Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Winning the Lottery in 1984

Today's Powerball Lottery is worth one and half billion dollars, the biggest jackpot ever.  I bought my tickets.  Of course, I'm not going to win  -- and neither are you.  Buying a ticket doesn't change the chances of not winning. You have a nearly identical chance to not win if you don't buy a ticket as you do if you buy some.  Either way, you'll lose.  I guarantee it.

They say "the lottery is a tax on people who don't understand mathematics".  Here's a website that convinces me that I don't understand mathematics.  I say "Screw math.  The fantasy of a big win is worth a few bucks."  I enjoy immersing myself in the occasional delusion of sudden, unlimited wealth.

I wonder how big the jackpot would have to be before Bill Gates or Warren Buffet purchased tickets.  And if someone who was already obscenely wealthy won another billion dollars in the lottery, how long would it take for people to start believing that the lottery is rigged.

I'm reading George Orwell's 1984.  I read it once when I was much younger, before the year 1984.  Orwell seems to have accurately predicted some annoying features of our society.   He was even better at describing life today in North Korea.

Here's a passage that seems relevant.  Our hero, Winston Smith, resident of Oceania and member of the INGSOC party, has taken a walk in the bad part of London, the part of town where the lower-class proles live, a place where Winston is not really supposed to go:
     In an angle formed by a projecting house-front three men were standing very close together, the middle one of them holding a folded-up newspaper which the other two were studying over his shoulder.  Even before he was near enough to make out the expression on their faces, Winston could see absorption in every line of their bodies.  It was obviously some serious piece of news that they were reading.  He was a few paces away from them when suddenly the group broke up and two of the men were in violent altercation.  For a moment they seemed almost on the point of blows.
     "Can’t you bleeding well listen to what I say?  I tell you no number ending in seven ain’t won for over fourteen months!"
     "Yes, it ’as, then!"
     "No, it ’as not! Back ’ome I got the ’ole lot of ’em for over two years wrote down on a piece of paper. I takes ’em down reg’lar as the clock.  An’ I tell you, no number ending in seven -- "
     "Yes, a seven ‘as won! I could pretty near tell you the bleeding number.  Four oh seven, it ended in. It were in February -- second week in February."
     "February your grandmother!  I got it all down in black and white. An’ I tell you, no number -- "
     "Oh, pack it in!" said the third man.
     They were talking about the Lottery.  Winston looked back when he had gone thirty meters.  They were still arguing, with vivid, passionate faces.  The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention.  It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive.  It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory.  There was a whole tribe of men who made a living simply by selling systems, forecasts, and lucky amulets.  Winston had nothing to do with the running of the Lottery, which was managed by the Ministry of Plenty, but he was aware (indeed everyone in the party was aware) that the prizes were largely imaginary.  Only small sums were actually paid out, the winners of the big prizes being non-existent persons.  In the absence of any real intercommunication between one part of Oceania and another, this was not difficult to arrange.
"The absence of any real intercommunication"  Orwell predicted that truth was something which could be controlled.  Of course Orwell didn't predict the Internet.  Nor could he predict that the Internet would enhance the absence of intercommunication.

If you can imagine that you're in Australia, 1984 might be available to read online.

1 comment :

localotto said...

All in all the astonishing jackpot was won. As the media state that were 3 players from Florida, California and Tennessee. I wonder how many tickets did they buy: singles or systematics, quick-picks or manual selection? Mine won nothing, alas.