There was a constant theme at the recent Battle of Ideas event that disturbed me greatly, but which I didn't address in my previous long accounts. Time and again I heard people say that equality was justice because those who had more or less success owed it all to chance. Not only did they see the City of London (wrongly) as a "casino", but the whole world.
Luck plays its part in life. Bill Bryson expressed the notion that we are all, whatever our circumstances, just lucky to be alive;
Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you.
I don't have the relevant book to hand but I seem to recall he said we had won a 1 in 400 million lottery just by being born. I also get it that chance affects talent, strength, skill, beauty and other factors that can affect our journey through life.
My wife took great care of her health and well-being. She ate the right foods, exercised regularly, drank (mostly) in moderation and would not even try one single drag of a cigarette to understand what the fuss was about. She never even saw an illegal drug. Yet cancer took her from me. So of course I don't deny that luck, good and bad, has a role to play. In fact it infuriates me that the very same egalitarians who deny her credit for what she achieved in her life seek to blame her for her death by prattling about scientifically-dubious (and often contradictory) carcinogenic lifestyle choices or by praising survivors for winning their "fight" against the disease, as if she chose to surrender. They can't have it both ways.
For all that I recognise the role of luck, good and bad, in life I am convinced that it's what you do with your luck that determines who you are. That every boy and girl, however crap their circumstances, however bad the hand life has dealt them, can move off towards the light or the dark by choice and have a good chance of achieving some or all of their goals. If there is no free will, life is just a worthless joke that is simply not worth having. This is so central to my world-view that I don't think I could live if convinced it is wrong.
I could have succumbed to peer pressure at my crap comprehensive school. I could have been deflected by my relatives who thought I must be "queer" to read so much or want to act in plays or take part in debates or play chess or watch films with subtitles. My beloved grandfather told me on his death bed that I had disappointed him by never following in his footsteps as a cricketer, but that he was at least glad I had not turned out, as he feared, to be homosexual. These were not circumstances conducive to academic success. The path was hard, but I decided to take it and to hell with what people said. Was that decision pure chance? Were the days and nights spent studying and reading widely chance? It infuriates me that these bloody people think so.
I wanted to learn and I wanted to "get on" and I did. If it was all chance, then I can take no pride in it. I can have no self-respect and I couldn't bear that. Even allowing for 20 years paying personal taxes elsewhere, I have more than paid my way in the UK, repaying the costs of attendance at my crap state school and university as well as covering my contribution to infrastructure. I have remitted profits to the UK to be taxed in the hands of my former partners and I have helped to build businesses that are still producing taxable income.
Furthermore, I took not one single benefit (not even child-benefit) for my own children from the British State, because I wanted them to be free range; to look their would-be farmers in the eye, owing them nothing. They were privately educated from kindergarten onwards, mainly because after our experiences as pupils (and in my wife's case as a teacher) in state schools we had decided we would not have children unless we could avoid exposing them to the nastiness, class-hatred and leftist propaganda there. Was this chance; that our brains were configured thus? Was there no morality to our choice?
The event was studded with insults to the British people. Our public intellectuals regard us, at various times, as vulnerable fools to be protected or lab rats to be experimented upon. They are as condescending and self-righteous as any feudal baron ever was. But none of their insults are worse than to compare our lives to a mere throw of the dice - and a throw that can never been remade.