Ayn Rand’s letter to Boris Spassky
During the epic and infamous chess match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fisher in Iceland, 1972, Ayn Rand sent an “open letter” to Spassky, chiding him with a sort of petulant and sneering essay. In her letter, she lectures the younger Spassky about the Soviet Union, the limitations of how thought was limited to the chess board’s “concrete structure,” the false bravado of intellectualism, how she and “all of [her] friends” want Bobby Fisher to win, and even offers some basic philosophy and advice that borders on pure arrogance. Some excerpts:
Unlike algebra, chess does not represent the abstraction–the basic pattern–of mental effort; it represents the opposite: it focuses mental effort on a set of concretes, and demands such complex calculations that a mind has no room for anything else. By creating an illusion of action and struggle, chess reduces the professional player’s mind to an uncritical, unvaluing passivity toward life. Chess removes the motor of intellectual effort–the question “What for?”–and leaves a somewhat frightening phenomenon: intelletual effort devoid of purpose.
Would you have wanted to escape into chess, if you lived in a society based on Aristotelian principles? It would be a country where the rules were objective, firm and clear, where you could use the pwoer of your mind to its fullest extent, on any scale you wished, where you would gain rewards for your achievements, and men who chose to be irrational would not have the power to stop you nor to harm anyone but themselves. Such a social system could not be devised, you say? But it was devised, and it came close to full existence–only, the mentalities whose level was playing jacks or craps, the men with the guns and their witch doctors, did not want mankind to know it. It was called Capitalism.
But on this issue, Comrade, you may claim a draw: your country does not know the meaning of that word–and, today, most people in our country do not know it either.
There is a lot of history wrapped up into this letter: Ayn Rand was a Russian American Jew that studied at Petrograd University, and later railed against religion, using her philosophy of objectivism. Bobby Fisher, of course, defeated Spassky, and became the first American champion in almost 100 years (and even then the champion, Steinitz, was a naturalized citizen!), and usurped the Soviet Union’s 24-year rule of the game. Fisher and Spassky’s match was hyped by the looming shadow of the Cold War, and Fisher was pegged to lose, since he had only played Spassky five times previously, drawing twice, and losing three times. The chess match was marked by increasing drama: Fisher would inspect television cameras for noise, and even demanded that they be removed. He also insisted that the first few rows of specators be removed due to their ambient noise. The Soviets claimed, in turn, that Fisher was “controlling” Spassky with a chemical agent, which prompted a thorough investigation and inspection of the premises by Iceland’s police.
During this period of time, marking the beginning of the last decade of her life, Rand’s ideology started manifesting in increasingly obtuse terms. The next year, in 1973, she praised the Isrealites in their battle against Arabs as “civilized men fighting savages,” and also railed against homosexuals and the rights of Native Americans against the conquering Europeans.
You can read Ayn Rand’s letter in its entirety at http://www.chesskb.com/Uwe/Forum.aspx/chess-politics/2771/Ayn-Rand-s-Letter-to-Boris-Spassky-Bobby-Fisher.