[Reminder to Humble Talent, whose useful addition to the Rationalization List was recently explained here. I still need your choice of a name before I can add it!]
You find new rationalizations—well, ones you hadn’t thought of before— in the strangest places.
This one is hardly new: it hails from the 16th century at least. It ambushed me on a 2018 Smithsonian special about the discovery of the “Mars,” a sunken Swedish warship that was built between 1563 and 1564. It was the pride and joy of Sweden’s King Eric XIV’s fleet, and one of the largest warships of the time. “Even larger than the famous Swedish ship Vasa,” Wikipedia tells us. I’ll take ‘Famous Swedish Warships’ for $100, Alex!”
The discovery was announced in August, 2011, and in November it was announced that the shipwreck’s identity had been confirmed by its unique cannons along with “other findings.” The Smithsonian channel’s 2018 production describing further investigations added that the “Mars” identity was confirmed by the discovery of silver coins minted by Eric XIV the year before the battle that sunk her in 1563.
The coins bore what historians say was Eric’s official motto: “God Gives to Whoever He Chooses.”
And there it is, Rationalization 11B, “The Royal Rationalization,” a sub-rationalization under #11, the infamous “King’s Pass.”
Now that’s privilege. This is the rationalization of those who, as Ann Richards’ derisively said of George H.W. Bush, wake up on third base and think they’ve hit a triple. Not everyone can use 11B: just kings, sons and daughters of billionaires and other fortunate people who refuse to admit that they have been more lucky than good.
King Eric XIV was nuts, by the way. Among other things, he liked the name Eric XIV despite the fact that historians doubt there were more than six previous King Erics in Sweden before him. It’s as if the guy singing “I’m ‘Enery the 8th I Am” was really only the widow next door’s third husband with that name.
King Eric’s motto has the gall to assert that when one is lucky it means that he has been favored by God, and that He has good reasons for His generosity, mainly that the recipient of the good fortune somehow deserved it. The rationalization therefor implies that the lucky are lucky because of some special virtue or value. The other side of the convenient argument is that the unlucky always earn their fates.
Luck, good and bad, is an unavoidable part of life. Increasingly, it seems, there is an audience for the confused (or power-hungry) ideologues who claim that it must be the goal of society and the assignment of governments to eliminate the consequences of luck, which are often intentionally confounded with the just results of talent and effort. To the contrary, our task in life is to make the most of the good luck life hands us for no reason, and to try to overcome the bad luck that builds character, encourages perseverance, courage and industry, and that sometimes, moral luck being what it is, has surprisingly beneficial consequences. As one of Clarence Darrow’s favorite poems that I have quoted here often says,
Life is a game of whist. From unseen sources
The cards are shuffled and the hands are dealt;
Blind are our efforts to control the forces
That, though unseen, are no less strongly felt.
I do not like the way the cards are shuffled,
But yet I like the game and want to play;
And through the long, long night will I, unruffled,
Play what I get until the break of day
Playing the hands you are dealt as well as possible should never be penalized or punished, but for those who are dealt winning hands to convince themselves and attempt to convince others that their good fortune proves their special virtue and merit is obnoxious and foolish.
This is why humility is an important ethical value.