What if your entire life was determined not by degrees or intention but by the roll of a die? That's the premise behind Luke Rhinehart's funny and disturbing 1971 novel The Dice Man, in which a New York City psychoanalyst, bored by his life, profession and patients, decides to let the dice do the talking. Whatever the dice says, he does. Roll a five, be like Jesus for a day; roll a seven, try to seduce everyone. In a world that believes we are all nothing more than bundles of neuroses wrapped inside our own impenetrable egos, why not just let fate, in the form of dice, be our guide? Simplifies things.
And the discoveries it can lead to! Listen:
New places and new roles forced me into acute awareness of how others were responding to me. When a human is being himself, flowing with his inner nature, wearing his natural appropriate masks, integrated with his environment, he is normally unaware of subtleties in another's behavior. Only if the other person breaks a conventional pattern is awareness stimulated. However, breaking my established patterns was threatening to my deeply ingrained selves and pricked me to a level of consciousness which is unusual, unusual since the whole instinct of human behavior is to find environments congenial to the relaxation of consciousness. By creating problems for myself I created thought.
I also created problems...
And so it goes. Why live a life predetermined by who we think we are or by what others think we are? If our personalities are so rigid and dormant, simply give the dice the power to dictate change. Roll a seven, tell my boss to fuck off; roll a two, buy the first ticket to Acapulco. The dice rules. Where it leads, our psyches follow.
It's a funny, startling book, and I'm only a hundred pages into it. It postulates a kind of wacky approach to life that is also, somehow, the flip-side of transcendent, a philosophical argument for human nature that is as daring as it is frightening. It simultaneously removes the concept of personal responsibility while endorsing a random approach to decisions that could very well lead to madness or enlightenment.
What should I do tonight? Make a list, roll the dice. Should I grow a moustache or shave my head? Roll the dice. Roll a six, quit my job; roll a seven, demand a promotion. The audacity it would require to follow through on such a philsophy is a little bit more than I can handle.
Tempting, isn't it? To just let the dice do the talking. What changes would ensue! The cover of the tattered paperback states: "Few novels can change your life. This one will." Ha! Publishing hyperbole, right? Right? I mean, who could seriously decide to do such a thing, no matter how absurdly enticing it sounds. Culturual suicide, it would be. Why, if you gave in to the dice, you would become another person. (Or the person you were meant to be?) You would do things you never dreamed of. (The things you always wanted to?) You would go to strange and exotic lands for no reason at all. (To fulfill an innate longing for adventure and exile?) Man is, at heart, a rational, sympathetic creature. (Roll a seven, stab a cat.) Man is kind. (Roll a four, insult a stranger on the street.)
Let the dice decide? Let fate and chance be intertwined forever more by a plastic green sage?
Maybe I'll roll the dice and find out. If it's a two, the dice will dictate my decisions; if it's a four, I will proceed along the orderly, mundane path of my own insecure obligations.
Maybe that's where we all are in life -- holding the dice, wondering if and when we'll give it a toss. And desperate to see if our number turns up.