Politics and endgames

When you are a twenty-year-old chessplayer, tactics solve just about everything. Did for me anyway. Sometimes I would simply try to find the most complicated move – not necessarily the best move. Once my friend Glenn Etter told me he glanced at my board, saw that the position was a mess, and went back to his game without doing any actual analysis – he said I always won if the position was a mess.

Ah, but endgames were a knight of a different color. Generally if I couldn’t calculate it, I couldn’t figure it out. I lost a ton of endgames by playing them by applying the same hyperaggressive methods I used to some success in middlegames.

So when you are a forty-year-old chessplayer and tactics don’t solve much of anything, you realize you better learn endgames. And you also realize you’re buggered. Because endgames are wonderfully, agonizingly complex. Three years of study only scratches the surface.

All you can do is decide to study endgames for the rest of your life, learn more every year, and enjoy the process.

That’s how it seems to be with politics, or rather government and governance. The challenge is complex. The economics of healthcare are complex, let alone the economics of the whole country. Checks and balances, taxation, regulation, services, there are so many moving parts involved.

So daunting is the complexityof it all that to some people simply fall back on a few core principles to choose their approach to every issue, every problem. I understand the appeal to an extent, but I think that’s ultimately an abdication of thought. I think neither “we’ll write new regulations” nor “the market will fix it” is a universal answer. That’s like trying to build a house – no actually a skyscraper – with nothing but a hammer.

I think what you do instead is decide to study the issues for the rest of your life, learn more every year, and  try to enjoy the process.


4 thoughts on “Politics and endgames

  1. Or, if you’re an American, turn on NASCAR, grab another Bud Light, a bag of Funions, and park your ass on the couch and forget about all that stuff that takes a lot of book learnin’ to understand.

    We’re screwed…


  2. Yes, we are screwed, and it’s due to human nature.

    Unfortunately, nuanced and thoughtful take time and effort. Humans prefer easy solutions to problems (it’s not all bad; it’s great for human development. Humans work hard to try to make their lives easier). Matt alluded to another problem…educated and intelligent are starting to be viewed as “elitist” rather than positive traits.

    People don’t realize they are being dogmatic while holding on to precious beliefs. (“Lowering taxes is always good” is one of my favorites, along with “Castling your King increases its safety.” Pffgh!)

    @Matt: Funions? I forgot they existed.

  3. Chess and life are analogous, because both exemplify a complex system. Raising taxes never solves every problem; the market never solves every problem, etc. Moving your rook to the open file doesn’t win every game. Only a combination of strategy, tactics, and precise calculation (when needed) can save us.

    The answer is simple: Teach everyone how to play better chess, and you save the world.

  4. To extend an analogy, perhaps to its breaking point; there’s a difference between playing to win, and playing to not lose.

    And in modern politics — politics as a career — Not Losing is what it’s all about. That’s job security, right there. Winning — actually solving the problem — is beside the point: the ultimate career goal is to keep on getting re-elected.

    And for that goal, a stalemate is as good as a win.

    It’s even better, in fact, because you can always ask for a rematch, and tell your constituents, “You’ve got to send me back to the capitol, because there’s still work to be done!”
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