Do They Play Chess In Heaven?

For as long as he could remember, Jerome Buckle wanted to be a king. “One day,” he told the moon, “I will be a king and I will promote you to the rank of sun.” He read every book about the dark and middle ages he could get his youthful hands on, supplied by his grandfather and, shortly, came to learn of chess. He felt instantly drawn to the aesthetics of the game and endeavoured to learn its peculiar mechanics, the better to extract its mysteries. He played game after game against his grandfather, losing every time. Even after perpetual defeat he refused to give up and one day he took his grandfather’s king, knocking it off the board with a triumphant “ha-ha!” His grandfather smiled and nodded stoically and congratulated the boy and then picked up the chess-piece and placed it gingerly back upon the board.

“That was very good. But you shouldn’t gloat if you win.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize either.”

“Yes, sir.”

On his eighth birthday he came to understand the futility of his desires; he would never be a king. President, he decided, would suffice. He wondered if they let presidents wear crowns…

A month after his birthday, his grandfather didn’t come home from work at the car plant at the usual time. Some hours later a woman came by who Jerome had never seen before, round-faced and cold-eyed. She curtly told him her grandfather was very ill and that he had to go to the hospital. “Cancer,” she said.

Three months later Jerome stood in the city hospital before his grandfather’s bed. He was confused. He didn’t recognize the person on the bed until they spoke.

“Jerome… come here.”

The stranger on the bed held out a long, withered hand. Beckoning. Death himself made corporeal. Jerome knew then that it was his grandfather, this shrunken husk of man, filled over with tubes, lips bluish, bloodless and crusted and even still couldn’t bring himself to move.

A month later he stood over his grandfather’s coffin, fighting back tears. Those tears turned to rain which he watched out the window of the orphanage that had become his new home. He didn’t like it there. No one knew or cared to play chess. Failing to find a worthy opponent he resolved to play himself and spent every sunset and rise at the tiny little desk set up for him in a chair far too large for his tiny frame, clinking the small wooden pieces of his grandfather’s chess set across the board with tactical precision and judicious forethought. He beat his late grandfather and he beat himself and shortly he had a new opponent in Catherine, the cold-eyed woman who had picked him up and driven him to the city hospital. He was told she was to be his guardian. When she walked through the door and knelt before him at his desk he was silent for nearly a minute before he turned and spoke.

“Do you know how to play chess?”

She said she did but that there was no time to play games and, obediently, he went. He followed her until they were at the door of her car and then took off running. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing be he didn’t care for the orphanage nor the woman who was to be his guard and keep.

She let up a howl. He paid no heed. By rise of sun he found himself in the park where his grandfather used to take him. Two old men moved to a table. They were playing chess. Their weathered faces palled by whorling puffs of smoke, eyes cheaply sunglassed against the midday glare. Buckle walked cautiously up behind the pair, like a hunter stalking prey, the sound of his sneakers muted by the gently swaying grass. Aromatic and teeming with a horde of things unseen, nameless and skittering.

“You play?”

Buckle froze behind the aged willow tree he was peaking round. He was confused why the old man with the orange cap, the shorter of the two, would be asking his opponent if he could play the game when it was clearly already underway.

“You play, kid?”

The old man inquired again, without turning. Buckle was momentarily taken aback. He considered turning and running, but the man’s kindly tone implored him to stay. Belatedly, he moved fully out and around the tree and stood before the table. Neither man, looked at him. They were focused on their game.

“Yeah. I’m not very good though.”

“Course not. You’re – what?”

“Eight, sir.”

“Polite for your age.”

“Try to be, sir. Looks like you’re winning.”

Finally, the man with the orange cap looked up at the boy and smiled faintly.

“I’d better. Running out of time.”

“Sir?”

The old man with the orange cap paused considering his next words carefully.

“Cancer. You know what that is, kid?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I got it.”

The man with the orange cap smiled wider, revealing crooked teeth, and puffed on his pipe, staring down his friend with triumphant expectation until the tall man shook his head.

“You wily sonnofabitch.”

“Checkmate, Frankie.”

“Damn it. Good game, Joe.”

Joe shook his friend hand and then looked to the kid.

“Hey Frankie, you mind giving up your seat?”

