Monday, November 09, 2020

Ty Cobb's Hits

Bill James described the controversy when baseball historians determined that Ty Cobb - and many other players - had been credited with a few extra hits, and that closer examination of the records from contemporary sources arrived at a different total. They changed the official records, and a subset of fans went berserk. "You guys have always hated Ty Cobb, and now you are trying to rob him of his legacy, of hits he earned over a career of 24 years!" No matter how much he would try to explain to people that no one was taking anything, just trying to get to the right number, they would have none of it. The number of hits he got in his lifetime was a fixed number to them. He in some sense owned that number of hits. You can still find people arguing this on baseball boards.

Something similar happens with geography, and who we feel owns and is entitled to a certain patch of land. There is a set of people - let's call them "Arabs" - who in their various tribes owned large patches of land we call nations when we were in school.  We believe without quite being conscious of it that Arabs collectively "own" the Middle East, and any actions from Europeans or Americans into that area is an intrusion. It has always been theirs, we think. That is "based on a true story," as the saying goes, but is not quite true. And again, the native tribes of the New World are believed to have owned patches of land as some sort of collective right, as if the Pueblo or Arawak Indians have more right to Iroquois territory than Dutchmen. It's all about not wanting to think too hard, nor inquire too closely into history and how people landed where they did, and a fairly racial assumption that complete strangers that are related to the inhabitants 10,000 years ago are much more eligible for their inheritance than those related to them from 20,000 years ago.

We think that someone "owns" something because we have mentally assigned this to them, usually for inadequate reasons. People use this shorthand in thinking to manipulate us.

It is happening now, with people trying to convince us that one of the presidential candidates "owns" a certain set of votes, that this number is real, and that he deserves them.  To change the total because of more accurate information will be portrayed as taking them, even stealing them, from that candidate. We will never be exact, we can only approximate the true number of votes, that is, the number of eligible individuals who accurately filled out a ballot for a preferred set of candidates. But getting as close to that number as possible in our count is the only concern, not any hastily-arrived-at idea of who we thought owned what. Donald Trump only owns the votes that were legitimately cast for him.  Joe Biden only owns the votes that were legitimately cast for him.  Your impression of who you thought owned them is irrelevant.


GraniteDad said...

A great point. “Land owned by X” was a very nebulous concept until the rise of strong property rights.

On the most recent Pennsylvania stuff, I think the Trump legal team has made a big mistake along that vein. One of their items of relief is to have all of PA’s votes not be certified. They have alternatives but on its face people will scoff at that and feel robbed, including people who voted for Trump. This hurts them now and in the future.

This gets back to other points we’ve discussed, that their lack of preparation in advance is really hurting them here. They are stuck making weaker arguments because they did not plan to have the capacity to make stronger ones.

Christopher B said...

Not sure I quite understand Granite Dad but I might have a similar feeling. People are upset not because they feel Trump's team will take away votes owned by Biden but, because no vote can be specifically identified to a person, that the vote they gave to Biden might be 'stolen'.

BTW, the only votes Trump is looking to invalidate are the ones submitted by mail after election day.

GraniteDad said...

Christopher, that’s the main complaint I hear as well, but the latest lawsuit is actually different*. Great thread here on Twitter:

*another issue I’m having with the Trump legal pursuit is that what’s being said loudly is not what’s in the actual filings. Actions and words should align here to avoid a muddy message.