DAvid Mamet

In The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, playwright, screenwriter, film director and essayist, David Mamet takes on all the key political and cultural issues of our times, from religion to political correctness to global warming. With great insight and humor he reveals that, indeed, the emperor is wearing no clothes. As our politicians dither in Washington about passing a budget and doing something to reduce our national debt, and Greece goes from one financial crisis to another, Mamet makes the following unforgettable analogy.

“Most Victorian novels featured the stock character of the profligate son. He was a gambler, and having run through his inheritance, was constantly appealing to his father to pay his ever renewed gambling debts.

The father inevitably paid, ‘for the honor of the family.’ And he paid wringing his hands and cursing his fate. And the son thanked the father, wept, swore to reform, and continued gambling.

Why not, as there was, to him, no cost?

He had been taught, by his father, that there was no penalty for losing.

What worse lesson for a gambler?

For, if losing is cost free, why bother either to (a) learn to gamble or (b) to quit?

The serious gambler learns young, and painfully, that he must control his impulses, that he must not pursue fantasy, neither wish for the cards to turn, but learn the odds and husband his resources for those times when the cards or dice do favor him.

There is a technical term for the gambler who can neither learn nor quit: he is called a sucker.

Our politicians, left and right, are, to belabor the metaphor, the wastrel son: they are free to spend, to chase fantasies, and to squander resources, for the resources are not theirs, and there is no penalty for their misuse or loss.

The wastrel gambles, at no cost, for the thrill it provides; the wastrel politician does so in pursuit of fantasy (good works), or money. The money may be in direct support for his campaigns, or in free decorating of his summer home, or it may be issued in the form of plaques recognizing his good works, which plaques, on his retirement from office, may be traded in for money.” (p.52)

“The borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)