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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

"If there is hope, it lies in the proles"

This is not a uniquely Canadian phenomenon, but every few months when the Lotto 6-49 jackpot reaches some magic threshold, millions of otherwise normal Canadian citizens take leave of their senses and line up to voluntarily hand over hard-earned cash to various governments. Meanwhile the TV news broadcasters dutifully send off their stringers to local convenience stores to do man-in-the-queue interviews about what they would do with the $42 million, and the water coolers in the offices of the land are surrounded by crowds of suddenly non-productive employees collectively dreaming of Ferraris and underwear models. It's a form of mass hysteria where the average IQ in Canada suddenly drops dramatically, and it's a national embarassment.

George Orwell wrote about this in 1984:

'Can't you bleeding well listen to what I say? I tell you no number ending in seven ain't won for over fourteen months!'

'Yes it 'as, then!'

'No , it 'as not! Back 'ome I got the 'ole lot of 'em for over two years wrote down on a piece of paper. I takes 'em down reg'lar as the clock. An' I tell you , no number ending in seven - '

'Yes, a seven 'as won! I could pretty near tell you the bleeding number. Four oh seven, it ended in. It were in February - second week in February.'

They were talking about the Lottery. Winston looked back when he had gone thirty metres. They were still arguing, with vivid passionate faces. The Lottery, with its weekly payout of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention. It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory. There was a whole tribe of men who made a living simply by selling systems, forecasts and lucky amulets. Winston had nothing to do with the running of the Lottery, which was managed by the Ministry of Plenty, but he was aware (indeed everyone in the Party was aware) that the prizes were largely imaginary. Only small sums were actually paid out, the winners of the big prizes being non-existent persons. In the absence of any real inter-communication between one part of Oceania and another, this was not difficult to arrange.

But if there was hope, it lay in the proles. You had to cling on to that. When you put it in words it sounded reasonable: it was when you looked at the human beings passing you on the pavement that it became an act of faith.

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