Some thought-provoking items from a thought-provoking and rather forgotten book.
While it's undeniable that chess isn't going to cure cancer, that's beside the point. Tarrasch's oft-repeated statement about chess (like love, like music, etc.) having the power to make men happy is good enough for me. We don't worry about basketball players or musicians doing "trivial" work. They love what they do and it also entertains millions.
More than a few famous chessplayers have expressed their concerns about chess being a waste of time. Most famous of these would be world champion Emanuel Lasker, who was also accomplished in math and science. Before WWII it was almost unseemly to be considered "only" a chessplayer. It's also true that being great at chess doesn't necessarily mean you would be great at anything else. So maybe that talent isn't being squandered at all.
– George Steiner, Fields of Force, Fischer and Spassky at Reykjavik, 1974 (Previously titled The Sporting Scene: White Knights of Reykjavik, 1972)
I'm a committed Darwinist, but the heavy emphasis on education and study (and music) in Jewish culture surely has much to do with these achievements. The jokes about every Jewish mother wanting her little boy to be a doctor or a lawyer exist for a reason.