By Richard John Stapleton
When the cat’s away the mice will play.
Raising-the-debt ceiling-time in the USian congress is when repugnant Repug and dim Dem congressmice come out to play when the cat president is weakest, trying to siphon money from the USian federal government real and funny money revenue stream for their selfish hides, threatening to plunge the USian economy into chaos for everyone, playing DEBT CEILING.
It’s quite a Game these chaps play.
DEBT CEILING is an all-encompassing variant of the transactional analysis psychological Game called COPS AND ROBBERS that entails supposed good-guy Rescuers incessantly trying to catch and punish supposed bad-guy Persecutors while seeing themselves as Victims.
Playing DEBT CEILING causes the USian Federal debt to increase more in the year following the year in which it is played than in other years because the Victim cat, the president, cannot veto unnecessary pork barrel demands for more spending or tax cuts by bad-guy Repug and Dem congressmice and their supporters without causing the USian government to default on its debt.
There is no such thing as a USian debt ceiling. It’s just a temporary number concocted to exist for a while that will have to be raised again with a new round of DEBT CEILING Game-playing when the actual USian federal debt expands up to that number, disingenuously called a debt ceiling, because doing otherwise would be disastrous.
The USian federal debt would expand less over time as matters now stand if USian bad-guy congressmice would stop playing their disingenuous DEBT CEILING Game. Rescuer bad-guy congressmice are socially saying they are imposing their debt ceiling process to make it harder for Persecutor bad-guy congressmice to increase the USian budget deficit and debt, when they are psychologically doing it to make it easier for themselves to increase the deficit and debt, to enrich themselves in the short run with more pork barrel spending or tax cuts, regardless of the consequences for Victim USian citizens in the long run.
As matters now stand, the USian government has no choice but to keep on kicking its budget and debt can of worms down the road every time the last so-called debt ceiling number is reached—until all hell breaks loose—if significant changes are not made in its economic-political-military modus operandi.
Eric Berne achieved fame with his best-selling book, Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. In it, he defines a psychological Game as follows:
“An ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome. Descriptively, it is a recurring set of transactions, often repetitious, superficially plausible, with a concealed motivation; or, more colloquially, a series of moves with a snare, or “gimmick.” Games are clearly differentiated from procedures, rituals, and pastimes by two chief characteristics: (1) their ulterior quality and (2) the payoff. Procedures may be successful, rituals effective, and sometimes profitable, but all of them are by definition candid; they may involve contest, but not conflict, and the ending may be sensational, but is not dramatic. Every (psychological (emphasis added)) game, on the other hand, is basically dishonest, and the outcome has a dramatic, as distinct from merely exciting quality (Berne, 1970a).”
Games such as football, basketball, poker, and chess are games with a little g. They are honest and overt. Everybody knows the rules and referees make sure the fair rules are impartially imposed on all players.
The basic formula for psychological Games (Berne, 1970a) is :
Con + Gimmick = Response -> Switch -> Cross -> Payoff.
Two sets of complementary transactions are going on at once—a spoken social level overt set and a psychological level non-verbal covert set.
In general, Games take place outside the awareness of the Adult Ego State, which unfortunately means Game players do not know they are playing Games. They have been playing Games for so long they think Game-playing is just natural.
The Con is the basic invitation the Game stimulator throws out; the Gimmick is some trick or bait, that causes the responder, sometimes referred to as the “mark,” to respond and get hooked, much like a trout rising to take a fisherman’s artificial fly.
Once the responder is hooked, after a series of Adult transactions, which may require a minute or so, or several days, or perhaps months, or years, surprises will occur.
The Game stimulator and responder will switch roles—Persecutor, Rescuer, or Victim—from whatever role they started with to a different role, and the Game stimulator will begin to cross the original Adult-Adult transactions with a heavy Parent-Child cross.
One of the most common psychological Games identified by transactional analysts played by Earthian humans in general is called NIGYSOB, NOW I’VE GOT YOU, YOU SOB, and for sure it is one of the most common Games played in governments.
Move 1 in a NIGYSOB Game will be concerned with some Adult-sounding faults, mistakes, or deficiencies the Game stimulator has detected.
At move 1 the stimulator says something to the effect that such and such is a problem, which may be true. The responder in response to move 1 will then ask what specifically is wrong, etc. Several transactions may then happen at the Adult level dealing with what appear to be Adult data and information in back and forth transactions on Adult-Adult complementary stimulus-response transactional vectors.
At the same time the above transaction is happening socially, another unspoken transaction is happening between the Parent Ego State of the Game stimulator and the Child ego state of the Game responder at the psychological ulterior level. The Parent-Child non-verbal message is an angry variant of “It’s your fault, kid, and you’re badly out of line.” The Child-Parent response is a variant of “Don’t give me a spanking, who cares, etc.”
