November 19th, 2017

Iguana 2

Freedom isn't free. It requires your attention, if nothing else.

This is nominally about baseball, but it's really about the shared responsibility of elections and the shared responsibility of living in society.

In 1999, the Gold Glove Awards for being the best fielder at each position in each league were still decided solely by a vote of managers and coaches in the league.

The previous two years in the American League, Rafael Palmeiro, a very good fielder, won the award for First Base. In 1999, nobody was getting a lot of attention as an outstanding defensive first baseman, so Palmeiro again got a plurality of the votes, winning the award.

But in 1999, Palmeiro wasn't a first baseman. Sure, he played there about 1/6 of the time, but nobody would give the award to someone who only started 28 games at the position out of 162.

Even the voters were aghast when the winner was announced. They each (most of them) individually knew that Palmeiro wasn't a regular first baseman anymore. But they were busy, voting wasn't what they were paid to do, so they voted for the familiar name and relied on everyone else to make a better choice.

Living in a society, like relying on formal institutions to handle justice rather than taking individual revenge--works because we all (most of us) understand that's the way it is and we participate. In places where people don't have any faith in the justice system, it doesn't work. People in the US sometimes complain that it doesn't work, because indeed, there are horrible problems with it. But in the places where 95% or so of Americans live, it works well enough that we participate.

Elections, too, work when we participate with real attention, but they don't work when we don't.

Some of you will point, with justification, to the relatively small number of protest voters in swing states who voted for Trump (or Stein or someone else) to send a message and were horrified to find Trump had won. And it's true that because the election was so close, there were likely enough such voters that had they voted for who they actually preferred to win among the two who who might have, we would have a different president (whom they despised, but would still prefer).

But the bigger issue is all those who can but don't vote. Many of whom pay so little attention that by the time Election Day rolls around, indeed they should not vote. Paying attention is not what they're paid to do, so they rely on everyone else to keep things going.

Democracy works when casting an at lest semi-informed vote is just what you do. Democracy has many problems, but when people do pay attention, it is demonstrably better than any alternative ever discovered, by a very wide margin. But when people readily cast the responsibility of choosing leaders to nameless others, democracy does not work for long.

Too often, we see messages that the system is hopeless. Yet it used to work well enough. The only real difference is that we assume it's hopeless, so we ignore it. We don't want to get our hopes up, only to be betrayed--to be made fools of. Or maybe our families come from countries where democracy has always been a sham, so we have no way of knowing in our guts that it can work and has in the not too distant past.

If we want to salvage our heritage, which includes a whole lot of good along with the bad everybody wants to talk about, we need to remember that paying attention, figuring out what's bullshit and what isn't, is part of being an American. If you can do that, you're pulling your weight. If you don't, you're dead weight. Not dead weight to your family or the things that matter most right now, but dead weight to where your family lives. And by the time the young ones have kids, that will matter more than anything.

Political campaigns aren't going to educate people this way for us. They're focused on likely voters, Even if they try to talk to non-voters, especially in communities where voting is rare, they'll be tone deaf. That's not the business campaigns are familiar with. So it's up to us, the more specific us that's reading this, to convey the attitude. You're American? That means it's time to pay attention to how politics works and to vote.