“Sure. Here kid, take a load off. I’m gonna go grab a coffee.”

Buckle took the tall man’s seat and folded his hands on his lap as the old man took a puff on his pipe and looked right and left and then back to the kid.

“Where are your parents?”

“They went out to eat.”

“They don’t mind you being out here?”

“Nah.”

“You wouldn’t be lying, now would you?”

“Nah.”

Buckle moved his leftmost pawn up a square as a bird swooped down from the sky and began pecking furiously at the ground. Shortly, the avian withdrew a long, thick, wriggling worm, took a few hops and fluttered off into the breeze.

The old man took his turn and then leaned back and followed the child’s eyes.

“My names Frank. Whats yours?”

“Jerome.” He was focused on the board, on the shimmering wooden forms. He imagined them alive and rattling steel and roaring as they trampled their foes beneath their ruthless, clattering heels.

They went back and forth, back and forth until at last the old man won. Buckle looked down at the table, ashamed of his inferiority.

“Hey, don’t look so glum. You gave me a run for my money.”

Buckle looked up and when he did he didn’t seen an aged-ruined man in the twilight of his life, but a mighty warrior, clad in shimmering male. He nodded to the old man. He was right. He had given him a run for his money. A storm began to brew and the willow whipped up a song whereupon the boy looked off into the gathering outer dark and thought of his grandfather.

“Mister, you think they play chess in heaven?”

The old man thought on that a moment and then shook his hoary head.

“Gods only play with dice.”

Reading List Of Works Formative To Early American Thought

Medieval Works

  1. Ordinance of William the Conqueror (1072).
  2. Laws of William the Conqueror (c. 1066).
  3. Constitutions of Clarendon (1164).
  4. Assize of Clarendon (1166).
  5. Magna Carta (1215).
  6. De Legibus Et Consuetudinibus Angliæ (c. 1235).
  7. Summa Theologica (1265-1273).
  8. Marco Polo’s Travels (c. 1300).
  9. The First Manual of Parliamentary Procedure (c. 1350).
  10. The Declaration of Arbroath (1320).

15th & 16th Century Works

  1. Malleus Maleficarum (1486).
  2. Journal, C. Columbus (1492).
  3. Epistola De Insulis Nuper Inventis, C. Columbus (1493).
  4. Letter to the King and Queen of Spain, C. Columbus (1494).
  5. King Henry VII’s Commission to John Cabot (1497).
  6. The Prince, Machiavelli (1513).
  7. Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed, Luther (1523).
  8. The Bondage of the Will, Luther (1524).
  9. The Act of Supremacy, Henry VIII (1534).
  10. Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin (1540).
  11. The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca (1542).
  12. From The Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies, Copernicus (1543).
  13. The Council of Trent (1545).
  14. A Short Treatise on Political Power, John Ponet, D.D. (1556).

The list is a work in progress and will be continuously updated. Recommendations for the future inclusion of works is welcome.

Dispensing With The End of History

America’s prevailing pathos in terms of the directionality of politics is one wholly obsessed with the ideals of Freedom. So much so that the phrase “muh freedom” has become nearly ubiquitous among the online far-right (and I utilize the phrase “far-right” without either praise or condemnation). Some may say that it, that is, the prevailing pathos, is “Democracy” but Democracy is only good, to the average American political thinker, because it is indelibly tied to notions of individual liberty and equalitarian empathy, shorn of that it would be as roundly condemned as Fascism. That is to say, Americans believe that (or act as if they believe that) Democracy is not itself Freedom, but rather the best vestibule in which Freedom may be found. Talk of Law & Order by old school conservatives is scorned and laughed at or considered to be underhandedly advocating for some variant or other of puerile authoritarian control. Who needs Order when one has Progression? The Progression, is of course, the belief in the End of History, the convergence of all men and ideas to a point of total transmogrification and universal cohesion. Universal governance under one system alone. Poli-eco singularity.

The idea is, perhaps, best summarized by the American political scientist, Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama, who wrote in his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man:

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Preempting criticism of his works as being too parochial and providential, he also writes,

“The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organization. Following Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU’s attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a “post-historical” world than the Americans’ continuing belief in Godnational sovereignty, and their military.”