In a few minutes, or perhaps, days or weeks, or years the Game stimulator will decide the Game responder has been securely hooked, and now it’s time to go for the Payoff.
At payoff-time the Game stimulator will switch from Rescuer to Persecutor and move the social level message away from the Adult data, the issue, or the problem after cathecting a heavy Parent ego state. At this stage of the Game the stimulator at the social level will cross the previous Adult-Adult transactions with a heavy overt verbal Parent-Child transaction that lets the responder know socially in various ways, means, and words that “Now I’ve got you, you SOB.”
The psychological Payoff for a NIGYSOB stimulator is a feeling of triumph or being “one up.” The payoff for the Game responder in a NIGYSOB Game will to feel humiliated and dejected, and perhaps rejected. The Game stimulator psychologically wanted all along to feel superior and reign supreme. A major reason NIGYSOB players play NIGYSOB is to feel justified in venting their anger, which they have pent up inside themselves.
Some people go through these antics on an over-and-over again basis. I think many people assume that all people are NIGYSOB players, since “one-up” Game playing is so widespread. In order to gain psychological satisfaction from playing NIGYSOB as a responder, you need to be a KICK ME or COPS AND ROBBERS player. Some Earthian humans might psychologically gain satisfaction from being manipulated, debased, or discounted.
People play psychological Games in general to get structure, stimulus, and recognition. If you grew up in a family with NIGYSOB-playing parents in order to get along in the family system you had to learn to tolerate NIGYSOB playing, and it’s likely you too became a NIGYSOB player, having learned how to do it from your parents.
All normal Earthian humans like to be liked, recognized, and paid-attention-to, and negative strokes are better than no strokes at all.
Getting attention and strokes, or units of recognition, is another major reason people play Games. Be it noted that playing Games as a politician in a government is one of the surest ways of getting lots of strokes. In general the more extreme the politician the more strokes s/he gets. Trump got and gets more strokes some days playing Games in politics than normal Earthian humans get in a lifetime conducting pastimes, rituals, and activities. He thrives on drama strokes; he’s a stroke addict.
There are positive, negative, conditional and unconditional strokes. Conditional strokes, such as receiving good or bad grades in school, or receiving awards in sports for being the highest scorer on the team, are earned and merited. Positive and negative unconditional strokes are bestowed and inflicted on others just because they are liked or disliked.
Other psychological Games often played in governments are MINE’S BETTER; BLEMISH; GEE, YOU’RE WONDERFUL SUPPORTERS; AIN’T IT AWFUL, GREENHOUSE; DO ME SOMETHING; I’M ONLY TRYING TO HELP YOU; IF ONLY IT WEREN’T FOR YOU; YOU STARTED IT; and, the most deleterious Game of all, LET’S YOU AND THEM FIGHT.
Psychological Game-playing happens in all organizations—families, churches, schools, small businesses, large corporations, and governments. They are one of several ways of structuring, or spending, time.
Eric Berne in his book What Do You Do After You Say Hello: The Psychology of Human Destiny (Berne, 1970b) said you can spend most of your time engaged in Withdrawal, retiring into your cave, talking to yourself inside your own head researching and creating things; Pastimes, small talk, gossip, talking about sports, hobbies, etc. with others; Rituals, reciting the same things over-and-over again with others, performing mental and physical movements required for eating, drinking, sleeping, praying, worshiping, teaching, following precedents, etc.; Activities, doing things in the real world, working, creating, changing things, solving problems; Playing Games, structuring your time trying to take advantage of others and make fools out of them; and Intimacy, transacting with others in Game-free ways, joyously and honestly feeling, thinking, communicating, and having fun after cathecting Free Child Ego States.
Time structuring possibilities are ordered in the above paragraph from low to high based on the likelihood of them producing strokes if conducted. How they will be conducted in what proportions is determined by the way individuals and organizations were scripted throughout their lives in the evolutionary cause-effect chains causing their personas, feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors to happen.
Some transactional analysts believe it’s possible for Earthian humans and organizations to change their time structuring patterns and life scripts by somehow acquiring better script messages than those that naturally happened.
Believers in free will would probably think this should be easy. Believers in compatibilism might think it might or might not be possible. Strict determinists would think it’s just a pipe dream.
I became a certified transactional analyst in the 1970s preparing myself to do a better job of teaching organizational development in a business school and consulting with organizations in the real world. I was successful in some cases, but most organizations were not interested in what I had to offer as a TA consultant. Unfortunately, in my opinion most organizations around Spaceship Earth are more in need of organizational development work now than they were in 1980. It seems to me USian culture was more intellectual and open to new learning in the 1960s and 1970s than it is now, having become more and more anti-intellectual, authoritarian, intolerant, fascistic, revanchist, and violent, starting with the USian Repug Reagan government in 1980. Seems to me the need for well-functioning governments around Spaceship Earth is greater now than ever.
