A guest blog by Bob Lucius

Most of you have likely read the “The Lottery” at some point in your lives. I had to read in 9th Grade English class. It’s a great little short story…first published in 1948…but every bit as thought provoking today as it was a half-century ago.

It’s about a small village of three hundred people that holds a lottery every year…a lottery in which everybody is expected to take part…every man, woman and child. It is a tradition shared in common by many of the surrounding villages…a tradition that has existed for so long that nobody can even remember how or why it first began…though some of the old timers have a hazy recollection that it was started by earlier generations to ensure a bountiful harvest.
The villagers are no longer sure how much their lottery tradition has changed over time…though most appreciate that many of its original features have been altered over the intervening years…like substituting slips of paper for wood chips…few realize that only the vaguest outlines of the original ceremony remain.  When one of the younger town residents casually mentions that a village up north has already abandoned the “Lottery” tradition, the town grump, Old Man Warner, complains, “Pack of crazy fools…listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work anymore, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery.”
This the Villagers do know….the Lottery tradition requires that each member of the village draw a small folded slip of paper from a box… on one of these paper slips has been drawn a solid black circle…and the one who draws this slip is immediately surrounded and stoned to death by all of the other villagers….and I do mean all….women, men, the elderly and infirm… even the children…without hesitation or mercy…or even a moment spared for tearful goodbyes to family and friends.
In Jackson’s telling of the Lottery, Tessie Hutchinson…the middle-aged wife of a local farmer and the mother of three young children draws the dreaded slip. Her fellow villagers waste no time stoning her to death…the children have been giddily stacking piles of stones all morning…before returning to their lives again. Her pleas for mercy fall on deaf ears and she is gone before noon, just in time for everyone to get home for lunch. It is a chilling, abrupt end to the tale.
Mindless violence in the name of blind and uncritical obedience to tradition is the major theme in “The Lottery.” While the stoning is in and of itself a cruel and brutal act, Jackson escalates its emotional impact by setting the story in a seemingly civilized and peaceful community where everyone knows each other and gets along. Her message is that horrifying acts of violence can take place anywhere, at any time, and are often taken for granted as natural, normal and necessary.  Brutality can be committed by the most ordinary of people, especially when individuals refuse to stand up against mindless traditions and who instead unquestioningly rationalize their own participation either because its just always been done that way or because that’s what everyone else is doing.
The Villagers in this story have to a person abrogated their responsibility to question injustice and brutality…they have wrapped themselves in the mantle of tradition, believing that by doing so they are somehow exculpated from their individual and collective guilt for a monstrous crime. They have voluntarily surrendered what was best of their own humanity…namely their “humaneness”…for the mammon of “fitting in”.  Even worse, they have turned a blind eye to the innocent victims of our collective violence rather than face the costs that inevitably come when we take a stand against what one has been taught and has long believed to be true.
Jackson’s Lottery pointedly reminds us that one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language is perhaps “That’s the way it has always been”, which is only somewhat worse than “That’s what I was taught”.
“The Lottery” is, of course, fiction…but there are a lot of traditions and habits around the world and right here at home that should make us sit back and wonder at man’s breathtaking capacity for absurdity…and the lengths we will often go to rationalize our own callousness and brutality in the face of damning evidence.
What I have discovered in the course of my advocacy on behalf of human and non-human animals around the world is that I cannot make anyone believe anything.  I can show you photographic evidence…ask you to read literature and watch hours of undercover investigation videos that show cruelty unmasked in all its naked horror and cruelty…but even this will have no effect whatsoever if your hearts are not open to the possibility that what you once believed could be completely wrong…that you have been terribly misinformed about some things you were taught to believe and embrace.
I have found that I can only encourage people to question everything…to accept no belief, no custom and no tradition as inviolable, immutable or beyond reproach…to not even trust the our own memories as unimpeachable guides. They are not. They too will deceive us if left unchallenged.
As free men and women, we not only have the right to question what we have been told to believe and how we have been told to behave in this world…towards each other, towards the environment and, yes…also towards the non-human animals who share it with us…we also have that obligation.  We have an obligation to stand up and to proclaim that any “lottery” that gambles away our children’s shared environmental heritage and the lives of countless billions of sentient creature in the name of greed, apathy and tradition must end now.  It is ultimately a loosing bet.”
Photo_LuciusLieutenant Colonel Robert “Bob” Lucius, USMC (Ret.) was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1989 and served 22 years on active duty in a wide variety of command, staff and diplomatic assignments before retiring on August 1, 2011. During the last half of his military career he served as a specialist in Southeast Asian foreign languages and cultures, which included assignments at U.S. embassies in Indonesia and Vietnam.  He now oversees advanced education programs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA.  Bob graduated from Norwich University in 1989, receiving a BA in History. He also holds a Master of Forensic Science degree from National University, an MA degree in National Security Studies from Naval Postgraduate School and a Graduate Certificate in Community Advocacy from George Washington University. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Human Development from Fielding Graduate University.  In 2009, Bob founded the Kairos Coalition (www.kairoscoalition.org) to pilot experimental humane education and grassroots advocacy initiatives in developing economies.  He is the founder of VegHeads of Monterey Bay (http://www.meetup.com/Vegetarian-and-Vegan/), a group that advocates the environmental, health and animal welfare benefits of a plant‐based diet.  He has also served as the CEO of the Humane Party of the United States.  If you’d like to contact Bob, you can reach him at execdirector@kairoscoalition.org