The following passage comes from Lear's book, a very interesting study of the collapse of the Crow culture (in the American West). Throughout the book, Lear tries to explain what the Crow chief Plenty Coups might have meant when he said, "[W]hen the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened." This explanation of Lear's really touched me:
Imagine that pieces of a chess game had inner lives. And imagine that each took itself to be a center of agency. I am a knight! I see myself in tribal terms: I am a black knight! I am proud to be a black knight! We shall fight a glorious battle and capture the white king! I think strategically in terms of my possible moves: two up and one to the left. Perhaps I should wait here quietly for several moves, and if that white rook comes my way ... I understand all the other members of my tribe in terms of the roles they play: and I understand that we are all aspiring to excellence in the sense that we are trying to win.I am that knight. Outside the various games I have played over the course of my brief life, I have no identity. Historical circumstances have forced me beyond those games--the game of being a good family man (as I understood it), the game of being a good Mormon, the game of being a good Christian, the game of being a good academic. I am simply a curio now, a museum piece, a disoriented bit of misshapen matter that aspires to be part of a work of art--a game that it cannot find. I need a game, a place to identify with, a geography to occupy--to contend for with others who see things that I see as mattering in some sense. My fellow contenders and I don't have to agree precisely on everything, of course, but we need to share a sense of value, integrity, honor, culture. We need to value the same kind of information, and to value the intellectual process that the other uses to address it--even when that process is not our own. It might be hostile to ours, as the Sioux were hostile to the Crow: that hostility actually gave their lives meaning, as the hostility between black and white gives meaning to the game of chess.
Unbeknownst to me, my world exists because it is protected by a group of humans. These are the guardians of the chess world, who insist that the only acceptable moves are moves that are allowable within the game of chess. From my point of view as a thoughtful knight, the humans are as unknowable as the transcendent gods. But suppose these chess-guardians were one day just to give it up: as a historical phenomenon, humans got bored with playing this game, and the game of chess goes out of existence. My problem is not simply that my way of life has come to an end. I no longer have the concepts with which to understand myself or the world. I understand the other pieces in terms of their roles, but there are no longer any such roles. Perhaps I am found attractive by humans as a physical object. I am put on a bookshelf as a curiosity, an objet d'art. I might sit for generations on a series of bookshelves--get traded as what humans call an antique--and all this while I am in utter confusion. I have no idea what is going on. This isn't primarily a psychological problem. The concepts with which I would otherwise have understood myself--indeed, the concepts with which I would otherwise have shaped my identity--have gone out of existence (Lear, pp. 48-49).