The Lottery Of Life

First instalment

I think we should deal first of all with the perhaps contentious title that I’ve chosen for this blog. It is a phrase taken from this sentence: 

          You are an Englishman, and have subsequently drawn the greatest prize in the lottery of life.

This is said to have been said by Cecil Rhodes to Lord Grey, and is quoted in Michell, Lewis (1910) – The Life and Times of the Right Honourable Cecil John Rhodes 1853-1902, Volume 2.

Wikipedia states that Cecil John Rhodes (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902) was a British mining magnate and politician in southern Africa who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896 and was an ardent believer in British imperialism. He seems to have been ruthless and successful as a businessman and politician. Whether he was racist and a white supremacist is open to question: it may be anachronistic to apply modern terms and concepts to an era when European imperialism was the norm. He regarded the British Empire as unreservedly beneficial to both Britain and the colonised peoples overseas; however in southern Africa he also proposed that all people, including those he referred to as ‘natives’, should have the vote and equal access to education. Rhodes remains a contentious figure: as recently as June 2020, amid the wider context of Black Lives Matter protests, the governing body of Oxford’s Oriel College voted to remove the statue of him located on the college’s façade.

The above passage is perhaps interesting but is, I admit, not relevant to my argument. It’s just that the phrase ‘the lottery of life’, which I first heard when studying history at school, stuck in my brain and has made me think about the role that luck plays in any person’s life. Because it is all a lottery. So much of what a person consists of – bones, nerves, muscle, brain – is determined by the 46 chromosomes that carry DNA. Each parent contributes 23 chromosomes, and the DNA content of those chromosomes is different in every egg and spermatozoa. The same parents thus create extraordinarily diverse offspring. What you are – what you’re like – it’s just a lottery, from your conception.

Or, to be accurate, from before your conception. To change the gambling metaphor, the cards you are dealt at birth are affected by factors that existed before you were so much as conceived – as I’ll discuss (probably) in the next instalment.  

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