Sunday, November 20, 2005

Risk: The board game and the history of megalomania

Remember the board game Risk? It's a game where you try to conquer the world, while all your friends/enemies try to conquer it first. Sometimes world history books read just a little like the people were playing Risk. The first surprising thing is how often people think conquering the world would be a good idea. The second surprising thing is many people have been fairly successful at it -- at least in conquering huge sections of the world. Here are a few observations that seem to follow:

1) Most of the time, most places are so badly mismanaged that they can't really withstand a substantial threat. "Leadership vacuums" -- vast empty spaces created by absence of leadership -- are common.

2) Nature abhors a vacuum. If there's not a leader in one region, a neighbor is very likely to volunteer himself. He is not very likely to have the other's best interests at heart, regardless of what he might say.

3) As in all games, whoever moves first has the advantage.

4) The desire to dominate other people and take their possessions is among the most enduring motivators of human history.

5) Megalomaniacs have limits. Their armies are a certain size and can only manage a certain amount of territory. And typically, the megalomaniac-in-chief dies and leaves an empire that crumbles in just a few generations. Fairly unique in this context is the Islamic jihad movement, founded by Mohammed, which actively seeks out new megalomaniacs to lead each new generation; it is wise not to ignore such things. As they say, "Reality is not optional."

It would be an interesting treatise to track down the great megalomaniacs of history and study what can be learned about how megalomaniacs form and gather followings. But here are a few more observations worth noticing:

6) Christianity has, at long last, noticed that using the world as a Risk game is not consistent with the teachings of Christ. It has noticed this while at the top of the Risk game, not just as a convenient cry from someone who is losing.

Before all the other people in the world start the regularly-scheduled chastisement of Christians for being so slow on the uptake, it's worth noticing another thing:

7) Nobody else in the world besides Christians has showed any sign at all of thinking the game of Risk is wrong. Their only objection has been to their losses.

Given that everybody else is still playing Risk, we can't afford to just let ourselves be run over. Those are not little playing pieces on the field, those are our homes and families.

What about George W. Bush? I've had objections to some of his policies and decisions, to be sure. But despite what valid criticisms are available, I do not believe for a minute that he's out to build an empire or play Risk. Why not? As anyone who has ever played Risk knows, if you want more territory you go for a next-door neighbor. Mexico, just next door to us, has oil -- and as horrible as its infrastructure is, at least it's better than Iraq's. We have some grievances against Mexico, if Bush were determined to push a territorial war and gain some oil reserves (which, obviously, he's not). Also notice the U.S. didn't actually end up with the Iraqi oil. If the modern war were really about knocking off some convenient nation for the sake of oil, Bush could have found someone who was far less trouble than Iraq, and closer to home, with fewer entanglements.

Whether you agree or disagree with the current Bush policy, a fair observer will still notice that Bush has chosen his targets in the modern war with an eye to keep the Risk situation in Eurasia from getting out of hand. It's still very debatable whether the policy is succeeding.

It's also worth noticing that the old-style game is outdated. In the old-style Risk game, a territory had to be conquered before moving your pieces across its borders. Current immigration policies have cheerfully welcomed in a certain number of Risk-playing foreign soldiers to set their positions before the battle starts ... which takes us back to #3: Whoever moves first has the advantage. Immigration policies would do well to be a little less blind to "people who are followers of megalomaniacs" when letting people into the country.

1 comment:

hammerswing75 said...

Nice! Another point would be momentum. The winner usually built up a strong power base, perhaps withstood a few attacks and then moved quickly. If our world was as simple as risk we could expect to see Syria and Iran in our camp in the next year or two. It may well happen, but more patience or more action will likely be necessary.