Short's "slave comments" cause anger, disappointment

While the chess world and chess sites were mainly silent on Nigel Short's article in November 23rd issue of The Telegraph (arts section), his comments received the wrath from a number of chess players far and near. One chess player from Zimbabwe called Short's comments "traumatising" and condemned them as a "severe case of institutionalised arrogance."

In this article, Short clumsily attempted to use human slavery as a metaphor for showing how such a method would be useful in chess training with computers. The brief article took three sharp turns (human slavery, computer slavery, man vs. computer) and ended discussing the
Kasparov-X3D match played recently. (arts section)

Pharaonic Egypt and Periclean Athens were great civilisations built on the firm foundation of slavery. Regrettably, bondage - of at least that variety - has gone out of fashion these days, and even indentured labour is considered to be somewhat morally repugnant. But I ask you, how is one supposed to produce monumental architecture and think philosophically if one also has to do the shopping, clean the house and mow the lawn? A bit of home help certainly does not come amiss - a point ignored by those myopic 19th-century Christian abolitionists. Most of the higher things in life require total dedication.

~ opening excerpt from GM Nigel Short's article ~

A writer from California (USA) stated, "I read the complete article and there are a 101 other things he could used to help explain "teamwork" in chess." What Short may not realize is that the entire issue of slavery is still a burning issue around the world. In America, where the slavery has been "officially banned" for only 138 years, it remains a blot on the nation's social consciousness and the debate on slavery reparations is raging. The issue here is the condemning the mindset with which people glibly toss around subjects highlighting human pain and suffering.

Some responses

One chess player from the Caribbean wrote in a gloomy tone, "I was quite disappointed to read what GM Short has allegedly written. It seems that he is the one who is more than "myopic". I met him in Bled and had a good chat with him in the press centre where he also doubled as a journalist." One writer from Texas (USA) summed the issue this way, "Nigel's story is the kind of reminder that lets us know that there will always be people who think like he does. And if we are not vigilant, the actions of such people will cause us great harm."

A writer in Ohio (USA) stated that "given Short's prodigious childhood and current world class status, coupled with the prudence of Britain, I wonder if he's even capable of seeing the world as you or I." Another writer from Nigeria had a slightly different view and thought the comments were "more or less,  tongue in cheek." An irate writer from New York quoted 19th century abolitionist
Frederick Douglass and then provided a solution for Short's pursuit of the "higher things in life" (as Short calls them):

"Mr. Short the stoic reply is simple. If your love of monumental architecture and philosophy is so great, then do it yourself! If you want food and can't get it, then fast; if you want a clean house and you are passed the age of infancy, then clean it yourself. Millions have managed to do so and still have time for the arts… and if your grass is over-grown and you don't want to cut it, let it grow. This reply is simple on the surface but it doesn't cut to the history and malice in Short's words. There is history here. And it is this history that we must speak to in whatever arena it peeks its ugly head."

The Chess Drum, "GM Nigel Short's article recounts benefits of slavery," 2 December 2003.

Short's original article can be found at
The Telegraph (arts section), but registration is required.

Editor's Note: The debate on the impact of computer programs on chess is still raging. Some say that chess is losing its richness as a result of the very behavior that Short is advocating… "let the computer do the slave work." Perhaps this is a defect in the social thinking of those who think that the use of free or cheap labor may be the best way to build a "great" civilization. In the age where man's dependence on the machine is increasing, one may then ask, 'Who's really the slave?'

Read GM Nigel Short's response!

Posted by The Chess Drum: 7 December 2003