Here Fukayama echoes sentiments that have become extremely mainstream, that being that America believes in God, national sovereignty and The Military and that this is a problem. The problem with this perceived problem is that, unlike America’s religious impulses, national sovereignty and the military do not require belief, they are empricially verifiable. Either a nation is sovereign (has control over its borders and complete autonomy within them) or it is not. Either a nation has a military or it does not; and that military is either supported or it is not (to whatever degree). These are not questions of faith. Jacques Derrida has made some similar critiques of Fukayama and posits, rather interestingly, that the Asian-American’s End of History theory is merely a extension of perverse Christian eschatology (the theological study of the “end of things,” typified by contemplation of the end times, the rapture and The Kingdom of God, destiny of the soul, ect). Derrida goes on to say that Fukayama is merely a demagogic priest of the emerging global-liberal-capitalist hegemony and that The End of History is that order’s central driving doctrine; its gospel.

More to the heart of the matter, these sentiments are indicative of a much wider public, not merely constrained to Fukayama and other similar thinkers such as Alexandre Kojeve or Noam Chomsky. It is the idea that there could be no other option to some kind of liberal hegemony (even if they do not refer to it as such), that is both all expansive and all consuming. Why it is wrong: The idea of a post-political state of man is only possible when the friend/enemy distinction is wholly exhausted and disintegrated. Such a state could well be imagined by the Cyberpunks, some of whom posit a period of time wherein man and machine merges to form a new, semi-synthetic biological entity. For everyone else, such a state sounds more like the stuff of science fiction, which is not to say that it is, for this reason, incorrect, for much that was once fantastical is now a omnipresent reality. One thing that can be said with great authority and certitude is that so long as Man organizes himself into groups, of any kind, there will ever be differential interests possessed thereby. So long as there are differential interests there can be no overarching thede to the whole of humanity. But this is not a argument against Fukuyama, who, as expressed above, states that his conception is merely that The End of History is not to say that there will be no further human development but that Liberal Democracy is the zenith of human ordering which no other governmental methodology can or could ever contend with.

Such a proclamation is either extremely arrogant or extremely deluded. For if Liberal Democracy were the very height of human collective modality one might rightly wonder why it seems to be devouring itself, why it seems to be collapsing, why it seems to be faltering so noticeably at every turn (for liberals and progressives are correct when they say that there is something slightly fascistic about the rise of Nationalistic Populism – I merely would posit that this isn’t a inherently bad thing). If Democracy is the end of governmental history, history is a man with a gun to his head, his finger itching at the trigger.

The Sans-Culotte & The Modern Right

Who they were.

“A sans culotte, you rogues? He is someone who always goes about on foot. [He] has not got the millions you would all like to have… [He] has no chateaux, no valets to wait on him… He is useful because he knows how to till a field, to forge iron, to use a saw… and to spill his blood to the last drop for the safety of the Republic… In the evening he goes to the assembly of his Section, not powdered and perfumed and nattily booted, in the hope of being noticed by the female citizens in the galleries, but ready to support sound proposals with all his might, and ready to pulverise those which come from the despised faction of politicians.   Finally, a sans culotte always has his sabre well-sharpened, ready to cut off the ears of all opponents of the Revolution.”

Antoine-François Momoro [epigraph, 1793]


The term sans-culotte (literally meaning, “without britches”) is indelibly tied to the Parisian working class peasants (though, later they were also comprised of middle-class and upper-class Frenchmen) who participated in the French Revolution against the ancien regime, yet its origins – that of a man being caught without his pants in the company of a woman – couldn’t have been less fitting for those who would be remembered through history as the harbingers of a grand battle against the very concept of monarchy itself. The historical after-image of the sans-culotte is a murky one; to some they were the champions of a righteous struggle for social justice and human rights, to others they were bestial malcontents who, spurned by jealousy of their rightful rulers, group-think and low IQ, murdered any and all who stood in their way, innocent and guilty alike. As with most other matters of history, the truth is somewhat more complicated than such stark binaries and thus it behooves us to separate some popular myths from the truth of the matter.

They were not all dirt-poor plebs.

