Some time back I read the seminal book on transactional analysis
(TA), Games People Play by Eric Berne, on the recommendation of someone on Livejournal. While it was hobbled by a 1960's understanding of mental illness, there were a couple of ideas in the book that I thought were brilliant:
* Its description of 'strokes', as in attention that other people pay to you. So if you're used to having a long conversation with someone at work and one day they ignore you, it's normal to feel upset because you're not getting your customary strokes from them. And a large part of social interaction is trying to get people to give you strokes. These days I would describe 'strokes' as being a subset of status signalling, since status is all about being able to get people to pay attention to you at will.
* Its description of the games that people play. Even just looking at the names of the games on the Wikipedia page, it's easy to recognise several common patterns of behaviour that are frustrating to deal with, such as Why Don't You/Yes But
, which involves someone posing as though seeking advice for a problem when in reality they 'win' the game by successfully exhausting everyone's ideas of how to help them by finding a reason to reject every piece. Or If It Weren't For You, where they blame someone else for obstructing their (otherwise assured) success in some task.
Reading the Wiki article today, I'm inclined to think that the current evolution of TA thinking can be found in Schema Therapy
, which makes the same assertion that people can pick up maladaptive ways of thinking and acting when they're children that influence them as adults and make their lives miserable. And the descriptions of the games are just too obviously accurate to be discarded, I think, since after having read the descriptions and recognised some of them in my own behaviour, I now wince and try to behave more sanely whenever I find myself playing any of them. But these points are largely tangential to my real reason for bringing TA up.
So today I was participating in a virtual meetup with some fellow Less Wrong members, and we were talking about belief in belief, specifically Sagan's dragon in the garage
and how if someone seems to have a glib answer to every test you raise that would prove or disprove their assertion then you should be wary. And it occurred to me that the structure of the dragon in the garage parable bears a striking resemblance to Why Don't You/Yes But, where every piece of advice is met with immediate glib rejection and no attempt to take it on board. Mind you, I'm not actually sure what this means in terms of how you should deal with conversations of this type, other than to recognise it as fast as possible and stop playing, I just thought it was interesting how much the two dialogues resemble each other. Oh, and there's always the cheap shot to be made that part of why many theists go around announcing their belief in God is that they're using belief in God as an elaborate method of getting attention.