OPINION / Al Alborn: Chess… and politics.
by Al Alborn
The Alborn Foundation
I like chess. I’m not very good at it; however, I still enjoy a game now and then. My opponent usually beats me on the board; however, I usually walk away the real winner because I learned something (either on the board or during the conversation.) That’s the real reason I like chess. I don’t particularly care who wins. I enjoy the game.
Ironically, the King, the most important piece on the board, has the least power.
The king is always the tallest piece on the chessboard. By the rules of chess, his moves are pretty limited. He can only move one square at a time but he can move forward, backward, left, right and diagonally. The object of the game is to protect your King at all costs while simultaneously capturing your opponent’s King against an opponent with the same goal.
It’s a simple yet complicated game.
The opening (the first two or three moves by either side) usually determines the result. People who follow chess recognize the classic openings. We always hope to be surprised by something new or unexpected. It has been estimated that the total number of possible moves in chess is on the order of 10^120, or a one with 120 zeros after it, but that’s just an estimate. It’s sort of like computing the decimal representation of Pi (but not exactly).
Chess is the paradigm for all human interaction. Pretty much everything we do is a contest. Whether its winning in business, getting the best deal on something we want, convincing our children to do what we tell them, or campaigning for one political candidate, religious conviction or doctrine, or some public cause… life consists of alternating roles as winner or loser.
This model scales up as we witness Cities, Counties, States, and Countries competing for ideologies, resources, or simple power using diplomacy or war as their tools.
America, perhaps the world, is currently engaged in a contest between those who believe the wealth of our Nation belongs to the Government and those who believe it belongs to those who earned it.
Like Chess, the game of life is “complicated”. The opening (or accidents of birth such as Country, religion, economic circumstances, and static in our DNA that determines race, height, IQ, etc.) usually determines the outcome. There are an infinite number of possible moves.
I believe our predisposition to compete… well… for absolutely everything… is a holdover from millions of years of evolution and our requirement to compete for scarce resources to simply survive. We are simply programmed by natural selection to do so. The folks who were best at competing are the ancestors of… well… us. We represent the successful procreation of millions of years of survivors, or those who out-competed their peers (or evolution’s failures).
I also believe that the success of humanity depends on our successful evolution to a world where we stop competing and start cooperating.
I preface both remarks with “I believe” because like all things, this is another math problem… and we just don’t understand the math.
In Europe, I’ve witnessed human chess games. I find these fascinating… and the best model available to explain politics.
None of these living pieces on the board have any actual power. Their power comes from the mind of the person playing the game. Someone else always moves the pieces. The success of the black or white king depends on the skill of that color’s prime mover.
When given the choice of being the piece or the player, I prefer the role of player. I would rather be the person who nudges the pieces around the board a bit than to actually be on the board. The chess pieces on the board are expected to fulfill their role by engaging in approved moves and do what they are told.
While I enjoy watching Government actually convene to fulfill its theatric role for the public, I prefer looking around for who is actually moving the pieces, or playing the game. In politics, the game is even more complex than chess. That’s because there are many people trying to move the pieces. These are the people behind the curtain.
In chess, there are some moves which simply aren’t allowed, not because they are bad moves, but simply because they are against the rules. We are seeing a lot of that lately in politics… bad moves… moves that simply aren’t allowed. If no one notices, these bad moves can determine the outcome of the game.
Perhaps the saddest thing to witness in Government is a “King” who doesn’t realize how little power he has, how few moves he can really make, the fact that sixteen other pieces are conspiring to check him, or the knowledge that perhaps his pawns aren’t really that interested in sacrificing themselves for his survival. That’s a game that is fun to watch.
That’s why we must pay attention to the moves closely whether on a chessboard or on the Governance Chamber. We must not miss the bad moves.
When we “catch one”, we must administer a penalty.
Of course, once a King is placed in check, and checkmate is declared, we simply replace the pieces and start over. In politics, recognizing when you are in check and it’s time to start over is perhaps the greatest gift a politician may have.
There’s always another game.
Addendum: A costumed human chess game has been staged every two years on the second week in September in the Italian city of Marostica, near Venice since 1923. Watching this game is on my “bucket list”.
I’m easy to beat at Chess… actually I never really try to win… and you know where to find me if you want to play.
This is my opinion based upon the facts that I have found. Alternate opinions welcome. I’m always available to join anyone over a cup of coffee who wishes to learn more. My office is the Starbucks at the corner of the Prince William Parkway and Hoadly Road in Prince William County, Virginia.
For a decent conversation, I’ll buy.
by Al Alborn
The Alborn Foundation
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