The Lottery Of Life


I’m very lucky. Just for starters, I have all the privileges that accrue to a person who is male, white, and Western European. People with those characteristics make up about 6% of the world’s population. So in those terms alone I think I count as fortunate.

But there’s more. Myopia aside I have no physical or mental disabilities; my mother neither smoked nor drank alcohol while carrying me, and ate a healthy diet; my parents were educated, caring people; as a child I was fed well and received an excellent education. I can credit only my genetic inheritance for the fact that I learnt to read early and went on to achieve academic success earlier than most.

In the year I went to university only 14% of 18-year-olds did so – and I can claim no credit for being within that cohort, as it was simply a result of all of the fortunate circumstances of my birth and upbringing. Any subsequent successes and achievements that have come my way can be seen as the inevitable consequence of my remarkably lucky start in life.

Once I had conceived of considering my own life as a story of luck – in my case, remarkably good luck – it occurred to me that the same analysis could be applied to the lives of others; perhaps to every person’s life. Is life nothing but a lottery? That’s the question I intend to address in this blog.

I will set out the evidence for concluding that a person’s situation is entirely a matter of luck. Once I have reached that deterministic and rather depressing conclusion I will, I hope, be able to restore an element of agency.

I’ll be writing this blog in real time: I’m not transcribing a text I have already written. Therefore while I will do my best to write regularly, and to make arguments in a coherent order, I hope you will excuse lacunae and diversions.

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.