Fixed odds betting terminals have been much in the news. Recently the Government, under pressure, has brought forward a new regulation which stipulates a maximum bet of £2 a ‘throw’. Currently the maximum bet is £100, and a focussed gambler can make a bet every 20 seconds. Many of them lose up to £1000 in a single session. A total of of about 1.8 billion pounds is lost every day. Betting houses take great care to encourage their regular customers, and work very hard to keep them going.
How stupid! – we may think. Surely even the simple minded must know that the odds are calculated to ensure that over time the profit goes to the provider, the dumb client is always the loser. Well – not always. You could walk into a betting shop, put in your £100, win £10,000, and walk out, clinking with money – and never return. And that of course is the bait.
Addiction carries with it a sense of internal obligation. Tobacco smoking is a common example. Yes, there is certainly a moment of pleasure puff by puff but there is likely to be a big price to be paid in the end. And I should know: I smoked for many years, and by now I have had two heart operations.
We think of addiction as a mental phenomenon, forgetting that it is present in the brain. The brain conveniently helps us in our habits by creating the neural connections which save us from having to think. A familiar example is driving a car where many of our procedures, such as changing gear or checking the side mirror, require no conscious thought. Our brains do the thinking.
This can be even more serious if our habit changes our biological needs. The smoker actually needs tobacco more than the non-smoker, just as the non-sleeper can become dependent on their tablets, and begins to find that his dosage is increasing. But what interests me today is our potential addiction to our questionable social habits.
On the wireless the other day I heard a man describe how his mother continually plagued his father for his stupid absent mindedness. The father, as it happened, was a scientist of repute – and once considered for a Nobel Prize. My guess is that the mother could only breach the gap between their intellects by her criticisms. Her inferiority complex required, but never satisfied, the difference.
I, for instance, find in conversational discussion that I am strongly inclined to make sure that everyone knows how well read I am in the subject. It must be very annoying to all those who now feel at a disadvantage. I spend more time trying to save tuppence in the supermarket than I do at spending a thousand pounds. I remember well my wife’s expression of interest when listening, or in many cases not actually listening, to my latest ideas on the Universe.
And I am given to not really listening to other people, even though I know its importance. I am much too keen to prepare my stylish answer. I forget that a conversation should be an episode of mutual caring exchange not a tennis match.
I wonder whether our fierce discussions on this Blog about climate change are well thought out – with an open mind investigating the evidence. Or are they the product of a closed mind – to be protected at any cost. Much the same might be said of religious beliefs.
Those are just examples, but I suggest that we spend some time looking at our social habits, and particularly those which concern people close to us. Spouses, children, colleagues, friends? We might well be helped by asking such people to tell us about how it feels at the receiving end. We could learn a lot.