Picture: THINKSTOCK
In SA, viewing a person’s racial classification as either good or bad luck depends on whether the individual buys into the artifice institutionalised by apartheid, says the writer. Picture: THINKSTOCK

ANNOYINGLY, the debate about racial commensalism in SA has not advanced one iota despite the efforts by the best among us. It is as though now that a crack in the national psyche has permitted a trickle of intolerance to escape, South Africans will not stop until we are up to the neck in bilious invective. This is tedious for people whose great ambitions are simply to see their children educated and to live their lives in dignity.

Fear and resentment of the other intrudes when the luck of one’s birth is perverted as good or bad. Luck is just plain luck, the member (of the Upper Jukskei Flyfishing Collective) would say.

As always, though, there is more to it. Rationally, luck would be chance circumstances, considered in hindsight as having had an influence on one’s life. The lexicographer Noah Webster, however, provides a fashionably 19th century example of assigning supernatural properties to luck by defining it as "a purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes events favourably or unfavourably".

In SA, viewing a person’s racial classification as either good or bad luck depends on whether the individual buys into the artifice institutionalised by apartheid. You might say, too, that racial classification is our legacy and you might blame apartheid or the colonialists or the slavers for having manufactured the artifice as an expedient of dominance, but that legacy persists only if you accept its taxonomy.

In a review in Scientific American of an experiment by psychologist Richard Wiseman, at his "luck lab" at the University of Hertfordshire, England, Wiseman’s experiment is reported as showing that however lucky his subjects regarded themselves, it makes no difference to their success at the lottery.

In the standard personality rating, he found no differences between lucky and unlucky people in agreeableness and conscientiousness, but he found significant differences for extroversion, neuroticism and openness.

His findings mean luck is a subjective interpretation of conditions, a state of mind as it were. Wiseman found that "because lucky people tend to be more relaxed than most, they are more likely to notice chance opportunities, even when they are not expecting them".

That may explain a lot about the South African condition. It may reveal, also, depending on your view of the luck inherent in the accident of your birth, whether you resent people classified by the state as belonging to a race group other than yours.

It means the experience of racism is that which we choose. If ignorant, fearful and insecure people vomit racist bile, it is their problem. It is not because your race is inferior. If you divine that the cause of racial slurs is a conviction of righteousness, it is not your business. So what? Any argument based on race as an organising principle must be dismissed on these grounds and on that of a string of logical fallacies.

If, however, luck means to you it is an unfair predetermining force, there is little anyone can do for you. None of us chooses our luck, but all of us have to play the cards we have been dealt.

Consider Stephen Hawking, who endures the debilitating condition amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He cannot speak, so he writes: "I was lucky to have chosen to work in theoretical physics, because that was one of the few areas in which my condition would not be a serious handicap." That is the Hawking who gave us the physics of black holes and the union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Without him, we’d be in the dark. How unlucky is that?

If we are to share a table, racial classification is not invited.

• Blom is a freelance journalist. He likes to flyfish