Category Archives: Babel

The Lottery in Babylon

Vikram Bhoyrul

“Naturally, those so-called “lotteries” were a failure. They had no moral force whatsoever; they appealed not to all a man’s faculties, but only to his hopefulness. Public indifference soon meant that the merchants who had founded these venal lotteries began to lose money. Someone tried something new: including among the list of lucky numbers a few unlucky draws. This innovation meant that those who bought those numbered rectangles now had a twofold chance: they might win a sum of money or they might be required to pay a fine–sometimes a considerable one. As one might expect, that small risk (for every thirty “good” numbers there was one ill-omened one) piqued the public’s interest. Babylonians flocked to buy tickets. The man who bought none was considered a pusillanimous wretch, a man with no spirit of adventure.”

This short story focuses on a fictitious city where an organization called the “Company” ran a lottery system that became the center of all life. In this passage Borges tells us that the lottery evolves into a system that penalties. This passage summarized the overall message of the story. Borges argues that that while inhabitants of a large city all have a chance at success, they are in fact slaves to a corporate driven system where only the elite can truly win. Also if you choose to not partake in this “system” you are immediately outcasted as viewed as a degenerate.

In cities there are several regulations and social norms that demand its inhabitants to live a certain way. It is as if the reigning deity is the economy. We as people innately compete amongst ourselves for that chance at pleasure or success. And even when we learn that what we are fighting more might cost us more than we originally thought as far as our overall happiness is concerned, we end up pursuing these goals regardless. If we don’t, we are choosing to not believe in a system that has created the structure of our civilization. Borges argues this and it is consistent in several ways with a majority of the previous authors we have read or discussed so far. This story presents a very interesting analogy and relates to the urban culture of our world today.