Power, Politics, Policy and the Game of Chess
From tennis, to basketball, from checkers, to chess, to love and relationships, we all play games. Some are more important than others. Many are enjoyable and played strictly for fun while others are deadly serious. But the goal of any game is to win and depending on the stakes, to win at any cost.
There is no game more important than the game of life. And when it comes to the exercise of power, the blood sport of politics and the formation of public policy, the games of chess and life are eerily similar.
Both involve risks, sacrifice, loss and reward. There is the possibility of victory and the probability of defeat. The players are multiple and the moves, options, opportunities and trends are ever shifting, always changing.
Hence, memory, mental acuity, concentration, critical thinking and sound judgment, organizational skills and asset management are essential to success. So too are problem solving, vision, creativity, flexibility, short and long-range planning, patience, determination, self-discipline and deferred gratification. And the more you play, the better you get. The better you get the more you win.
This comparison of life to chess provides important insight into the issues of power, politics and public policy. Those who are successful, those with clout handle power, politics and policy like master chess players. Those who are unsuccessful approach life as if it were a simple game of checkers. Political, economic and policy examples abound.
The advocates of voter identification for example, understand that our changing demographics pose an existential threat to their continued dominance. Engaging in strategic thinking, problem solving and long-range planning, they reasonably conclude that their best interest lies in suppressing the vote of those who oppose them.
Such efforts may be unfair and unethical. They may well be antithetical to our democracy. Nonetheless voter suppression is a bold chess move, a brilliant if not devious Machiavellian gambit.
The failure to vote, the waste of one’s vote, the inability to organize others into an effective and determined voting block or the failure to otherwise neutralize voter suppression is akin to playing checkers in a world dominated by chess. Or as my good friend, Mr. Charles O’Neal (firstname.lastname@example.org.) is fond of saying it is the “politics of the powerless”.
Corporate power is yet another illustration of chess versus checkers. The accumulation of wealth is not the goal of those who argue that corporations are people and that money is speech. They are already flush with capital. Theirs is the demand for continued dominance and if they have to spend a fortune to keep it, they will do so, ruthlessly and without apology. Those who merely complain absent corrective action may be good at checkers but are hopelessly outgunned and outmatched.
Insisting on as much education as possible, as many advanced degrees as feasible and as much information and data as imaginable further denotes playing chess. Intentional ignorance is playing neither chess nor checkers. Rather, intentional ignorance is just plain ignorant.
While the deliberate enslavement of millions of dark hued minorities, via a morally bankrupt criminal justice system is yet another demonstration of chess as opposed to checkers. A criminal conviction cripples an opponent’s ability to compete on any and all playing fields. The long-term individual, social and political implications of said conviction are even more crippling. Our complicity in our own re-enslavement by killing each other is worse than checkers. It is a prime example of our tendency towards Russian roulette.
And since policy is converted into legislation and legislation is voted into law, the control of public policy is an instance of chess at its most impactful. Policy rather than programs governs our society. Thus, focusing on programs in order to deal with bad policy (as we are wont to do), is a game of ineffective checkers versus dominant chess.
This is why we are losing at both policy and politics. We face a combatant who self identifies as victors not victims, who is determined and self-reliant and whose goals and objectives are clearly defined and well articulated. They not only develop action plans, but said plans are systematic and thorough. Where we concentrate on our next move they focus on their next five. Little wonder they are always steps ahead of us.
And most importantly, they move beyond mere talk and rhetoric, symbolism and posturing. They instead execute their tactics and strategies comprehensively, timely and flawlessly. And even though we can jump rope with the best of them, our adversaries jump double if not triple Dutch by fully leveraging their assets, tactics and resources.
Complaining and blaming, marching and protesting, insisting and demanding may make us feel good. They may even give us the illusion of power. However, said tactics produce only hollow victories. So even if we win an occasional battle we still lose the war.
It is high time we move from playing checkers to mastering the more substantial games of power, politics and policy. We might do so by introducing our youth to the advantages of intellectual versus physical games of chance.
Basketball is cool, but chess raises one’s IQ, exercises both sides of the brain and improves memory, creativity, concentration, and problem solving. It also enhances science, mathematic, technology, research and artistic skills.
Until and unless we become strategic, long-term, critical thinkers we will continue to be disadvantaged. Until and unless we fundamentally alter the way we approach life, we will continue to lose at checkers while our opponents prevail at chess.
Finally, Happy Easter to one and all.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO, Blackacre Policy Forum