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Learning from the Lotto

April 7, 2012

Well, it’s been a week since the big $640 million Mega Millions lotto drawing, but I’m still not over it. Not just the fact that I didn’t win — I never win, and neither do you — but the whole vibey energy is still with me. For the following reasons, I hope it’s still with you.

1. I’ve been following for years the anemic attempts of sociologists to trace workers’ “attitudes” toward work, and they’re frequently pretty useless. Survey after survey, researchers try to figure out what everybody already knows — and what people simply do not report on surveys. However, when everyone in America — the richest people I know and the most struggling — is playing the lotto, the local and national news reporters simply take for granted what we all intuitively understand: if you won the lottery, the first goddamn thing you would do is quit your job. Every single newscaster, just before the big drawing, said something to the effect of, “here comes the drawing. Will you be going back to work on Monday or not?” Headline after headline, the giant payoff did what decades of social research could not — make plain the widely-shared, basic desire for the freedom to constitute time on one’s own terms. People play the lottery in the hopes that they could finally quit the daily grind and live the life they know would do their soul justice. It’s as simple as that.

2. The enormity of the payoff speaks volumes. In a moment in which capital and its cultural mouthpieces tell everyone constantly that there just simply isn’t enough, the people throw down six hundred and forty million dollars without even trying, in pursuit of what they dream of. Nobody went broke playing the Mega. It was all just for fun, and yet all of us threw together enough money to blow our collective minds. There is plenty. The question is only — when we all put our money together, what do we want to see it go to?

3. It’s perilously close to April 15 to make this case. We all understandably hate taxes. But in the wake of so many of us, rich and poor, coming up with 640 million dollars in pursuit of the good life without even really trying, it seems apropos to wonder what the nation would be like if we were all really clear about the two things that the Lotto makes plain — that most people dream of a free life and that if we put our collective resources toward that dream we could actually, materially, achieve it. What if our idea of taxes were more like our idea of the Mega?

If it were, we’d see that if we all threw down in pursuit of our dreams, there’d be plenty — not just for a couple of folks to have their lives fucked up by an anomie-producing amount of dough — but for there to be decent health care, education, and whatever else we all wanted. As it stands now, we all get reamed on April 15 and every day throughout the year because we don’t quite get it just yet — there is plenty of wealth in America. And when we pool it, in pursuit of our dreams, holy shit. It grows and grows. Imagine if the lotto had gone on that way for another couple of weeks. We would have been talking about billions.

Why? The answer is my last point. The reason that so many folks threw down, why even the very richest folks I know played, is because it was fun. And although the austerity hounds would have us understand that any collectively pursued and funded dream is dark, grey, draconian, the truth is that playing the lottery is loads of fun. It’s sort of like why I watch the Super Bowl even though I think football, compared to basketball, for instance, is kind of boring — something about watching, and vicariously playing, a game with the entire rest of the nation is just too cool to pass up. So many people played the Mega, even those who weren’t desperate for an escape from financial hardship, because it was fun to get into such a giant, collective game.

So I ask us all to imagine something cool. Politics as a giant, clearly abundantly-funded game, that exists to pursue the collective dream of plenty and of freedom from work. For one week, Americans of all stripes dreamed and played big, and the material bigness of all that money said something kind of amazing about the power of those dreams. Who’s gonna tell you today that the dream of freedom and abundance is “unrealistic?” Tell them you’ve got six hundred forty million dollars that says they’re full of shit.

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