The most popular of the myths about the sans culottes is that they were all wage earning plebs, common workers, the poorest of the poor. Whilst it is undeniably true that many among the sans were working class they were not all dirt poor or of low social standing. According to the historian Gwyn A. Williams, however, the majority of the leaders of the sans culoettes were artisans and shopkeepers, that is to say, middle-class.

They were not all socialist agitators.

Nor where these wild revolutionaries anti-capitalist as some might assume from their ideals about equality, human rights and so on which mirrors many progressive democratic socialists today. Rather the culottes where definitively pro private property and had absolutely no qualm with capitalism provided that the total riches of the country were not almost exclusively held within the hands of a selected and privileged few. They were by and large hard workers who were tired of being left with little to nothing by the ineffective and lackadaisical regime of King Louis Capet (who, though kindly and well-meaning – he made numerous conceits to the Enlightenment such as the abolishment of serfdom – was nevertheless a deplorable statesman). The fight of the sans culottes was, primarily, with class privilege, not wealth itself (that is, when they were not merely driven to frenzy by a convincing speaker. Furthermore, it needs be said, the sans culottes were never one uniform block, proactively ordered, rather they were almost purely reactive, organizing for brief periods of time and then melding back uniformly into the social fabric until the next political insurrection called.

Conclusion.

There is a great deal off cross-over between numerous liberal political factions and the britches devoid warriors (they wore plain trousers, they were not actually pant-less), all of them leftist progressives. Antifa mirrors the sans culottes in many ways, chiefly in their overarching aims of overthrowing a ossified social order (white supremacy/patriarchy for the Marxist socialites, the Ancien Regime for the french workers) in a attempt to create a more just and egalitarian society. Yet the Antifa, in comparison to the warriors of the French Revolution, are nothing. Though many have called Antifa a terrorist organization their violence pales in comparison to those who stormed the Bastille and massacred all therein, then dismembering the bodies of the fallen and hoisting them upon pikes and bayonets with cheers of greatest adulation. Nor are progressive agitators like Antifa fundamentally attempting to change the prevailing power structure, they are instead merely attempting to extend its influence and reach. It is for this reason that, counter-intuitive as it seems, the modern day dissident rightist shares more in common with the French Revolutionary than does the globalist – for the sans culottes were trying to bring about a totally new order whereas the French royalists were attempting to preserve the prevailing one. The sans culottes and their directors, Marat, Danton, Robespierre, did not wish to see France destroyed but rather transformed, reinvigorated and improved.

Whilst one might quibble with tactics their directionality of purpose, in essence, was the same as what the modern right’s should be today.

Glorious transformation.

Anthropomorphization: Warden & Executioner, Prt 1

Consider the following.

  • The internet is making people less intelligent.
  • Violent video games make people violent.
  • Gun prevalence causes mass shootings.

A discerning reader will instantly realize a single commonality, namely, the imposition of agency onto non-agents. But then, what is an agent? We might define it here for our purposes as a conscious entity – that which is aware that it itself is aware of it being aware of its own awareness. Furthermore, a agent thinks and has intent, they are causal forces of will. Here then arises a problem, one that is suitably encapsulated by the bullet-pointed list provided above – how can a gun or a video game or the internet or political rhetoric cause any given individual to do something or rather, anything at all.

They can’t. For they are not causal agents. Rather, a given individual reacts to outside stimuli and is thus shaped by such reactions. “Guns kill people!” is, in essence, a very different statement than, “Guns make people kill people!” The problem with guns (obvious though it may be) is not that guns make people homicidal but rather that any given individual who fails to resist some internal impulse to slaughter now has a medium upon which to paint their bloody visions that is far more effective than a knife or sword (generally speaking). The real world consequences of such a notion are so obvious and endemic that I scarcely think they require elaboration. But just for good measure I shall elaborate nonetheless by further examining the previously mentioned example: Guns.

Due to the belief that guns are primarily responsible for school shootings (as if they were possessed of some dire malevolence), there has been a notable uptick in firearm restrictions within the United States of America, the principal ensign of which being the “Gun-free zone.” The problem with gun-free zones is that they have had the precise opposite effect that was intended.

