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Das Kasinosyndrom nach Kunstler

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October 15, 2007
The Casino Syndrome

The current mania to expand legalized gambling around the country is a clear symptom of how desperate and crazy this society has become. In a culture where anything goes and nothing matters, it is perhaps hard for the public to understand what's wrong with it. The gambling "industry" itself has very successfully masked its pernicious nature by putting across the idea that it is just another form of innocent "entertainment," on a par with pro sports, theme parkery, and Hollywood. In fact, gambling, or "gaming," as it cynically calls itself, has hijacked elements of all these other activities to conceal its main business, which is the systematic hosing of those who can least afford to be hosed.
What's wrong with state-sponsored gambling is simple: it promotes the idea -- inconsistent with the realities of the universe -- that it's possible to get something for nothing. It is unhealthy to an extreme for a society to make this idea normal because it defeats another idea that a society absolutely depends on for survival -- namely that earnest effort matters. It conditions the public to magical thinking -- a characteristic of children-- and disables their ability to function as adults. The expansion of gambling is especially tragic at a time when this society faces epochal economic problems that threaten its existence, and by this I mean the permanent global energy crisis that will require us to reorganize virtually all the crucial activities of daily life. This is a time when the nation can least afford to disable adult thinking and earnest effort.
I was out in Iowa last week, in the vicinity of Waterloo, where the John Deere corporation has laid off hundreds of workers in recent years. The town's solution to this problem was to invite a casino to town, and it now stands out above the cornfields like a grinning Moloch, mocking the aspirations of those who remain in the area -- and reinforcing the other foolish and destructive activity going on there, which is the corn-to-ethanol racket aimed at propping up American car dependency. Of course the idea that the backwaters of Iowa might compete with Las Vegas or even the ghastly Atlantic City for gambling tourism is laughable, so who exactly did the local officials imagine would be patronizing the blackjack tables of Waterloo at eleven o'clock in the morning?
Plans are on the table all over the US for ever more casinos. In New York, campaigns are underway to put a big new one in the depressed Catskills, and another on the site of what is currently the squalid Aqueduct racetrack in the borough of Queens. We have a video-slot-machine operation here in Saratoga in what used to be a harness racing track, and every day it is filled with retirees pissing away their grandchildren's college tuition (in exchange for "excitement"). Next door in Massachusetts, new governor Deval Patrick is working tirelessly to set up casinos in the de-industrialized cities of Springfield and Brockton (and Boston, too) -- as a painless substitute for productive work. The Illinois state senate just passed a bill that would put casinos in downtown Chicago and allow additional "riverboats" along the Mississippi River -- really just barges moored in fixed locations.
Of course, practically every state has some kind if lottery. I have not been in a so-called convenience store (i.e. gas station with snacks) the past year without standing in a long line of grubby, pathetic people spending their scant dollars on lotto tickets (and cigarettes) -- instead of paying the utility bill that would perhaps allow them to bathe and apply for a job.
I don't entertain fantasies that gambling can be eliminated from any society, but inviting it to operate in the mainstream under state sponsorship is just tragically stupid. There is a rightful place for gambling: on the margins of society -- and the crippling ideas that go hand-in-hand with it belong on the margins, too, like the belief that it's possible to get something for nothing. Real political leadership would take stand on this, even if it was unpopular.
Anyway, I predict the time is not far off when an even-more-desperate public itself recognizes that we can't afford either the systematic hosing or the suicidal thinking that comes with gambling. They are going to shut it down. When they do, they will do it harshly and violently. They will turn on those behind it and blame them for promoting the idea that anything goes and nothing matters.

Eingestellt im Jan. 2008