Mate in Three Moves

Mate in Three Moves
by P. Orin Zack

Quick. Time’s running out. Door ‘A’ or door ‘B’? You have to choose in the next few seconds. Lives hang in the balance. What do you do?

What indeed? Or, to put it another way, how does immediacy affect what you take into consideration when you have a choice to make? If you had time to think about it, you could trace out a decision tree, and base your choice on the implications of your choice as well as the differences among the alternatives offered. You might also take the time to consider whether the choices that are offered are equally valid on their face. But at the moment, none of that matters. You just have to choose. Speed is of the essence.

The same distinction arises in the game of Chess. Whereas beginning players choose their moves based on the situation at the moment, more experienced players – and good Chess-playing programs – consider the implications of each possible move, including the moves that the other player may make as a result. Real good players look even further ahead.

This same pattern, looking a few moves ahead, is played out in many other contexts as well. It’s the basis of strategic thinking, regardless of whether that strategy is applied to business decisions, social interactions or war. The deeper your decision tree – the farther you look ahead, the better your choices, but only as long as your adversary abides by your predictions of his or her actions. Blind spots can be deadly.

So look around. What choices have been presented to you, and how have you chosen among them? Where do you get your news? (Who owns it?) What did you purchase recently? (Who made it?) What route did you take for your last trip? (What guidance did you accept?) Who did you vote for? (How many political parties controlled the debate?) What really happened on September 11, 2001? (Who told you?)

Did you notice the blind spot?

Where did all of these choices come from? Were they dictated by natural law, or did someone contrive them, so your range of action would be limited? If they were contrived, was it with your knowledge and permission? I suspect not.

The world is awash in marketing. That much is no surprise. The question is how many moves ahead is it planned out? How much have our choices been pre-determined without our knowledge and permission?

But its not just us. We cast ballots to pick representatives from choices winnowed by political marketing, and the winners spend their days amidst choices that have been just as carefully limited as those we encounter ourselves. Even the chief executive, if he bothers to consider the alternatives, picks between choices that have been assembled by experts to elicit a particular response. Bush may call himself ‘the decider’, but he’s not calling the shots, either.

Control is complete. This is not a happy situation, unless you’re one of those benefiting from the imprisonment of the citizens of this country in a jail with neither walls nor bars.

I’d ask what we can do, but every way we turn, our options have been constrained. To the financial interests controlling what we used to call a government, we’re nothing more than livestock producing wealth for them. Our freedom of action has been limited politically, economically and even socially. Look in a social mirror and you’ll see a cage, crowded to overflowing with people stripped of their rights, trapped in debt, and hypnotized by the cacophony offered by the mass media.

Which brings me back to choices.

On the one hand, we can accept subjugation. Find a way to be happy in our servitude, unbothered by the lies and manipulation that hem us in on all sides. Make peace with a future that’s written in advance by people who consider us chattel, and be willing to pass that future to those who follow.

On the other…

Copyright 2007 P. Orin Zack


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