Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Strength of Uniqueness

There were a couple of diaries at Street Prophets reflecting on some of the political and social aspects of two strategy/war games -- Chess and Go: "Metaphor and The Game of Go . . ."

Part 1 is really mainly introduction - Part 2 is the one I really caught and involved myself in. My comments in the diary itself were mainly to correct some more or less serious errors (IMO) about chess - a game I both palayed and organized tournaments in a past "life". However, the real point of interest to me was some the underlying philosophical assumptions of the author:

I will step aside from the contention that there is some eastern and western philosophical differences when it comes to actual warfare - the experiences of the modern era just do not support that in my opinion. Nor do I wish to fall into some idealistic notions of eastern vs western spirituality. First, they are probably stereotypical; and, second, they idealized western view ignores some of the horrible outgrowths of the differences.

However, this point in the chart:

is interesting to me on a political, social and theological level. A good disclaimer here is that what I am about to say may have nothing to do with what the other author meant, believed, or desired to convey. It is only about how it struck me, and the place it spun me off to.

The first thought is that western enlightenment thought, while glorying in the individual, has led to an economic and political system that attempt to detach humans from the very sources of their uniqueness and create interchangeable "stones" that can replace each other easily when it comes to industry, the state, and the military. Folks are, IMO, deluded in believing that breaking the bonds to family, community, and religion that they give themselves an autonomous existence as free-acting individuals; but they really weaken themselves and become attached to the industry, the state, and the military. They cease to be part of organic structures and become part of modern organization - a modern organization that resembles a machine with human interchangeable parts rather than any naturally occuring structure.

You see this "scizophenia" in the problems facing "progressive" politics. On the one hand, they wish to honor diversity of language, culture and belief; and on the other uphold enlightenment concepts that led to the modern capitalist state - or even worse the modern socialist ones. Modern nation states need the strength of homogenity and all of those interchangeable and easily replaceable "stones". Socialism is even more detrimental to diversity - it's whole reason for existence is to create a "new man" and then a new society; and for that to occur anything that divides "the class" from its goals (and leadership) is despicable and must be crushed.

The conservative movement, even on an ideal level, has a similiar problem. While recognizing, as Russel Kirk did, that:
  • Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems; conservatives resist what Robert Graves calls "Logicalism" in society [see "Civilization without Religion?" for more on Graves]. . . .
  • Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a "classless society." With reason, conservatives have often been called "the party of order." If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum. Ultimate equality in the judgment of God, and equality before courts of law, are recognized by conservatives; but equality of condition, they think, means equality in servitude and boredom.

they too are wedded to a concept of nation state and commerce that only works well with masses of interchangeable "stones" for industry and the military.

Against both of these comes Christianity as taught in scripture:
1 Corinthians 12:12-27: For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell? But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. If they were all the same member, where would the body be? So now there are many members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it.
The Body of Christ is not a machine composed of interchangeable "stones" indistinguishable from each other; and each of its parts is unique and essential to its functioning - operating by use of gifts and talents given by birth, upbringing, or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Back to Chess: one of the principle skills of the game is the recognition that each piece, with its differing modes of capture, movement, etc. has unique strengths and weaknesses which must be used together coherantly as the game progresses. Even the "lowly" pawn constitutes the backbone of the strength of its side - and the uncompensated loss of a single pawn can lead inexorably to defeat for the side that loses it. Further, recognition that an opponent undervalues any of their pieces or pawns gives you a route to victory: simply attempt to force the opponent to trade the pieces they most value and continue play with the ones they have less use for, or skill in using. You do not, however (except in a unique circumstance) simply have the ability to train your Knight to be a Queen when you need one.

This is a lesson that applies to life as I see it: each of us is a discreet and unique individual with particular gifts and skills that make us unequal to every other person; and yet we only become strong in organic community with other humans where those strengths and weaknesses are balanced, valued and honored. Our strengths do not come out as identical "stones" in the organizations of industry, the state, or the military.

I will take Chess over Go

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly