Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I hate chess. If Grenier can hate speech then I can hate chess. But I imagine any man that hates speech would also hate checkers. I don't hate checkers. In fact, I like it and prefer it over chess. Both stand in as allegorical constructions of war but the difference seems to reside in point of view. Chess suggests a global view of war, imperial struggle from above. It thinks it's smart. People fond of it thinks it's smart. Checkers, on the other hand, takes a view from below. It moves through the motions of a blow by blow account. In chess we can reasonably assume the figure of the king stands in for precisely what it means to be — a king or a president or a prime minister. In checkers the foot soldier that makes his way to the other side of the board is not so much a king or president or prime minister but more like a non-commissioned officer — a lowly sergeant. But once this sergeant's promoted he finds himself behind enemy lines. He must struggle to make his way back. In chess each piece stands in for a larger institution. Even pawns. Pawns stand in for a larger body of cruelly conscripted peasants. Knights for a larger formation of knights on horseback or mechanized cavalry. Bishops for the church. We are to believe queens can be president too, but only in the absence of a king.

In chess pawns are the weakest figure on the board. In New Jersey the Army recruiting office in Paterson has the highest recruitment rate in the state. It is located in one of the poorest cities in the state.

In chess castles move like collapsible military installations. We can position them wherever we need to when negotiating borders. If played properly, this negotiation ends in one side or another occupying the entire board. But never both.

In checkers each piece stands in not for a platoon or a battalion or any other sort of large formation. In checkers each piece stands in for a single solitary being. The question is one of scale. And the question of scale is always a question of power.

Rather than white and black the pieces are red and black, corresponding with some accuracy to the colors of those most likely to be recruited. In checkers it would be absurd to think of a king as a king. He is a pikeman, a foot soldier, a private that can hope for no better than sergeant or death. The account is blow by blow. You take my piece, I take yours. If one of my men make it to the other side they will be promoted. More often than not they die.

Those that prefer chess over checkers probably hate speech. The question is one of scale. And the question of scale is always a question of power. When a pawn takes another pawn in chess this simple move, in the larger scale of the game, is never too costly. Strategists might disagree. Either way, that simple moment, when a pawn takes an opposing pawn — that move encapsulates an entire game of checkers. In chess players strategize. In checkers players send reluctantly enlisted men in to fight and to die. There are many ways of dying.

Unfortunately, there is no collateral damage in either game — chess or checkers. Cities are not bombed. Villages remain intact. Economies don't collapse. Women are conspicuously absent and so the byproduct of conflict within the frame of these games is never rape. The pieces — though they stand in for people or the institutions that manage people — never bleed. This is a problem. But in chess it is much easier to hate speech. In checkers this is not so easy.