To know how to gamble one must, of course, know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. How does one learn this? (Once more a bit of Plato via Ranciere, except now I’ve read a bit of the later Althusser which helps address some of these concerns in a way I didn’t have last time.) According to Plato, “no one in the world would be a good dice or draught player who merely took up the game as a recreation, and had not from his earliest years devoted himself to this and nothing else.” (Quoted in Ranciere, the Philosopher and His Poor, the quote’s from the Republic.)

Ranciere makes much of the gambler metaphor, gambling being a superfluity for Plato. As such, the artisan can’t play dice or draughts well, and one should not do that which one can not do well. Banning the artisan from games of chance is banning the artisan from superfluous pursuits, needed in order to shore up “the principle of sticking only to one’s own occupation” (13). In Ranciere’s treatment, Plato’s argument on that order of the city starts off saying “in the perfect city let’s all do one thing, so we’ll all be really good at what we do” then changes to “let’s all do what we’re good at” in a way which relies on a mythology of previously distributed aptitudes, and thus turns over into essentially “stay in your places!” But this injunction also has some kind of commitment to their being a reason for these places, a justification. It’s not clear if the justification is to be true or more like an excuse, but in either case there’s a fear that the justification will fail: people will not stay in their places and not know why they should. People will gamble instead of work. (This touches on a theme resonant with Ranciere’s later work. How does one tell someone “you don’t know how” or “you don’t have the right” to think (well enough)? The very expectation that the hearer will understand undermines the utterance. Hence the need to stultify indirectly, in attempt to create the belief without ever saying it. If the belief is consciously uttered, however, it risks becoming self-conscious and short circuiting: “I think I don’t know how to think.”) Or, there is a fear that social roles and the distribution of persons into them will go awry, precisely because of the artisan’s attempt to do what the artisan can not do well, to play games of chance.

Everyone knows how to gamble, though. Everyone can be an aleator. More to the point, it is the proletariat which is the most important site and subject of the aleatory in capitalism, and should be primary within aleatory materialism. (The proletariat lives near the void, so to speak.) It is only because everyone knows how to gamble that the aleator can advise another, that the encounter with the aleator on the train to nowhere can even take place. The aleator may differ, since s/he makes a living reading faces, but the ability to take and keep an ace that the gambler offers is proof of a power to gamble – a power of chance, of deviation, that doing one thing is in no one’s nature, social or otherwise – which is prior to the distribution of roles in the city. This priority is why Plato has to spend so much time trying to convince about the order of the city where everyone does one thing only. The ability to hear the message implies a similarity with the messenger, the ability to bear and to write other messages, contra Lenin and Kautsky. This capacity threatens the power of a would be messenger. Fear of this capacity is part of the tyranny of would be messengers when they find out the proletariat knows how to gamble and that they are thus themselves superfluous.