Regardless, it seems to me governments are the best hope for eradicating the two modern horsemen of the apocalypse: GWCC, global warming and climate change, and MNWP, militarization and nuclear weapons proliferation. Unfortunately, these existential threats are not psychological Games.
The USian political system and government, and most Earthian governments, it seems to me, are cesspools of Game-playing. Earthian humans running them structure most of their time playing Games and conforming to script messages in pastimes, rituals and procedures dealing with constituents, politicians, political parties, voters, bureaucracies, large corporations, and other countries that are generally out to control and consume more than their fair share of finite Earthian resources.
After they say hello after they get elected new Earthian governments mostly structure their time busying themselves conducting pastimes, rituals, procedures, and ceremonies, and playing Games, wasting most of their time and energy in entropic time structuring instead of doing real work; a minuscule fraction of their time is structured conducting work activities that might solve systemic and existential problems.
Most likely former USian Repug president Trump’s surprise switch and cross January 6, 2021 in the USian capitol building attempting to take over the USian government as a fascist dictator were moves in one of the biggest NIGYSOB Games of Earthian human history, leading to what he hoped would be a glorious payoff.
Berne, Eric. The Structure and Dynamics of Organizations and Groups. New York: Grove Press, 1963.
Berne, Eric. Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. New York: Grove Press, 1970a.
Berne, Eric. What Do You Do After You Say Hello? The Psychology of Human Destiny. New York: Grove Press, 1970b.
Stapleton, Richard John. De-Gaming Teaching and Learning: How to Motivate Learners and Invite OKness. Statesboro, GA: Effective Learning Publications, 1979.
Stapleton, Richard John. Business Voyages: Mental Maps, Scripts, Schemata and Tools for Discovering and Co-Constructing Your Own Business Worlds. Statesboro, Georgia: Effective Learning Publications, 2012.
“McCarthy Warns Biden Could ‘Bumble’ Into First Default in US History,” Tyler Durden, ZEROHEDGE, April 17, 2023, https://www.zerohedge.com/political/mccarthy-warns-biden-could-bumble-first-default-us-history?fbclid=IwAR2PAedtXePpfWt1XoJ7lRAd2Y4wqI88C0h1YxH112slAxYJvVtyh1_btGQ.
About the Author
Richard John Stapleton, PhD, CTA would spin the spinner of his Classroom De-Gamer™ in his classes to randomly select a student at the beginning of each class session to lead a discussion of the case assigned for the day, a case taken from a planned or operating business prepared by case writers at Georgia Southern, Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Alabama.
This process insured that everyone would be relatively Game-free transacting in class discussions. They all agreed to a learning contract at the outset of the course that they would read assigned cases and would be graded on the quantity and quality of ideas sold in the class market. Anyone caught obviously unprepared by the spinning De-Gamer would lose a whole letter grade from the course grade. No one could feel or think that s/he was being persecuted or rescued if selected to start the class discussion of the day by the Classroom De-Gamer™. The psychological Game roles of Persecutor, Rescuer, and Victim were largely banished from the course learning process.
Grades were based eighty percent on class participation in dialectical discussions about what to do about problems and opportunities found in cases; the rest of the final grade was based on two case write-ups. One write-up was about what the student observed, researched, analyzed, and wrote about an existing business in the local environment or a business plan the student created. The other write-up was an analysis of a case researched and written by professors about a business assigned as the final exam. Cases used in his courses contained processes, problems, opportunities, and data occurring in all functional areas of business such as entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, operations management, control, management information systems, and business policy and strategy.
He has published refereed journal articles and books explaining how his democratic Game-free Adult-Adult I’m OK—You’re OK case method system works, by banishing Persecutors, Rescuers, and Victims playing psychological Games from the teaching and learning process, first documented in an article titled “The Classroom De-Gamer” he published in 1978 in the Transactional Analysis Journal. He has published seven books and over one hundred articles in various media containing cases, research data, and essays on teaching and learning and management policies and practices.
Stapleton learned and trained using transactional analysis with Martin Groder, MD; Graham Barnes, PhD; Vann Joines, PhD; and many others at the Southeast Institute at Chapel Hill, North Carolina (1975-1978).
He was a Harvard Case Method teacher who never went to Harvard, having learned how the case method works teaching with Bernard Bienvenu, DBA and Rexford Hauser, DBA (Harvard Business School doctorates) at the University of Louisiana– Lafayette in 1969-70.
