In the film “All About Eve,” Eve’s manager says “I’m a man of few principles, and most of them are open to revision.” “The Fever” is a story about moral principles, about reasoning on the basis of one’s principles and about breaking them, and it’s about good and bad reasoning.
Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Gibbs, a conservative mid-western couple, find themselves in Las Vegas, lured, seemingly against their will, by the gaming industry. Mr. Franklin is opposed to gambling in all its forms. He sees it as a moral wrong, not simply a vice, and as he immodestly asserts “If there’s one thing I know, it’s morality.”
Though Mr. Gibbs is brittle and out of place on the casino floor, Mrs. Gibbs is not. She takes in the excitement of the moment, seeking out the laughter and emotions of those around them. She wants a piece of the action, but Franklin scolds her and begrudges her wish to play a nickel slot once.
Brittle things break, however, and principles are violated. While Mrs. Gibbs can play one pull of the slot machine and walk away, Mr. Gibbs cannot. Once he plays a dollar (someone else’s dollar) and wins a few dollars, he can’t stop. He falls prey to the Gambler’s Fallacy: Regularities must fall, and the exception is bound to occur. Using that reasoning, we should expect that the next loaf of bread we ingest will not provide nourishment, that the sun will not rise tomorrow, and that slot machines will pay out.
Perhaps Mr. Gibbs’ principles served him well until the moment of temptation. Had he possessed an adequate supply of it, here reason could have stepped in and made the necessary corrections. Instead, Gibbs endows the primitive slot machine, the “one-armed bandit” with intelligence, will, and a purpose at total odds with his own. Guess who wins.
As Serling sums it up: Mr. Franklin Gibbs “lost his reason, his money, and his life.” Rational action is often acting in moderation;, we should neither abstain nor over-indulge. But such principles fall short on the casino floor. What we need to remember is that the logic we employed to get to that floor still applies there as well.