Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bets Off

See the article: All Bets Off - The Number To Call When The Luck Runs Out, from the West Newsmagazine, a local paper serving western Saint Louis County, Missouri (note that this is not a permanent link to the story):
"Gambling problem? Call 1-888-BETSOFF."

Virtually everyone in Missouri has heard that public service announcement rattled off at the tail of an enticement to visit a casino. Most people give it about as much thought as a losing lottery ticket, but for a small percentage, the message hits home, and sooner or later, they pick up the phone and call.

What happens when someone places a call to 1-888-BETSOFF, Missouri's confidential, 24-hour gambling helpline? What kind of questions do callers ask, and what kind of help do they get?
Callers get referrals to free counseling, are evaluated for suicide risk, and are directed towards 12-step programs.
Self said that if someone calls 1-888-BETSOFF and says they think they have a gambling problem, the counselor will ask questions to determine if the person is a pathological gambler.

Pathological gambling is a progressive disorder that is characterized by an increasing preoccupation with gambling activities, a need to bet more money more frequently, "chasing" losses, and a loss of control that is characterized by continued participation in gambling activities, despite the mounting negative consequences for the gambler. The key signs are emotional dependence on gambling, loss of control and interference with normal functioning. However, the illness is both diagnosable and treatable.
"Pathological" means "addiction". Modern psychology has difficulties dealing with addictive behavior and finds addiction hard to understand. Sometimes, solving addiction via pharmaceuticals can be effective, but doesn't get at the root of the problem. 12-step programs—which requires an addicted person to admit to having a problem and to acknowledge a higher power—are among the most successful of secular counseling programs.

Catholic moral teaching has a view of addiction that, while taking into account modern psychology, also adds wisdom. Where sin—separation from God by failing to do what is Good—occurs is before the addiction begins, such as when you gamble away your needed paycheck just for fun. Sin is what deserves spiritual punishment. But when gambling (or other things) becomes an addiction, then the act is no longer is sinful: the person has an impaired will and instead is a slave to sin; the act itself is its own punishment! Hell becomes present here in our world. And in our fallen world, such acts affect and damage others, including friends, employers, children and grandchildren. Moral culpability may be reduced, but recompense to those harmed still must be done.

Modern philosophy does not like the concept of sin. Instead, it sees each person as an autonomous moral agent, who makes up his own rules of right or wrong, in defiance to social or religious norms. While this seems enlightened and liberal, it is extremely problematical. How should people act in society? We are not told, for we are to make up our own way.

There is no mention of right, wrong, or the good. Note that the concept of "autonomy" is behind many modern evils, such as abortion and euthanasia: if you are not autonomous then you have no rights. Likewise, arts funding agencies will not fund artwork that does not show an artist's "autonomy" from previous traditional styles.

The owners of a gambling establishment, and the governments who reap taxes from these, have autonomously decided for themselves that gambling is good and moral, and so offer games to the public. Members of the public need to autonomously decide for themselves if gambling is good or not. If not, then they don't go gambling. Who are we to judge others who have decided that gambling is good?

So, if we have a problem gambler, that is his (or more likely her) problem. Society can regulate such persons to the point of imprisonment, but its nothing personal.

Our modern system of law is not based on morality, but instead is "positive law"; which is man-made and arbitrary, and is just a form of regulation, like deciding what side of the road we drive on. Here we drive on the right, in England they drive on the left; it is an arbitrary decision, not based on moral considerations. A problem gambler gives trouble to others, so they are removed from society.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. But we aren't told right from wrong, because we must follow our conscience, and society has a right to regulate conduct. So we end up with huge numbers of people going to jail because they had no moral upbringing, while the State pleads innocence.

Here are some questions to ask politicians and those in power:

Are you doing anything to encourage bad behavior that risks imprisonment?
Are you sure?

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