We all have our weaknesses. One of mine, I confess, is Mahjong. During the past few weeks, while my husband has been laid up after knee surgery, we’ve spent more time at home than usual. Unfortunately, home is where my computer is, and my computer is where I play Mahjong.
This addictive little game simply requires the player to click on sets of matching tiles, arranged in different configurations, to make them disappear. Depending on their location, the tiles may be “free” or blocked by other tiles that have to be removed first. There are 36 sets of 4 tiles each for a total of 144.
It sounds easy, but the tiles are often arranged in such a way that, as you get further into the game, it’s harder to find matching tiles that are not blocked.
With practice, a player develops strategies that improve performance but also expectations that have nothing to do with reality. For instance, I’ve noticed that I’m likely to win if I start a game by matching dragon tiles—or at least I feel that I’ve noticed it, which is a very different thing.
Actually, when I’m thinking with the rational part of my brain—the frontal cortex—I’m absolutely certain that my percentage of wins over time is about the same whether I begin a game by matching dragons or by matching any of the 35 other sets of tiles. But my deep, old, emotional brain—the limbic system—still gives me a little jolt of confidence and satisfaction if, in the first moves of a game, I kill a few dragons.
With all the chatter in the media about politics, no one ever seems to allude to this absolutely critical distinction between intellectual and emotional thinking. Barring a serious brain disorder, most of us use both parts of our brain every day, switching back and forth between using intuitive or emotional “logic” (which can be very useful in some circumstances) and using actual, fact-based reasoning skills—which is the only way to understand things having to do with, among other things, money.
Thus we have a situation in which a goodly number of well-intentioned Americans march off half-cocked to Tea Party rallies, chanting about budget cuts and tax relief. The Pied Piper leading this pathetic parade is Big Business, represented by Dick Armey, the Koch brothers, and others who are either very rich or who have been (like Scott Walker) bought and paid for by the very rich. Relieved (in large part by the Bush tax cuts) of their responsibilities to help fund the government, they’ve convinced a very large contingent of the “little people” that they should panic about the government going broke and make up the deficits by sacrificing their own meager, middle-class earnings and benefits.
Thinking with their emotional brains, millions of Americans now routinely vote against their own interests, victims of years of successful GOP propaganda that says the country is broke and only more sacrifices by the poor and middle class—and even more tax relief for the very, very rich—can save the country from bankruptcy.
In fact, as all reputable economists know and have been saying, spending is good during a serious recession. Injecting more money into the system fuels a recovery by supporting manufacturing, small business, and other vital aspects of the economy. Cutting taxes and increasing revenue for common folk so that they can buy more food, clothes, and cars makes sense. Increasing revenue by allowing corporations and the very, very rich to pay their fair share also makes good sense.
What doesn’t make sense is for General Electric, Exxon, and Wall Street financial firms to suck money out of the economy while paying little or nothing in taxes.
But it’s no use trying to tell that to Tea Party folks. They’re too busy marching off to kill dragons.