He has a BS in economics (1962), an MBA in organizational behavior (1966), and a PhD in management science (1969) from Texas Tech University, and an organizational and educational certification in transactional analysis (CTA) from the International Transactional Analysis Association (1978).
He taught his own case method track at the undergraduate level in the management department of the business school at Georgia Southern University offering four or five different elective case method courses each academic year (1970-2005), in which he led, coordinated, and graded about twenty-five or so students each year who took all or most of those case method courses in their junior and senior years, of about two hundred students who signed up for all his courses each year. He used a democratic circle or amphitheater classroom layout in all his classes. He also taught most semesters two sections of a capstone integrative business policy course he added to the business school curriculum in 1970 that was required for all undergraduate business majors that could be elected by any student in any major. He was the only professor in the business school to use the case method in any course.
His students agreed to a course learning contract that stipulated they would read the facts of the case before class and would lose a whole letter grade from the course final grade if the De-Gamer randomly caught them obviously not having read the case before class, if they had not slipped a note under his office door before class telling him they had not read the case, which they could do twice during the course without penalty.
About ten percent of his students made A’s and about five percent made D’s. Most made C’s, which is about right, since C = Average. There were few F’s in his courses. The main criterion for course grades was the quantity and quality of ideas sold by students in case method discussions. He used peer ratings to give students feedback showing what their fellow students thought about the quantity and quality of their ideas sold in class, having made it clear the final decision about final grades was his. He did not believe in Lake Wobegon grading.
No student was ever forced to take one of his courses to graduate, and the most hardened Game-players in the school did not sign up for his courses after he issued his Edict of 1972 in which he clearly spelled out in his syllabi the penalty for getting caught unprepared. His Classroom De-Gamer™ was roundly discussed by students in bull sessions across campus every year and was labeled various things, such as The Wheel of Fate and The Death Wheel. Most students near the end of his career simply called it The Spinner.
He appreciated Georgia Southern honoring his academic freedom by allowing him control of his teaching methods, classroom layouts, grading procedures, and course books, cases, and materials, some of which he researched, wrote, and published. He was promoted to full professor at age thirty-six.
He solicited anonymous longitudinal research data using questionnaires in 1992 showing his case method students during 1972-1982 reported higher yearly incomes in 1992 than students electing the same courses in 1972-1982 taught by professors using the authoritarian lecture method and the militaristic row and column classroom layout, who graded students based on memorizing or calculating “right answers” for tests, indicating learners learning in Adult—Adult I’m OK—You’re OK Game-free democratic learning processes graded subjectively became more successful in the real world of business than learners lectured to and graded using so-called objective multiple-choice tests.
Only former students who had worked in the real world ten or more years after graduating from the Georgia Southern business school were included in the study. The data are shown, analyzed, and discussed in full in “Evidence the Case Method Works” in his book Business Voyages: Mental Maps, Scripts, Schemata, and Tools for Discovering and Co-Constructing Your Own Business Worlds, 2008, pg. 475). The data were also used in several refereed articles.
The ancient Greeks used a similar random-selection democratic process in the Third Century BCE to select leaders of political discussions, learning, and policy formulation in their halls of government. Such a process is called sortition.
For more information on related classroom management ethical issues see Stapleton, R.J. and Murkison, G. (2001), “Optimizing the fairness of student evaluations: A study of correlations between instructor excellence, study production, learning production, and expected grades,” in the Journal of Management Education, 25(3), 269-292.
Stapleton had one of the lowest student grade point averages among professors in the business school and was one of the lowest-ranked professors as an instructor on computerized campus-wide student evaluations that weighted only instructor excellence scores up to 2000; but he was one of the highest-ranked professors in a computerized student evaluation he designed that generated data also showing and weighting study production, learning production, and expected grades scores for each professor, published in “Optimizing the Fairness of Student Evaluations.”
To read the Optimizing Fairness article in full, go to https://studysites.sagepub.com/holt/articles/Stapleton.pdf . After this research was published, Georgia Southern in 2001 added study production, learning production, and expected grades questions to the student evaluation form used campus-wide.
“Optimizing the Fairness of Student Evaluations” has by now (April 7, 2023) been cited as a reference in 85 refereed journal articles concerned about the ethics of student evaluations in several academic disciplines, including ten new citations since April 2021.
As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein propositioned in his book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, “The case is all there is.”
If so, everything else said about Earthian human states of affairs is a rendition of what was or might be.
His latest book is As the Rooster Crows Earthian OKness Increases.
For more on Stapleton’s cultural, educational, and professional experiences see “RJS Academic Vita,” at https://blog.effectivelearning.net/rjs-academic-vita/.
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