Where the Cowboy and the Puritan Meet

Question: What does the popularity of poker say about the American character?

James McManus: Well, I think that a lot of -- let me phrase this. Risk taking -- people who are drawn to risk -- entrepreneurial cowboys -- have very little patience with the puritanical mindset, which is not to take risks, work hard every day, save small amounts incrementally, and build up your fortune in that manner. Whereas -- and the puritans have very little patience for risk-taking cowboys who are willing to gamble most or all of their future, for example, on heading out across a two thousand-mile stretch of continent that hasn't been explored yet. What both sides need to appreciate is that the American experience is a combination of the entrepreneurial cowboy and the puritan work ethic, and that the two strains have made us who we are as a country, and that in poker you need to make risks; you need to put money in the pot in a speculative way in order to have any hope of doubling your money in that particular hand. And yet you also have to have -- you also have to deploy what might be called puritan money management skills, conservatism, patience, waiting for a good hand, so that an effective poker player typically involves -- start again. Playing poker effectively typically involves both entrepreneurial risk-taking and a puritan conservatism with -- and bankroll management skills.

Question: Why has poker attracting so many Americans?

James McManus: Well, Americans have an immigrant-specific genotype, which is to say that only two percent of the populations that fed into this country, excepting the Native Americans and the slaves, came over here. And that two percent of the immigrant population is much more likely to take risks. They tend to be smarter, quicker decision makers, and more intelligent, and more interested in taking large risks in order to dramatically improve their lives. When you combine that with the fact that this is the first free-market capitalist society, with the fact that money is the language of poker -- it's the only means by which you can keep score; it's the way that you leverage your hand against what are often better hands, and you -- as Walter Matthau put it, "Poker exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism which have made our country so great." I think it's a wonderfully succinct expression of the relationship between the American spirit and the poker mentality.

 Recorded on: November 18, 2009

James McManus explains why the legacy of poker speaks to the fundamental duality in the American experience.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

People who engage in fat-shaming tend to score high in this personality trait

A new study explores how certain personality traits affect individuals' attitudes on obesity in others.

Pixabay
Mind & Brain
  • The study compared personality traits and obesity views among more than 3,000 mothers.
  • The results showed that the personality traits neuroticism and extraversion are linked to more negative views and behaviors related to obesity.
  • People who scored high in conscientiousness are more likely to experience "fat phobia.
Keep reading Show less

4 anti-scientific beliefs and their damaging consequences

The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.

Moon Landing Apollo
popular
  • Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
  • Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
  • All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
Keep reading Show less

Reigning in brutality - how one man's outrage led to the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions

The history of the Geneva Conventions tells us how the international community draws the line on brutality.

Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino. Painting by Adolphe Yvon. 1861.
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Henry Dunant's work led to the Red Cross and conventions on treating prisoners humanely.
  • Four Geneva Conventions defined the rules for prisoners of war, torture, naval and medical personnel and more.
  • Amendments to the agreements reflect the modern world but have not been ratified by all countries.
Keep reading Show less