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June 08, 2008

Chess and the Argument

I've been thinking about an analogy between playing chess and arguing on message boards. Well, not so much on message boards as anywhere, but since this is a message board I'm thinking about it in those terms.

Imagine playing a fellow in game of chess and you're at the endgame. It's your turn to play and you can see a checkmate in two moves - that is, your two moves and his impending doom. The forced mate is so obvious that you know that your opponent sees it as well as do you. In fact, you're almost sorry that you've got to exert the effort to make the first of your moves - your opponent should resign right then and there, but it's not his move so he's forgiven. You make the first of the two moves, a jump of your bishop to put his king into check, forcing his king into the corner should he choose not to resign, and to your dismay, he doesn't.

You now have been insulted. Your partner has just tacitly suggested that you aren't bright enough to see the next move. Either that or he, himself, doesn't see the move. But how could he not? It's so obvious, after all. Could it be that he really doesn't see that all of his moves have painted him into a corner?

So, with a bit of frustration, you make your final move: a jump of a knight off of the far right column exposing his king to an attack by your queen, plus you land your knight forward to where it attacks his king as well. "Double check and mate," you say.

Your opponent doesn't even miss a beat before picking up the pawn which is now attacking your knight. You look at your opponent across the table wondering just what the f*ck he's doing. He removes your knight and replaces it with his pawn. You find yourself wondering: What is wrong with this guy?! He's lost the game; it's no longer just an impending loss, but he's been checkmated - the game is over. It is then, with some amusement, that you decide to drive your point home by taking his king with your queen. Again, without missing a beat, he picks up his rook and takes your queen.

That's when you realize, this guy really doesn't understand that he's been beaten, and you wonder just how far he'll go, so you continue playing. However, since you no longer have a goal due to having already won the argument by taking his king, you're left to simply attack his minor pieces - the little chess "arguments" that he makes here and there, but since you are now a knight and a queen down, he easily overwhelms your opposition...not that his arguments mean anything - after all, his moves are completely without foundation due to the loss of his king.

Finally, you have enough and you decide to stop playing; insensible play is simply not worth your time. How long, after all, would you bother playing with a person who doesn't understand the rules? Would you choose to play this opponent again? And what would be the point?

And this is what arguing is all about. Simply by virtue of being willing to argue with someone, you're telling them that you respect their intelligence - that is, that you not only believe that they understand the rules of logic, but that you believe that they are able to see enough moves ahead to make the game interesting.

However, arguing is unlike chess in that you don't begin an argument with your pieces all lined up in neat little rows, but instead you're presented with an already "messed up" chessboard which you look at and then you think, "White wins this one." Someone else disagrees, so you sit down to make the moves and prove your point. You don't always know that your side will win; sometimes, even, because you make poor moves, your side loses even when it should've won. Other times you can see a forced checkmate before you even sit down, and you easily demonstrate to your opponent the folly of his prediction and initial judgment about the game.

But yet a more significant difference between arguing and chess is that often you have to teach your opponent the rules of the game as you go along, and teaching these rules are chess games in and of themselves. And sometimes people don't buy your arguments. And sometimes the frustration mounts in you and/or your opponent resulting in insults and/or other personal attacks. And the result is a lot of unfinished games.

It's enough to make me wonder: What's the point?

Posted by Jeff at 01:34 AM | Comments (3)

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