If you know anything about the 'basic strategy' of blackjack, you'll find it painful to watch people play the game in a UK casino. Unlike the US, most people here know nothing whatsoever about the correct tactics and therefore lose at a much faster rate than they should. Watch any table where the same people have been in action for a long time and you'll notice a semi-circle of miserable faces. They're barely even gambling. Most are just giving their money away.
There's a common mistake that most of them make. It comes in situations where they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, or in this case, between two plays, both of which are negative equity. An illustration would be the common situation where you have a 15 facing a dealer's upcard 10. It's essential that you hit here. Although the probability is that you'll bust, you'll win more often than you will if you stand and hope that the dealer busts. So why do so many people stand? I think it's because their main concern is to minimise regret. In their reasoning, if they take the card and bust they have brought the loss on themselves, while if they stand and the dealer beats them, it was just an unlucky turn of the cards. Standing pat, while failing to minimise the loss, does succeed in minimising regret.
I didn't think I suffered from any variant of this flaw until I recently read about a couple of moral dilemmas, both of which involve making decisions about whether to kill one person in order to save the lives of others. In situation one, you're standing next to a railway track and you see a runaway train about to collide with five people on the track. If you do nothing they will all die. Near you is a lever that will divert the train to another track. The five will live, but there is a man on the other track who will be killed. Do you pull the lever? My answer is yes. The second situation involves the same out of control train, except that this time you are standing on a footbridge next to a very fat man. You realise that you could push him onto the track in front of the train and it would save the five on the track, but kill him. Do you push him over? Strangely, my answer is different. Even though I can see logically that it's the same question posed twice, my emotions override the logic. Pushing the man over feels like murder, yet pulling the lever doesn't.
I'm interested to know how this affects people's attitude's to war - in particular why the war against Iraq has provoked massive outcry around the world, yet the failure to intervene in the 1994 Rwandan genocide (when 800,000 people were killed) got nothing like the condemnation, even though it killed more people. Or why far more people hate George Bush for the Iraq War than hate Madelaine Albright, who claimed that the death of 500,000 Iraqis due to sanctions was a 'price worth paying'.
This week all eyes are on North Korea. What will our leaders do, faced with a choice of minimising casualties or minimising regret?