Rolling the Dice

Imagine you got invited to a party where everyone was going to play a game. And the starting positions of the game were going to be determined by the roll of two dice.

If you get two 1s, you start in last place. If you get two 6s, you start in first.

But there’s a twist, because the party favors are going to be allocated according to everyone’s starting positions. The people who start with two 6s will then move their party to a fancy mansion, where they’ll be given better party snacks, more comfortable chairs, fancy booze, more comfortable clothes, and there will be bands with virtuoso musicians playing whatever kind of music they’d like. It’ll be a heckuva party.

Those who get two 1s will then be escorted off to a mud hut next to an arsenic mine. There won’t be any food or drinks. Not even clean water. It’ll be freezing at night and unbearably hot during the day. The only clothes they will get will be ones they find (if they can find any) in a landfill. There won’t be any games or anything to do. There won’t be toilets, either.

And then everyone in between will be sorted according to their relative starting positions. The 1-2 mud hut has an upgrade of one toilet to share among all the guests. The 6-5 party has good food and booze, but the band’s not as good.

You get the point.

And here’s the thing: it’s not a party. You’re going to spend the rest of your life there.

All of the sudden, this roll of the dice feels very consequential.

But it’s your turn and lo and behold, you get two 6s! There was only a 1 in 36 chance that was going to happen.

Holy crap–you’re going to spend the rest of your life in the mansion! This is the greatest moment ever. You can’t believe your good fortune.

You arrive at the mansion, you have your first glass of champagne, you listen to the ensemble of Les Claypool, Bradford Marsalis, and Pavarotti playing an exquisite international fusion combo set of the most inspiring music you could ever imagine, and then they make an announcement.

It turns out, there’s going to be another roll of the dice! And once again, they’re going to be reallocating the assets of each party among the guests. They reassure everyone at the double-6s party that each and every one of the new parties will still be superior to all of the other parties elsewhere, but that some of the new parties will be better than others. The new double-6 party will be unimaginably awesome, even compared to the first party, and then the lesser parties will be less so.

Whatever happens on this second roll of the dice, wouldn’t you still appreciate that in the grand scheme of things, you were very fortunate?

If you live in the United States or a country of comparable prosperity, you got double 6s as your starting place in life. You started life, relatively speaking, in the mansion. You literally have access to fancy food and beverages that most of the world and all other material possessions that much of the world can’t even imagine.

Of course, status games–all of our various competitions that determine who is more important and who is not, and who gets what and who does not–never end. They never will. But it’s easy to lose sight, because everyone around us also started with two 6s, how very fortunate we are. We get so stressed out and often feel so aggrieved when things don’t work out for us, that we forget that for all practical and meaningful purposes, we’ve already been picked as the winners for most critical game of chance life had to offer.