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The United States Legalizes Sports Gambling: The View from Veblen

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On 14 May 2018 the United States Supreme Court, in what amounts to a revolutionary decision, ruled 6-3 against a 1992 federal law prohibiting sports betting in most U.S. states. Justice Samuel Alito explained the decision in terms of state’s rights: “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.” While this is a strong blow against the centralizing tendencies of Washington which have become more prominent in the last eight years, it is also a strong blow against the orthodox view of gambling in the United States. Indeed, this was a long time coming.

The absurdity of prohibiting sports gambling in the United States has not been lost on those of us who travel. In the summer of 2016 I was watching the European football championships with a group of British travelers in Seville, Spain, who found it absurd that in the United States Americans, over eighteen, could buy a rifle yet could not wager even a few “quid” on a football match (or baseball game. Or NBA game. Or NFL game). Yet, it seems as if at least five states have recently passed legislation regarding sports betting so–in terms of state’s rights—sports gambling might become legal in a few states in the not-too-distant future.

 

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A State-by-State Breakdown on a Very Technocratic Map. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/22516292/gambling-ranking-every-us-state-current-position-legalizing-sports-betting

 

But why has this change been so long in coming? Eminent Norwegian-American Sociologist and Economist Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class might give us some insight into this. Beyond the Black Sox scandal of 1919, Veblen shows that an aversion to gambling is part of modern industrial society. Veblen explains that “the chief factor in the gambling habit is the belief in luck” and this belief is “an archaic trait, inherited from a more or less remote past, more or less incompatible with the requirements of the modern industrial process, and more or less of a hindrance to the fullest efficiency of the collective economic life of the present” (Veblen 1953[1899]: 183). Indeed, this belief in luck is incompatible with industrial society because it threatens its mechanical—and ultimately rational—nature. Veblen explains:

 

The industrial organization assumes more and more of the character of a mechanism, in which it is man’s office to discriminate and select what natural forces shall work out their effects in his service. The workman’s part in industry changes from that of a prime mover to that of discrimination and valuation of quantitative sequences and mechanical facts. The faculty of a ready apprehension and unbiased appreciation of causes in his environment grows in relative economic importance and any element in the complex of his habits of thought which intrudes a bias at variance with this ready appreciation of matter-of-fact sequence gains proportionately in importance as a disturbing element acting to lower his industrial usefulness. Through its cumulative effect upon the habitual attitude of the population, even a slight or inconspicuous bias towards accounting for everyday facts by recourse to other ground than that of quantitative causation may work an appreciable lowering of the collective industrial efficiency of a community (Veblen 1953[1899]: 187-188).

 

In short, Veblen tells us that any belief in luck “counts as a blunder in the apprehension and valuation of facts” for science and technology (Veblen 1953[1899]: 190).

Given that science and technology are the bedrocks of the rational and technocratic society which defines the modern world, luck—like individual creativity and emotions—cannot be celebrated without threatening the basic foundational logic of modern industrial (and especially post-industrial, or digital) society. Perhaps this is one possible reason why the United States has waited almost 26 years to overturn a federal ban on sports betting, giving the decision back to individual states. While this is certainly a victory for states rights—and a blow to the centralization of the American state—it is also a victory for the rule of law. As ESPN journalist David Purdum notes, the black market for sports betting already makes 150 billion USD annually. If the government can tax such betting then it could offer some states an important form of income, even if it threatens the sensibilities of a rational and “modern” society.

 

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Mr. Veblen Himself. Image Courtesy Of: http://booksyouwillneverread.com/a-review-of-the-theory-of-the-leisure-class/
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The Two-Faced Nature of the Political Narrative in the United States Reveals the Depth of Corporate Media Control in the United States: The Perspective of a Marginal Sociologist

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The great American Sociologist C. Wright Mills once wrote that the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) were analogous entities. Mills pointed out that while in the Soviet Union intellectuals were crushed physically, in the United States intellectuals were crushed morally; this is to say that if one said something against the dominant narrative in the USSR they were sent to a gulag (like Dostoyevsky), while in the United states they are shamed morally and—thus—lose their legitimacy in the public eye (one recent example would be the globalist news outlet The Guardian’s odd shaming of pop artist Taylor Swift for not voicing political opinions). Of course, Mills was not the first to note the odd similarities between the two world superpowers in the Cold War era; the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR” noted the similarities between their very names.

And, in 2018, it seems that we are still noting the similarities between the United States—the “leader of the free world”—and the Soviet Union’s successor, Russia. Again, The Guardian provides a great example of the narrative I mentioned in the title: In a 2017 article, The Guardian slams the Russian media for being state-owned. Predictably, The Guardian’s analysis is blatantly biased, inevitably connecting the topic to—as the narrative would have it—U.S. President Donald Trump:

 

There are, of course, many lessons to be learned and many parallels to draw with the current fraught relationship between Donald Trump and the US media. But it’s important to keep in mind that Putin has amassed far more power than Trump can possibly hope to during his time in power. However, one thing is clear: both in the US and in Russia, the media are often distracted with outrage over absurd behaviour and nonsensical public statements while ignoring what those in power want to be ignored.

