March 10, 2018

Horse 2383 - The Metaphor of Chess

I have long since lost the certificate that says that once upon a time I was the state junior chess champion. I remember those three days rather well because I really had no right to be there at all. Sure, I'd been a member of the school's chess club but even so, I went to the state championships that year as a bit of a lark, thinking beforehand that I'd be bumbled out in the first round by someone who actually bothered to do training and practice. What I found when I got there was a lot of very bright students who had obviously never come across someone who played chess in the same way that a blind baseball player might be let loose in a room full of bottles - smash everything and hope that there's something worth picking up in the mess once the swinging has stopped.
The truth is that I know that there are millions of people who are better at the game than I am, and although I may have learned a few things about it, such as openings and defences, I still see most of the game as being only the setup to the final situation which usually involves mayhem and destruction and having sufficient firepower left over to force a pin, or being crafty enough to force a pin while the game is still in it's early constipation mode.

I haven't played a lot of board games in recent years it must be said (please see me), but I still like the idea of a very constrained set of rules upon which an organised fight takes place. They myth of Chess is that is was supposed to have served as a tool to war strategy but the idea that any battlefield scenario would be that ordered is insane. It is foolish to think that chess adds any dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl
I still think that the game serves as a rather apt metaphor for society though; piece by piece, move by bloody move.

King - The King is the tallest and most cocky idiot on the board. Get him, and the game is over. He can move in any direction that he likes but ultimately he is something of a liability and because he can only move one space, his actual power is far less than he thinks he has. You might like to put an orange toupee on him if you like the idea of the nation being a republic instead. You might even like to imagine that that thing which sits on his head is a loudhailer or other broadcast device like a Twitter account. He's able to project power and offence because of the position but really he's not any more valuable than any of the Pawns.

Pawns - Half of all of the pieces on the board are Pawns. They're only capable of marching slowly forward and when they are ordered to attack, they then impede some other Pawn's progress. Nobody cares about the Pawns; if they're lost as the result of a pitched battle for space, that's an acceptable price to pay for their commanders.
Pawns are expendable; they hate the opposition for no other reason than the enemy happens to be waving the banner of another country; and the hope is held out to them that if they work hard or happen to be extremely lucky, they will be promoted to a higher station in life (but never the King) but the awful truth is that this rarely happens and most of them will end up dead.

Knights - We have noble thoughts about knights on horseback and up until the age of gunpowder there was a degree of truth in the myth. I suppose that the modern equivalent would be a battle tank or a jet fighter.
Knights are among the first to be sent out into the battlefield and are also usually among the first to die. We've conveniently wrapped up nobility and chivalry into a presentable package, to hide the fact that this sort of job also happens to be filled by the most reckless. That's kind of a natural consequence of putting someone in a uniform though.

Bishops - Once people learned how to read, the power of the clergy waned in society. In the meantime we've all collectively decided to give our modern worship and have assigned the role of the gatekeepers of truth to the monied powers of the media. I don't think that it's by accident that the Bishop moves diagonally and skirts around the majority of the battlefield. Quite aptly, the Bishop looks like a mailbox, through which we get our source of propaganda, truth and lies.

Rook - The word "Rook" probably come to use via the Italian word "Rocca" (fortress) and the Persian "Rukh" (also a fortress). The black bird which is also called a Rook, gets its name from the manic noise that it makes.
Once upon a time, the siege towers of history would have flung boulders and other assorted bits of crud like dead bodies and giant wooden rabbits over castle wall but today's siege towers of business fling terrible policy and ecomomic zombies at governments.
I have no idea how a siege tower of old could ever move that quickly but a modern company seems to be able to move funds off shore and to another board entirely, in the blink of an eye.

Queen - The band U2 were obviously not chess players when they sang: "It's alright, it's alright, it's alright. She moves in mysterious ways." Those ways aren't mysteruious, it's just that they happen to be an unlimited number of spaces in all eight cardinal and  intercardinal.
The most powerful piece on the board, there is only one of her and she alone being 6.25% of pieces controls the same amount of value as the bottom 50% of pieces.

If I return to that other metaphor that chess paints so well, it has to do with the usual win conditions - either an early checkmate caused by a constipational pin, or a win by attrition. In the latter, which is the most common among bad players like myself, the win is achieved by mutual destruction. All of the Pawns suffer and die, most of the smaller pieces such as the Bishops and Knights are killed off and the win finally comes about after the world has been burnt to be ground and all that's left are the Kings and two Rooks. Most of the economic history of the world has been like that.

For most of the history of the world, most people had no rights at all, or if they were "free", no say in their government or the conditions that they found themselves in. Apart from the names of Kings and Queens and a few select people whose names have come to us almost at random, the vast majority of people who ever lived, were disposable Pawns who could be ploughed back into the dirt from which they arose. Battles are fought, fields drip in the blood of the dead and after most battles, it is the Pawns and the Knights who suffer the most. The Queens and Towers of industry are always the ones who seem to survive to the end.
Unless of course everyone get mashed into the battlefield and all you have is two Kings pointlessly chasing each other around the place. That's largely what the climate change debate is about. Most of us will drown, save for a few idiots who be able to keep their head above water,

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