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How can we be fair if we don't understand the role of luck?

I've never been a poker player, but I recently started using a computer game that frequently deals me new playing pieces on a supposedly random basis. Playing that game has made me very sensitive to the fact that, no matter my skill level, I can't go very far in the game unless the right pieces appear at the right time. 

In life, persistence will pay off provided that bad luck doesn't disable or derail us. Unfortunately it often does, and then we are often further punished by society. If we are committed to being fair to those around us, then we have to always be conscious of the random events in life that bat people around. 

Vox: The radical moral implications of luck in human life, 2019-Mar-5 by David Roberts

These recent controversies reminded me of the fuss around a book that came out a few years ago: Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, by economist Robert Frank. (Vox’s Sean Illing interviewed Frank last year.) It argued that luck plays a large role in every human success and failure, which ought to be a rather banal and uncontroversial point, but the reaction of many commentators was gobsmacked outrage. On Fox Business, Stuart Varney sputtered at Frank: “Do you know how insulting that was, when I read that?”

It’s not difficult to see why many people take offense when reminded of their luck, especially those who have received the most. Allowing for luck can dent our self-conception. It can diminish our sense of control. It opens up all kinds of uncomfortable questions about obligations to other, less fortunate people.

Nonetheless, this is a battle that cannot be bypassed. There can be no ceasefire. Individually, coming to terms with luck is the secular equivalent of religious awakening, the first step in building any coherent universalist moral perspective. Socially, acknowledging the role of luck lays a moral foundation for humane economic, housing, and carceral [incarceration] policy.

Building a more compassionate society means reminding ourselves of luck, and of the gratitude and obligations it entails, against inevitable resistance.

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