Something for Nothing: Luck in America by Jackson Lears

By Jackson Lears

Jackson Lears has received accolades for his ability in selecting the wealthy and unforeseen layers of which means underneath the popular and mundane in our lives. Now, he demanding situations the traditional knowledge that the Protestant ethic of perseverance, undefined, and disciplined success is what made the United States nice. Turning to the deep, seldom said reverence for good fortune that runs via our whole historical past from colonial occasions to the early twenty-first century, Lears lines how good fortune, probability, and playing have formed and, every now and then, outlined our nationwide personality.

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It was left to Tillich and other existentialists to keep the Jamesian legacy alive. Thus, while the culture of chance began to spread into some new areas of American thought in the twentieth century, the managerial culture of control found new ways to contain it. The emergence of probabilistic thought was the paradigmatic example: in market research, risk assessment, and other forms of knowledge based on statistical surveys, the random occurrence became part of the standard deviation, the unpredictable exception that proved the predictable rule.

R E D, W H I T E , A N D B L A C K : T H E A M E R I C A N C U LT U R E O F C H A N C E Most of what we know about the cosmology of the Eastern Woodland Indians of North America comes from the French Jesuits, who observed Iroquois games and rituals with a bemused (if condescending) tolerance that contrasted sharply with the Puritans’ general horror. According to one priest, writing from Seneca country in 1639, “The Iroquois have, properly speaking, only a single divinity—the dream. ” Even discounting for Christian hyperbole and misunderstanding, it seems reasonable to accept the scholarly consensus that the Woodland Indians re- t h e dan c e o f d i v i nat i o n 39 garded dream as a school for life.

In this providential design, there was no room for 18 something for nothing chance or for the glimpses of its significance provided by diviners. Indeed, theologians from Augustine to Aquinas consigned divination to the devil. But popular Christianity was a different matter. Despite orthodox adherence to dualism, the untutored populace still inhabited a world where matter and spirit were one. The persistence of an animistic frame of mind meant that grace could not be entirely etherealized. It still preserved the properties of mana; it could still be conjured by performing the proper ritual or invoking the appropriate intermediary.

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