Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bobby Fischer; Ayn Rand; An Open Letter to Boris Spassky

The world noted the death of Bobby Fischer two days ago. As you may remember, Fischer was the mercurial chess champion that defeated the Russian champion, Boris Spassky, in the match of the century in 1972.

I cannot think of Bobby Fischer without thinking of an article Ayn Rand wrote shortly after the match. She titled her article "An Open Letter to Boris Spassky." The article barely mentioned Fischer, but for me the article and all that implies about collectivism, individualism, freedom and the future of the western world far outweighs anything else related to Spassky, Fischer or the famous chess match.

Fischer and Spassky in 1972

The article first appeared in Ayn Rand's newsletter and was later republished in Rand's book, "Philosophy: Who Needs It." In this article, Rand applied the basic principles of communism/collectivism/socialism to chess. She asked Spassky if he could play the game if he had to play by the collectivist rules. In fact, these simple questions point out the error in much of the assumptions that underlie not only communism, but the entire altruistic, egalitarian unspoken creed that dominates our life in today's leftist west.

Judge for yourself:

· Would you be able to play if, at a crucial moment – when, after hours of brain-wrenching effort, you had succeeded in cornering your opponent – an unknown, arbitrary power suddenly changed the rules of the game in his favor, allowing, say, his bishops to move like queens? You would not be able to continue? Yet out in the living world, this is the law of your country – and this is the condition in which your countrymen are expected, not to play, but to live.

· Would you be able to play if the rules of chess were updated to conform to a dialectic reality, in which opposites merge - so that, at a crucial moment, your queen turns suddenly from White to Black, becoming the queen of your opponent, and then turned Gray, belonging to both of you? You would not be able to continue? Yet in the living world, this is the view of reality your countrymen are taught to accept, to absorb, and to live by.

· Would you be able to play if you had to play by teamwork – i.e., if you were forbidden to think or act alone and had to play not with a group of advisers, but with a team that determined your every move by vote? Since, as champion, you would be the best mind among them, how much time and effort would you have to spend persuading the team that your strategy is the best? Would you be likely to succeed? And what would you do if some pragmatist, range-of-the-moment mentalities voted to grab an opponent’s knight at the price of a checkmate to you three moves later? You would not be able to continue? Yet in the living world, this is the theoretical idea of your country, and this is the method by which it proposes to deal (someday) with scientific research, industrial production, and every other kind of activity required for man’s survival.

· Would you be able to play if the cumbersome mechanism of teamwork were streamlined, and your moves were dictated simply by a man standing behind you, with a gun pressed to your back – a man who would not explain or argue, his gun being his only argument and sole qualification? You would not be able to start, let alone continue, playing? Yet in the living world, this is the practical policy under which men live - and die - in your country.

· Would you be able to play – or to enjoy the professional understanding, interest and acclaim of an international chess federation – if the rules of the game were splintered, and you played by “proletarian” rules while your opponent played by “bourgeois” rules? Would you say that such “polyrulism” is more preposterous than polylogism? Yet in the living world, your country professes to seek global harmony and understanding, while proclaiming that she follows “proletarian” logic and that others follow “bourgeois” logic or “Aryan” logic, or “third-world” logic, etc.

· Would you be able to play if the rules of the game remained as they are at present, with one exception: that the pawns were declared to be the most valuable and nonexpendable pieces (since they may symbolize the masses) which had to be protected at the price of sacrificing the more efficacious pieces (the individuals)? You might claim a draw on the answer to the this one – since it is not only your country, but the whole living world that accepts this sort of rule in morality.

· Would you care to play, if the rules of the game remained unchanged, but the distribution of rewards were altered in accordance with egalitarian principles: if the prizes, the honors, the fame were given not to the winner, but to the loser – if winning were regarded as a symptom of selfishness, and the winner were penalized for the crime of possessing a superior intelligence, the penalty consisting in suspension for a year, in order to give others a chance? And would you and your opponent try playing not to win, but to lose? What would this do to your mind?

You do not have to answer me, Comrade. You are not free to speak or even to think of such questions – and I know the answers. No, you would not be able to play under any of the conditions listed above. It is to escape this category of phenomena that you fled into the world of chess.
From Chapter 6 of "Philosophy: Who Needs It."

The myopic reader would conclude only that we shouldn't run chess according to the rules of communism - but would miss the bigger picture. We see the folly of undercutting individual effort, reward, achievement, strategy, etc. when it comes to chess or other games, but we fail to see that the same lesson applies to everything else. At the same time we honor chess champions like Fischer and Spassky, we allow politicians to tell us how they are going to apply Ayn Rand's invented nightmare scenarios to health care and other major components of the economy. While Rand's questions might seem ridiculous, we will find ourselves, more and more, answering her questions with regard to our own medical choices, employment decisions, business matters, etc.

Rand's little philosophy book has enjoyed numerous editions over the years:

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