 

There is, however, a small problem with the globalist main (lame)stream media’s narrative here. It is that Donald Trump has so little control over the media in the United States. In fact, the situation is not at all parallel to that in Russia. The U.S. news media is against Mr. Trump’s position and, it seems, will go to extreme lengths to paint over the very real problem created by their inherent biases.

On 31 March 2017, Mr. Trump slammed Amazon.com for what he calls “scamming” the U.S. Postal Service. Of course, America’s state television channel (when a channel has contracts which guarantee it a monopoly on televisions in airports across the country, it becomes state media), CNN, slammed Mr. Trump for slamming Amazon.com! While Mr. Trump certainly has a right to criticize Amazon.com for its role in pushing out small businesses (how many bookstores exist in the United States anymore?) and for skirting around sales taxes—Amazon.com is, effectively, a faceless corporate monopoly which cares little for the people as long as it profits off of them—this (more important) problematic aspect of Amazon.com’s role in corporate America was not discussed in the U.S. news media (even though Mr. Trump’s political rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, agrees). This is because the U.S. news media is—like its counterpart in Russia—hardly free. Rather, it is beholden to political lobbyists.

 

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Mr. Bezos and Mr. Trump. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.stern.de/wirtschaft/news/amazon–trump-attacke-kostet-bereits-milliarden—persoenliche-fehde-mit-jeff-bezos–7922072.html

 

Please take the recent Washington Post article as an example. In his 31 March article, Philip Rucker writes:

 

Trump is typically motivated to lash out at Amazon because of The Post’s coverage of him, officials have said. One person who has discussed the matter repeatedly with the president explained that a negative story in The Post is almost always the catalyst for one of his Amazon rants.

 

While Rucker’s rationalization of Mr. Trump’s criticism of Amazon’s business practices (which are well deserved) leaves much to be desired, one passage in particular seemed to be an insult to any Washington Post reader with an independent mind. Rucker writes:

 

The president also incorrectly conflated Amazon with The Post and made clear that his attacks on the retailer were inspired by his disdain for the newspaper’s coverage. He labeled the newspaper “the Fake Washington Post” and demanded that it register as a lobbyist for Amazon. The Post is personally owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, and operates independently of Amazon.

 

If one were to assume—as the Washington Post would like people to—that there is no conflict of interest here, they would have to be extremely naïve, to say the least. That Mr. Rucker goes on to lament that Mr. Trumps tweets caused the company’s shares to fall goes to show that the Washington Post may—indeed—be a lobbyist for Amazon. Yet, instead of Americans questioning the legitimacy of their news media—and questioning corporations, like Amazon, for their role in shaping political opinion as purveyors of the culture industry—we see that most Americans are all too happy to support corporate interests over the people’s interest. It is made all the more shocking when looking at how the main (lame)stream media in the United States responds to events like this in other countries.

On 21 March 2018—just ten days before Trump’s fallout with The Washington Post—fellow traveler in the state media The New York Times was quick to criticize the take over of one of Turkey’s major media groups, Dogan Media, by a pro-government conglomerate owned by Demiroren Holding. The New York Times explained:

 

The Dogan Media group owned the newspapers Hurriyet and Posta, and two of Turkey’s main entertainment and news channels, Kanal D and CNN Turk. The government had accused the company of being biased against it and the governing party.

 

A well-respected Turkish journalist, Kadri Gursel (who was recently released from an 11 month stint in jail for being critical of the government), Tweeted that “The process of gathering the Turkish media industry in one hand according to the Putin model is completed”. Given that Dogan media owned much of the sports media in Turkey as well, it is clear that the new ownership of Mr. Demiroren, whose son Yildirim is the head of the Turkish Football Federation, will affect the Turkish football world as well. In a sense, it is a further “Erdoganicization” of the Turkish culture industry and, by extension, Turkish football.

 

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Both Mr. Demirorens and Mr. Erdogan. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gundemotuzbes.com/dogan-medya-grubu-erdogan-demiroren-e-satildi/38776/

 

The point of this post is to show that when corporate interests take over the media in order to further political agendas in foreign countries, it is seen as an unquestionably bad thing. Yet, when the same thing happens in the United States it seems that people do not even bat an eye. Remember that Jeff Bezos—the owner of both Amazon.com and The Washington Post—has strong progressive leanings and his purchase of the Post has worried many commentators even in liberal circles. It seems that we should be more worried than ever about the connection between corporate wealth, politics, and the media. It is a connection that sociologist Thorstein Veblen made clear more than a century ago, and it is one which should concern people all over the world; as my example from Turkey shows, this problematic melding of news media, big business, and politics affects people regardless of their country of citizenship. If only the main (lame)stream media in the United States could drop their (perhaps racist) tendency to criticize other countries (like Turkey) at the drop of a hat and instead do their jobs—which is to keep their own societies honest.

 

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Sage Words From a Great Writer. Image Courtesy Of: http://dream-prophecy.blogspot.com/2015/12/cia-mind-control-over-american-and.html

 

United_States.jpg  This Is Why People Must Take Back Their Countries, Before They Are Subsumed By Commercial Interests at the Expense of Their Citizens. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/pictures/flags/unitedstates.html