The King Cannot Be Removed From the Board

05 May 2013

MyBishops kick ass grandmother taught me to play chess
with a special set of pieces that had their
names printed on them. If you picked them up they had words on
the bottom that described their legal moves. “Bishop: can go diagonally
as far as he wants”, “Knight: can go over 2 and diagonally 1, or over 1
and diagonally 2”
Most of the rules were simple and just required memorization to retain
but one rule confused me: The King cannot be removed from the board.

I asked my grandmother what happens when
the king is captured. “The King cannot be captured”. No, see, I can
capture him with even a pawn if it’s
in the right position. “No, you can be about to capture him, but the
game ends right before you do.”

This seemed pretty weird to me. Why not let the king be captured and
immediately after call the game for the winner? Why stop one step
before?

The I _am_ the game. best book I’ve read on domestic violence is Why does he do
that?
.
It breaks apart so many myths about domestic abusers: That they’re
always physically violent, that they can’t control their emotions, that
they’re crazy, that the woman “just needs to leave him”, and many more.
Most of all this book on the psychology of abusers reveals the nature of
patriarchy. Patriarchy is not a system that prefers men to women, it’s a
system designed to meet the needs of specific men at the expense of
the needs of all other men, women, boys, and girls. These men are always
at the top of a clear hierarchy. It’s the father in a family, the CEO in
a company, the king in a nation, the pastor in a church. Other people
can have their needs met – but only after his are satisfied.

Many pieces on a chess board are important. Sure, the pawns are
obviously worthless but the bishops and rooks get to throw their weight
around. Even more, the most powerful piece is the queen! Surely this
game is progressive if the female character can do whatever she likes in
whatever direction. But in testing a social system it’s not enough to
ask “who has power?” You have to go one step further and ask “whose
needs are being served?” Is the queen powerful? Oh yes. When she dies
does the game continue uninterrupted? Yes, in fact most end-game
scenarios assume she’s gone. But not so with the king. When the king is
about to be captured the rules suddenly change.

One common habit of an abuser is that when they are threatened they
manage to change the rules of the game. When the woman has a bad day she
has to deal with it. But when he has a bad day it’s the whole house’s
problem to fix it. When she gets injured the vacation still continues as
planned but when he sprains an ankle the whole world gets rearranged to
deal with his new situation. An abuser will even attempt to change
reality itself to suit his needs. If he’s winning an argument against
his woman but then she is able to score a point then he can switch
positions in the argument and try to make the woman think she’s stupid
and crazy if she notices the change.

When the king is threatened on a chess board the rules change. Suddenly
the fighting isn’t worth it anymore and a new strategy appears. The king
cannot be captured in a struggle for the kingdom because the purpose of
the kingdom is to support the king. This is what I didn’t understand
when my grandmother taught me the game. I didn’t get that the king isn’t
just a piece; the king is the game. The game is played through the eyes
of the king pieces.

This same pattern exists in
every Hollywood movie and most TV shows. When the action moves away
from the man the camera does not follow. When the man is removed from
the story the story ends. When a chess king knows that he has lost then
the game ends. You must stop playing because his role is finished
and he sees no point in letting you continue the script.

I’m glad my grandmother taught me this game (and bought me such
beginner-friendly pieces). But I wish she’d helped me to better
understand the pattern encoded inside the rules. She’s also the one who
introduced me to James Bond films and she set the expectations perfectly
for that: She told me “They’re just movies about sex and death but boy
are they fun.” One day if I have the privilege of teaching a child or
grandchild the ancient game of chess I’ll jump at the chance but I’ll
clarify the rules a bit. I’ll say “This game has one character that
doesn’t pull his weight. The King pretends to be weak and makes
everybody else do his work for him. Some people do this in real life and
you should watch out for them. And don’t be like this yourself or you’ll
hurt people. Okay, you’re white so you go first.”


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