In the early 1960s, the British state, having decided people could go to hell in their own way, legalised both suicide and off-course betting. Newly legal high-street bookies like my father, poshed up into ‘turf accountants’, still had to do their business behind frosted glass, lest passers-by be corrupted by glimpses of the depravities within. In a school-gate encounter with my mother, a fellow parent, Mr Crapp – a pillar of the local chartered accountants’ guild and man of God – voiced his surprise that she had the brass to show herself in public, given her husband’s job. My doubts about moralism surfaced around this time. Later, the parallel realisation dawned that bankers, mortgage lenders, insurers, even Mr Crapp – the plaster saints of market society – had feet of clay.
Adaptability. That's the quality that got homo sapiens to the head of the evolutionary queue to destroy the planet. The great apes couldn't manage it, though viruses are sneaking up on us in their sneaky way. Adaptability: making the best of a bad job. Cue the Paddy Power Novelty Bet: First to become extinct in the great BP Oil Spill race. Which species will you bet on? Not looking good for the Kemp's Ridley Turtle or your winnings, at 4/5. Brown Pelicans (presumably now sticky black) are a better bet at 8/1. Very likely the adaptability factor (what fun and profit can we get out of this misery?) is in inverse proportion to your distance from the Louisiana coast. A local fisherman or fish probably less likely to take a punt than me sitting in my Cambridge eyrie.
If that's a little depressing, click back at the top of the page from 'First to become extinct' to the higher category of BP Specials and the odds on Next CEO of BP.
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that rats gamble, since everything that lives and moves gambles. Getting out of bed in the morning is a gamble that the day and life won't end when a hammer that has slipped out of the hand of a roofer two doors down from the newsagent where you get your paper every morning doesn't land on your cranium as you pass. You bet it won't happen, or you stay in bed and sod the crossword. Foxes gamble when they rummage through your rubbish bin that the local hunt isn't about to come round the corner and tear them to pieces (no one having told them about the recent legislation). The pigeon in my garden gambles that the cat won't sneak up behind it as it hoovers up the spilt seeds under the bird feeder. It knows the cat's around, knows the food's around. Doesn't want to die, wants to eat. Takes a risk, on whatever basis pigeons work these things out. Living things gamble or they stay absolutely still and die of starvation.