The cult of the Dice Man.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

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  • Bad luck

Last week saw the opening in London of the Paul Lucas play, The Dice House. It is based on Luke Rhinehart’s ‘cult’ novel from 1971, The Dice Man, which tells the story of a psychotherapist who, utterly bored and disenchanted by life, decides that he will let it be determined by luck. Faced with every tricky decision that comes his way, the protagonist selects various options, then throws a die. Whatever it tells him to do, he duly obeys.

Judging by the reviews so far, the most interesting part of The Dice House is that the price you pay for entrance is itself determined by the throw of a die. This is hardly surprising, as the only remarkable thing about the original book is also the central theme of letting a die rule one’s existence. While the unaware might expect a philosophical allegory concerning the merits and drawbacks of free will, The Dice Man is mostly a confused and tedious tale of sex, drugs, violence and then more sex. It promises far more than it delivers, and like Easy Rider or Hair, it is also painfully dated. I’m sure a lot of porno films that came out in the early-1970s were regarded as ‘iconic’ or, ahem, ‘seminal’, but why a tome that reads like an excitable 14-year-old boy’s wet dream should have attained ‘cult’ status is beyond me.

Then again, one always has to be on one’s guard for ‘cult’ books. The likes of Catch 22, A Clockwork Orange or Cocaine Nights fall into a similar category. They are invariably read by stoned students or pretentious popular music journalists who become increasingly boring the more times they re-read their particular favourite. They insist that ‘you must read this. It is simply the best book that’s ever been written!’, code for: ‘I’ve never read another book in my life’.

This is just a personal judgement, of course. But the more alarming aspect of The Dice Man is its creed of self-powerlessness. The book is selling more copies than ever before, and there are reported to be thousands around the world who now literally ‘live by the dice’. It is depressing that so many now seemingly subscribe to a belief in fate.

Perhaps this represents a reaction to our present state of hyper-consumerism – we are so exhausted by the increasing amount of choices we are asked to make every day (Coke? Diet Coke? Diet Coke with Vanilla? Diet Coke with Lemon? Decaffeinated Coke?) that we find relief in letting some external force do it for us. Or maybe it just mirrors our miserablist, angst-ridden times. This phenomenon seems an existential plea for help, as if in a Sartrean way, forced to make decisions, many have decided to abnegate responsibility for their lives altogether.

At least other predestinarians such as the Calvinists have a compensating ethos of self-betterment and individual responsibility. The cult of The Dice Man represents a collective, adolescent shrug of the shoulders. It is a phenomenon fitting for a society whose motto has become ‘whatever’.

  • Think again

The New Labour-ish thinktank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), has called for atheism, humanism and agnosticism to be taught in religious education lessons in our schools, and that ‘RE’ should be renamed ‘religious, philosophical and moral education’.

Quite how you can ‘teach’ atheism, let alone agnosticism (Teacher: ‘Is there a God?’ Pupil: ‘I dunno sir.’ Teacher: ‘Correct!’), is a mystery. Suffice to say that the IPPR’s suggestion has alarmed a great deal of people, from traditionalists who fear that Britain’s Christian heritage is being airbrushed out, to Jewish and Muslim groups wary of an anti-religion agenda of aggressive secularists.

A much braver and better suggestion would be a call to abolish religious (and ‘moral’) education altogether. Of course pupils in Britain should learn about Christianity and the vast influence it had on creating Western civilisation – but as part of their history classes. Ditto for Islam and Judaism. Like other ideologies that have shaped Western civilisation, such as democracy, capitalism, socialism and Nazism, Christianity should be explained to children – but not indoctrinated to them.

The IPPR’s idea that the education system exists to impart ‘morals’ to the kids is grotesque. Morals should be learnt at home. There is quite enough of this New Labour propaganda in the classroom already, what with moves towards ‘citizenship classes’. Schools should serve to open the mind, not close it. The less talk of brainwashing children with today’s feeble, vacuous philosophy of ‘respect’, ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘non-judgmentalism’, the better.

  • A test of time

Tony Blair has asked the public for 15 more years at Number 10 to complete the task of completely rebuilding Britain’s public services. ‘We never said we could transform the public services in a few years’, he said on Thursday. ‘It takes time to reverse decades of neglect and under investment…. This is a 15-year programme and we are at the start.’

It certainly does take time to reverse decades of neglect, as he has told us before. In a manifesto four years ago, Labour told us that renewing public services was ‘our 10-year-goal’. One can only deduce that the longer New Labour stay in power, the worse the services get – and the longer they protest it will take to fix them.

Will the public fall for this trick? I’ll wager that in 2054 we will still have a Labour Prime Minister urging us to ‘have patience’, that trains, schools’n’hospitals will take ‘a good 100 years to fix, thanks to the mess the Tories made of public services in the last century’.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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