The ferry across St. George’s Channel from Rosslare, Ireland to Pembroke, Wales takes about four hours on a good day. On the weekday morning I took the trip some three decades ago the few other passengers along for the ride focused on their coffee and paper or just sleeping. The croupier at the gaming table looked particularly lonesome.
Conversation always makes any trip go faster. Once he realized I had no intention of putting money down on his table, the croupier and I settled into an easy banter. He gave me a basic education on the reality of the casino-style gambling the ferry company offered to travelers on its Irish Sea crossings.
One simple reality could not be denied: the house always wins. Any game, my instructor noted, has an edge built in that insures a percentage for the house no matter what. While the allure of winning attracts the gambler, the only thing for sure remains the house walking away with a cut of every euro, pound or dollar wagered.
An economic system that tolerates or even fosters growing inequality, high unemployment particularly among our youth and “acceptable” rates of poverty and homelessness seems to be based on the same casino logic. Everyone tries to win but ends up losing. If the cards are stacked against us, why do we continue to play the game?
Mark Kingwell, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, noted in a Harper’s Magazine interview with Gabriel Santos-Neves last November that “most citizens value everything as means rather than an end. This is partly baseline human behaviour and partly a hyped-up version of instrumentality, which currently functions as the operating system of everything from technology itself through to creativity, education, and public discourse, and even to friendship and family life. The triumph of economic thinking is that it has become the invisible presumption of everything; there is nothing, or almost nothing, that cannot be reduced to a transaction.”
In our iPod buffered world where we increasingly insulate ourselves from one another in pursuit of our own goals, it not hard to see the truth of Dr. Kingwell’s argument. We have been taught to value our individual winnings over any collective aspiration towards building a just, equitable and environmental sustainable global society.
Kingwell writes in his 2012 book Unruly Voices: Essays on Democracy, Civility and Human Imagination that the current system “is evidently (we might say literally) coming apart in our hands. That is, the more we try to mirror the self in devices and desires, replacing ethical reflection with multiple reflected images of our ‘likes’ and ‘friends,’ the more we consume the modern conception of the individual, in effect eating its brains.”
Zombie-like we unthinkingly seem compelled to join a “danse macabre” of a system hell bent on destruction. In Ottawa, Washington, even here in the Yukon we should see as Professor Kingwell does that “underneath the road-rage politics and bratty teenage campaign rhetoric there is actually a creeping nihilism here, a disregard for the very idea of reason.”
We keep, however, accepting the treats from our political and economic leaders. They make illusory promises of greater prosperity for all while never having to take responsibility for the consequences of the rapacious development they demand. This marks our Faustian bargain with them. It can’t mask the devastating reality of the tricks in our collective future if we continue accepting this masquerade. Trick or treat? Think about it.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.