Garry is 50 years old. He is a chess player who is also active in a political movement.

You all know about Linda, that now-retired bank teller who back in the 1970s was active in the feminist movement. Even if she never had any formal political experience before this activity, Linda might well have had a talent for politics.

Garry is in the opposite situation: he’s had several political opportunities since his rise to the chess championship, but he’s failed, both in chess politics and in real politics. He does, however, have rich friends, along with the name recognition and a seriousness of purpose that ensures that his political efforts continue to get attention.

To keep at politics even though he’s no good at it: that’s a persistence I admire, no joke. The situation in Russia seems dire bad and, who knows, maybe Obamacare is as horrible as Kasparov thinks it is—in any case, the former champion is foregoing a quiet and comfortable life of ribbon-cutting and simultaneous exhibitions to fight battles that he keeps losing. The man has a sense of duty.

See here for some background on Kasparov’s political failures: this series of articles by Andy Lewis (linked here) also gives some sense of the disconnect between the grandmaster’s chess and political experiences, and the general advice he’s drawn from these.

Here’s the question: should we even consider listening to political advice from someone who’s so demonstrably bad at politics?

The obvious answer is No, the guy clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

But I’ll argue the opposite, and I’ll base this argument on my own story. I’m bad at politics, and I’m a political scientist. In aspects of my own professional life that have involved “politics”—negotiation, coalition building, etc.—I haven’t been very successful. I’m not proud of this, it’s just the way it is. Working to resolve conflict is not something I’m good at, so I try to avoid politics and instead make my contributions in other way. But . . . I think my research-based insights on U.S. politics are valuable, and that’s why I write articles and books in political science, contribute to the sister blog and newspapers, answer news media inquiries, etc.

So, since I’m bad at politics but I still think I have something useful to say on the topic, I can hardly judge Kasparov otherwise. Bill James probably can’t hit the curveball but he’s still worth reading.

P.S. I will say this for Garry, though: I think he’s more of a feminist than this guy, who “has been called a “j***” on live TV in America, and a “t***” repeatedly on a TV network in New Zealand.”

Huh? What’s a “j***” and a “t***”? All I can think of is jackass and twerp, but they don’t seem rude enough to require abbreviation. Clearly I haven’t been hanging out with the right class of people recently.

27 thoughts on “Garry is 50 years old. He is a chess player who is also active in a political movement.

  1. Don’t know what ‘j***’ is, but ‘t***’ might be “twat”. This is not as rude in British English, I gather, as it is on this side of the pond. I do not know how it would go over in NZ.

  2. > So, since I’m bad at politics but I still think I have something useful to say on the topic, I can hardly judge Kasparov otherwise. Bill James probably can’t hit the curveball but he’s still worth reading.

    Sure you can. I’ll go out on a limb and assert that the vast majority of the population (here in the US and in Russia) is bad at politics and has nothing useful to say on the topic. What distinguishes those people from Kasparov is that don’t go around acting like they do. They don’t attempt to inflict themselves on the population at large. Similarly, most people can’t hit a curveball or provide insightful baseball analysis but they possess sufficient self-awareness (or sense of decency) not to become sportswriters. There are obvious exceptions but by and large that’s the case.

    PS My money is (figuratively) on “twat”. “Jerk” hardly seems worth the asterisks but I’m at a loss for a more offensive four-letter “j” epithet and is no help.

    • To clarify: One can be a perfectly decent person and have nothing useful to say about politics. Albert Einstein comes to mind. Good person but his political instincts were juvenile.

      • The more general issue is how to react when people who’ve earned fame & solid credentials in a specific field comment on domains outside their expertise.

        e.g. Isn’t there a Nobel Laureate in Physics that writes crackpot papers about the efficacy of dilution in homeopathy?

  3. Is “That guy is good at politics” ever used in a non-pejorative sense?

    Andrew, shouldn’t you be *proud* of the fact that you are bad at workplace politics?

  4. Being good at something and being good at analysis of that something are distinctly different skill sets. It is rare that the best players make the best coaches, though sometimes skill at a game and analytical skill reside within the same person. It is more likely that the smart, analytical players, with some understanding of human psychology will make the best coaches regardless of their skill at the game.

    • I don’t think it’s quite regardless of their skill at the game. The players that aren’t naturals but have successfully used their analytical abilities to figure out techniques and then learn them explicitly will be best equipped to coach — a (minimally) middling level of acquired skill is necessary condition.

  5. I think we underestimate the important role in society played by people who are bad at office politics.

    If you are good at office politics, you are likely to end up in a position beyond your competence (the Peter Principle). This is less likely to happen if you don’t have the political skills to lobby for a better position. This means you are more likely to be qualified, maybe a bit overqualified, for your position. Obviously, having competent people in jobs is better than having incompetent people in jobs.

    • Of course, this only applies if you are bad at office politics, know you are bad at office politics, and act accordingly.

    • In addition to skill at office politics, the Peter Principle also occurs because of poor managerial decision making in that people who are very technically skilled are sometimes advanced despite a clear lack of the interpersonal skills necessary to lead and manage people well.

  6. I was going to ask Deep Blue to run against Putin, but then I realized its ‘talents’ were extremely domain specific…

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