Friday, May 7, 2010

The next book I intend to buy is ...

This post will eventually find its way towards some thoughts on chess - the connection is real, if subtle. Incidentally, I should make it clear to you, gentle reader, that this blog was always intended to celebrate the way chess has acted as a catalyst for me , confronting me with so many aspects of humanities trials, triumphs and tribulations. I am a chess player and will always report on the many purely chess items that interest me - whilst remaining free to roam as I will. I hope that you agree with me that this an interesting course to follow.

Having got that off my chest - the next book I intend to buy is ... Peter Kropotkin's "Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution" written in 1902. Here's an Amazon review by Lynette Yetter, thus:

"Dog eat dog. Every man for himself. Survival of the fittest.

We've heard these sayings so much we accept them as Laws of Nature. But Kropotkin proves that this is not how nature works. These sayings are actually lies some people have made up in order to justify their own selfishness and aggression. They call it "Social Darwinism." According to Kropotkin, Darwin never wrote that survival of the fittest means competing against members of your own species. Darwin was talking about competition between different species. On the contrary, he wrote that the survival of the species is guaranteed by mutual aid. With impeccably documented scholarship, Mutual Aid is full of examples of mutual aid within a multitude of species - including us homo-sapiens.".

So clearly this is a valid and thought-provoking book, challenging our accepted notions about the way we 'run' our so-called Western civilisation. She goes on to say:

"These circumstances of how I came to encounter Mutual Aid, and the impressive scholarship presented in this book, didn't prepare me for a surprise. In a Google search for a free public domain downloadable copy, I found Mutual Aid on a site of anarchist literature. My knee jerk reaction to the word "anarchist" was probably what many people feel -- a bit of fear. But, after thinking about it, I realized that true anarchism is not violent destruction. Anarchism is based on people developing our highest spiritual selves - to treat each other with the utmost respect. Treat your neighbor as yourself - the Golden Rule sort of thing. In other words - mutual aid.

Then we don't need to have government and police to tell us what to do. Like our mutually supportive indigenous ancestors on all continents, we can be guided by our inner wisdom, courage and compassion.".

You can see she's very special and, unlike most of us, is prepared to follow her muse - wherever it leads her to go. Here is part of her biography:

"People in the Andes (not all the people of course, but a whole lot more of the people than in the U.S. where I was born) live with a huge awareness of our interconnection with each other, the Earth and the infinite. This awareness permeates everything the people do, every interaction with everyone and with everything. This is often called, "the Andean cosmo-vision". The door to this cosmo-vision flung open for me the very first time I heard people performing the music of the Andes one sunny day by the water's edge at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco in 1993.

The sounds of these unique instruments, played by indigenous people of the land who have never forgotten what it is like to live in harmony with the earth, resonated deeply in my soul and compelled me to learn everything I could about the people who make this powerful music. I learned to play some of the instruments, to speak two of the languages and became a member of the Society for Ethnomusicology. Now I live in the Andes, making music and sharing rituals as well as daily life with new friends in Bolvia and Peru.".

I am in awe of someone like that - a fantastic lady! But now, let's return to Peter's book, as described by F. Galea:

"Anarchist classic, rooted in observation of natural phenomena and history. Challenges the conception that capitalism is a natural progression of Darwinism at work in the wild. The author cites numerous examples of compassion and innate goodness at work outside the bounds of a structured power-based society.".

In fact I have written on this subject on my other blog "Toad Tryouts" - a blog which offers some (hopefully) useful free trials ("Tryouts") of various online services eg blog customisation.

So how does this all fit in with playing chess? I liken the two sets of chess pieces to species, rather than armies. In other words, the paradigm changes from one of combatative armies at war into one relating to societies. The two societies, Black and White, will only succeed if their individual components give mutual support to each other - or "Mutual Aid" as in the title of the book. It interests me that we are conditioned to think in terms of competitive strategies when playing chess - finding the opponent's weak points, gaining strong outposts on the borders of the opposing armies and so forth.

Well, that's all fine - but how often have you got a great attack going, only to find that a particular piece was "overloaded" (the term is nicely explained at "Chess Corner"? You neglected "Mutual Aid" - in the sense that your position 'evolved' in such a way that your pieces got in each other's way instead of co-ordinating with each other. It can be thought of in terms of aesthetics of course - a 'balance' between the various elements of the position on the board.

Two names come to mind here - Jose Raul Capablanca and Tigran Petrosian. It seems to me that they both had a prediliction for placing pieces so that they are "mutually supportive" as in Lynette's comments. It may be a stretch, but I also think that these two players, in true anthropomorphical fashion, insisted that the chess pieces themselves should "treat each other with the utmost respect" (Lynette again).

As Kasparov has it, "Jose Raul Capablanca occasionally did not even bother to calculate deep tactical variations. The Cuban simply preferred to play moves that were clear and positionally so strongly justified that calculation of variations was simply not necessary".

As for Petrosian, I will choose a Wiki comment, carefully chosen to fit the present thesis, thus:

"He usually won by playing consistently until his aggressive opponent made a mistake, securing the win by capitalizing upon this mistake without revealing any weaknesses of his own."

So I offer the 18th match of the 1963 World Championship match between Mikhail M Botvinnik and Tigran Petrosian as a superb example of piece co-ordination, resulting in a win for Petrosian which effectively secured the title for him. Firstly as a four part video with extensive analysis and secondly as an interactive game without analysis.

Do notice the wonderful "dance" performed by Petrosian's two knights!

(I should point out that I discovered Peter's book at "Calder's Updates" in his post about "hierarchical decision-making in a group of free-flying birds"

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