How did it happen? What’s going on?
The Parable of the Tardy Chess Master.
Once there was a chess master who arrived late to an international championship chess tournament. On entering the chess hall, he immediately noticed that everyone there was behaving most peculiarly.
For example, one of the world’s most formidable players, one with whom the tardy chess master had an ongoing rivalry, was outlining, to anyone who would listen, what his opening strategy would be in the first match – while wearing a tinfoil hat. At one tournament table, instead of playing chess, the players were engaged in a juggling contest, to see whether white or black could keep the most pieces in the air for the longest time.
It soon became clear to the tardy chess master that the pre-tournament refreshments – which he had arrived too late for – had been spiked with LSD. Not only had the others become foggy about the rules of the game, they seemed to be in the grips of a hallucinatory paranoia. The tournament was a bedlam, with everyone acting out their own set of irrational fears and nervous obsessions. Forgotten was the fact that the object of a chess game is to checkmate one’s opponent.
One player seemed preoccupied with clearing the longest possible diagonals for his bishops, at any cost. At another table, one of the players was under the illusion that, as white, she was morally bound to protect the pawns – all of the pawns, black’s as well as his own – since they were the weakest of the pieces on the board. Quite a few players were so paralyzed by cascading epiphanies that they could not make any moves at all.
Someone else might have called 911; someone else might have done their best to sober everyone up, opening the windows and conducting breathing exercises. The tardy chess master, however, was first and foremost a chess player. He never lost sight of the fact that this was still, after all, a chess tournament.
It gleefully dawned on the tardy chess master that, as the only sane person in the room, he could do anything he wanted, make any moves necessary for him to win, and be able to justify them to his befuddled opponents.
No, I did not just move my knight from one side of the board to the other. You must be imagining it.
What do you mean, that queen was a pawn one move ago? I’ve had two queens from the start of the game. Didn’t you? Didn’t you see the e-mail about that?
My bishop is allowed to jump across two squares because I’m playing by the Arab rules of 1559.
When the tournament was finally over, and the winner was to be named, the officials – tripping on acid, like everyone else – naturally chose that quiet, reasonable epitome of rationality, the tardy chess master, as the new world champion.
The Russians are in control because they are the only sane players left in the great game. They have not nibbled on the canapes of collective culpability, nor sipped the tea of numbing relativism. They alone are aware of what we and Europe, the Arabs and Israelis, China and the rest of Asia, have forgotten (Africa has not forgotten, for all the good it does it): that geopolitics, dire and consequential though it may be, is not life, to be lived in earnest, but is a game to be played.