More on “endgame”

by Carl V Phillips

A few days ago I mused about the recent issue of the fantasy zine, Tobacco Control, that was devoted to “visionaries” talking about how to bring about the elimination of smoking, or its health effects, or the industry, or all tobacco product use — they are not really clear about what they mean by “endgame”.  What is clear, as I noted, is that they did not choose their metaphor well:  The endgame is the phase in a chess match when everything gets smaller, simpler, and puzzle-like, whereas the world of tobacco — pretty static for decades in most populations — is far more populous and complicated than ever before.  Moreover, they tend to use the word to refer to what they perceive to be an inevitable victory, whereas an endgame is only played when victory is uncertain.

In the comments on that post, Chris Price pointed out how absurd the following claim from Ken Warner appears if you stop to think about it:

The continuing scourge of tobacco-produced disease is unlikely to yield to today’s evidence-based interventions.

I did not think about it until Chris pointed out how absurd it is, since it seems to translate into:

We can’t reduce disease with methods that are shown to work.

It certainly does read that way, doesn’t it?  Pretty funny.

Searching for some benefit of the doubt about the statement not being absurd, it might lie in the following.  Taking “yield” as its meaning of “surrender” rather than merely of “back off”, the statement is that the methods will not result in elimination of tobacco use, and thus the exercise in brainstorming to come up with new and creative methods of creeping prohibition.  There are several problems with the claim, even giving the benefit of the doubt about what it really means:

  1. It implies that some miraculous new method will cause people to stop engaging in consumption that they choose in spite of the heavy costs.  We can believe this because, um, it has worked so well for other drugs?  Warner is too good an economist to make this mistake.
  2. What has got to be, by any reasonable account, the second most effective evidenced based method — harm reduction — works remarkably well at eliminating smoking and disease.  Not 100% for either, but impressive nonetheless.  (First is basic education about the risks, that causes most people to rationally avoid the choice.  Third is taxes or other purchase price increases.  Every other intervention has effects that are down in the noise, and the evidence that supposedly shows they matters is largely a joke.)  THR was barely mentioned by the geniuses who were looking for ideas.
  3. The phrase “evidenced based”, when used in the tobacco control context, is inherently a joke.  They use that word to basically mean “someone in our industry ginned up something that kind of looks like science and asserted the conclusion that the intervention works”.  That is why they consider approximately useless pharmacological therapy and fiddling with the packaging to be “evidenced based” and THR to not be — because the overwhelming evidence about THR does not come from members of their industry (by definition: anyone who produces evidence that is not part of their prohibitionist agenda is ejected from their team).

In short, they are trying to identify wild new approaches to win the “endgame” that are not backed by any evidence because the evidence shows that every approach other than harm reduction has run its course.  And harm reduction, well, that just does not count because it is not their approach.  Tobacco improvement is not tobacco control; it leaves tobacco/nicotine users and manufacturers reasonably happy, and we cannot have that.

But the actual endgame is a time when you can think through every move.  In the middle game in chess, you can win with a wild “?!” move (the symbol for a “dubious move” — seemingly stupid, but perhaps a brilliant stroke), but in the end game, a bad move is a bad move.  And having no move at all, well…


Your move, tobacco control.

The other point that I made is that in the endgame, after most of the pieces are gone, it is mostly about the kings and pawns — the primary stakeholders and the grassroots, to torture the metaphor a bit more.  So add some grassroots and…

white to force zugzwang

Tobacco control wear the black hats, of course. White or black to move.

It looks like they have just as much grassroots support.  But the little differences like h6 — or, say, the difference between people who live THR or are motivated by wanting to help and those who are only motivated by ignorance and/or hatred — matter.

Postscript (to avoid limiting this post to the few people who are interested in both THR and endgame puzzles, and to either enlighten or bore those not in the second category — spoiler alert for those who want to think through the puzzle first):  The first graphic is the classic illustration of the “zugzwang” situation where someone has to move but any move loses (in this case, that is true no matter whose move it is).  The second graphic riffs on that combination with a contrived position where the winner will be whoever can make the last move with the pawns on the right, forcing the other to move his king.  No matter whose move it is, white can make the last pawn move thanks to the tiny difference in the starting positions.  However, it turns out that this puzzle was crafted with a flaw that the author did not intend, such that black can actually win by abandoning the standoff to the left and bringing the king across to attack the “grassroots” directly at just the right time.  With that cautionary observation, I promise to stop torturing this poor metaphor.


5 responses to “More on “endgame”

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  5. Nicely done with the chess board Carl! :) And interesting that the King can alter things by jumping into the fray. Fortunately for us I believe the average Antismoking King out there isn’t competent enough to get their moves right in order to win.

    Anyway, their usual style of play would be to tip the board over and start screaming “NO SAFE LEVEL! SEE! I TOLD YOU SO!!!!”

    – MJM

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