility of apprehension and adaptation is what is lacking in stupid workmen, and the growth of this facility is the end sought in their education—so far as their education aims to enhance their industrial efficiency.

In so far as the individual's inherited aptitudes or his training incline him to account for facts and sequences in other terms than those of causation or matter-of-fact, they lower his productive efficiency or industrial usefulness. This lowering of efficiency through a penchant for animistic methods of apprehending facts is especially apparent when taken in the mass-when a given population with an animistic turn is viewed as a whole. The economic drawbacks of animism are more patent and its consequences are more far-reaching under the modern system of large industry than under any other. In the modern industrial communities, industry is, to a constantly increasing extent, being organized in a comprehensive system of organs and functions mutually conditioning one another; and therefore freedom from all bias in the causal apprehension of phenomena grows constantly more requisite to efficiency on the part of the men concerned in industry. Under a system of handicraft an advantage in dexterity, diligence, muscular force, or endurance may, in a very large measure, offset such a bias in the habits of thought of the workmen.

Similarly in agricultural industry of the traditional kind, which closely resembles handicraft in the nature of the demands made upon the workman. In both, the workman is himself the prime mover chiefly depended upon, and the natural forces engaged are in large part apprehended as inscrutable and fortuitous agencies, whose working lies beyond the workman's control or discretion. In popular apprehension there is in these forms of industry relatively little of the industrial process left to the fateful swing of a comprehensive mechanical sequence which must be comprehended in terms of causation and to which the operations of industry and the movements of the workmen must be adapted. As industrial methods develop, the virtues of the handicraftsman count for less and less as an offset to scanty intelligence or a halting acceptance of the sequence of cause and effect. The industrial organization assumes more and more of the character of a mechanism, in which it is man's office to discriminate and select what natural forces shall work out their effects in his service. The workman's part in industry changes from that of a prime mover to that of discrimination and valuation of quantitative sequences and mechanical facts. The faculty of a ready apprehension and unbiased appreciation of causes in his environment grows in relative economic importance and any element in the complex of his habits of thought which intrudes a bias at variance with this ready appreciation of matter-of-fact sequence gains proportionately in importance as a disturbing element acting to lower his industrial usefulness. Through its cumulative effect upon the habitual attitude of the population, even a slight or inconspicuous bias towards accounting for everyday facts by recourse to other ground than that of quantitative causation may work an appreciable lowering of the collective industrial efficiency of a community.

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