Now, for those whom have payed no mind to any current affairs for the past couple of decades or their selfsame surroundings, a “gun-free zone” refers loosely to any public or private arena wherein guns are explicitly banned. Most schools, for instance, are a prime example of a gun-free zone (though sometimes allowances are made for the armaments of trained security personnel). Simple. The idea behind such places is similarly simple and as follows: If there are less guns there will be less shootings, if there be less shootings then there will be less harm and if less be the harm then more be the good.

This idea, when put to practice, turns out to have backfired (see what I did there) however, as is evidenced by a recent study from the CPRC (Crime Prevention Research Center). The Center’s study shows that contrary to popular belief, gun-free zones put the general citizenry at an elevated risk of violence due to the fact that, from the 1950’s through July 10th of 2016, 98.4 percent of mass shootings have occurred within gun-free zones, exclusively. The sum is truly staggering and is but one of many examples of the earth shattering applications of impulsive, unchecked anthropomorphization. Consider it, the pathological belief that guns kill people has, in no uncertain terms, actually killed people.

What is difficult about this issue is that it sneaks up upon one as might some fell kheft, shaded and soundless. But be not confused – the impulse to imbue the un-living and naturally occurring with some form of malevolent intent is not the sole dispensation of the crazed or the intellectually stunted, but of everyone – who, after all, has not felt the hairs raise upon the back of the neck and the blood beat in the heart liken to some madman’s drum when some nameless thing beyond ones placing went bump in the night? The prevalence of this strange impulse is not manifestly obvious but there are some theories which make sense of it.

The most popular of these theories may be derived from evolutionary psychology and is what I have taken to calling the “Warden Theory of Anthropomorphization,” which may alternatively be described more precisely, but less stylistically, as a Subservient Hypothesis of Anthropomorphization (SAH – which we shall use from this point on). The theory holds that our innate proclivity to imbue maleficence to the shaking of a shrub comes from a cost-benefit analysis of predator evasion. For example, if you notice something move out of the corner of your eye and you jump and it turns out to only be the wind shaking a bush, you have leapt in vain but expended a minuscule amount of energy. If, however, you jump and it happened to be a poisonous snake, then your instincts just saved your life. The converse is that you do not leap, ever. In this case, if the bush shakes and it is nothing then you expend no energy – maximal bodily efficiency – but if it shakes and it is a poisonous snake you are dead. You can then see how a body might adapt to best evade potential fatalities by mapping potential danger-agents onto the world, regardless of whether they exist or not. The theory is “subservient” biologically speaking because it refers to a adaptation which is shared by individuals but not necessarily the collective (the converse of which would be a supervenient adaptation).

The secondary theory is what I have taken to calling the Supervenient (Emergent) Theory of Anthropomorphization (ETA). A supervenient process, in contrast to SAH Theory), is one which the collective possesses but which the individual does not. Issam Sinjab of the University of Sussex describes the process thusly:

An emergent property is a property which a collection or complex system has, but which the individual members do not have. A failure to realize that a property is emergent, or supervenient, leads to the fallacy of division. 

In chemistry, for example, the taste of saltiness is a property of salt, but that does not mean that it is also a property of sodium and chlorine, the two elements which make up salt. Thus, saltiness is an emergent or a supervenient property of salt. Claiming that chlorine must be salty because salt is salty would be an example of the fallacy of division.

The ETA hypothesis asserts that the perception-mapping of human-like behaviors in non-human entities arose as a emergent property caused by the increasing interplay of various different modules of the human brain as archaic man transitioned to modern man. The theory was first laid out by Steven Mithen in his landmark book The Prehistory of the Mind. Though it should perhaps here be noted that though Mithen believed that the ETA theory of anthropomorphization began as a emergent enterprise, he also believed it ended as one which had become subservient to human fitness and thus indispensable which attests to the interplay of both theories as they are not, necessarily, mutually exclusive (though some evolutionary theorists dispute this).

At any rate, I trust that the reader is now developing a picture of how biologically deep-seated the impulse to impart human-like agency upon non-human agents is within human nature itself. To extract it is neither desirable nor, at this juncture, possible, but cognizance of it is and self-cognizance of such “red-alerts” in one’s being might very well be the difference between life and death but no longer in the fashion nature had intended.