Libertarianism and Strawmen

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Libertarianism has had a prominent position in America for my whole life. It goes by many names: free-market capitalism, classical liberalism, neoliberalism, monetarism, freedom, limited government, supply-side economics, and on and on. People who use these labels may protest that they are not all the same thing (I’ll address that in a little bit), but they have certain key libertarian things in common. The two most important features are faith in markets and suspicion of governments. They trust the invisible hand more than real, live planners. They also believe that personal autonomy is really important, that merit determines outcomes, and things like that. They are typically on the right of the political spectrum, but there are some lefty, anarchist libertarians.

Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize the year after I was born. My earliest political and economic memories come from the Reagan era. I think the first direct expression of libertarian thought I remember was Reagan saying, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” A friend in high school showed me a “taxes are extortion” article. I had a friend in college who was a disciple of Ayn Rand and got me to read most of her books (that’s not too hard, I’ll read almost anything you put in front of me). One of my professors described himself as a classical liberal. He was an excellent teacher, but really into John Locke and Adam Smith, among others.

I am not a libertarian. The above paragraph is there to help assure everyone that, even though I am not a libertarian, I have taken their views very seriously throughout my life. I’m going to take Nobel prize winners, presidents, and professors seriously. When smart people believe things that I don’t, I study those things. I generally start from an assumption that I would believe it, too, if I could understand it like they do. So, I read, a lot. Besides the aforementioned Friedman and Rand, I read Locke and Smith and Nozick and Hayek and countless issues of The Economist and the Wall Street Journal. I’ve even read Grover Nordquist and the Tuttle Twins (I don’t recommend either). I learned about game theory, social psychology, economics, and politics in an effort to understand. To this point, I haven’t gotten there. In fact, the more I learn about libertarianism, the more absurd it seems.

This has created two problems for me. The minor problem has been figuring out how to reconcile the simultaneous thoughts that someone is intelligent and that person holds demonstrably false beliefs. I mostly treat it like the existence of Yankees fans. I just don’t understand it, but it’s not important enough to worry about. It’s not just a libertarian phenomenon, after all. The major problem can’t be dismissed so easily.

The major problem is that I’ve come to recognize libertarianism as one of the largest contributing factors in many (if not most) of modern society’s problems and I can’t figure out a good way to combat it. Libertarian deregulation has caused needless death and destruction from storms and the 2008 financial crisis. Libertarian myths about people receiving the outcomes they deserve help prop up racism, sexism, and all kinds of bigotry. Libertarian desire to shrink the tax base has cause myriad harms, but that’s a more detailed discussion for another time. I think you get the idea.

It may seem strange, that I can’t figure out a good way to combat libertarianism. If so much of it is absurd, just point out the absurdities, right? Well, one of the most cherished libertarian principles is that markets regulate themselves better than government regulators. To put it simply, we don’t need elevator inspectors because purchasers will make smart decisions. If an elevator company makes shoddy equipment, that company will go under, leaving only the high quality, safe elevators for everyone to use. Setting aside the question of how many people have to die in horrific elevator accidents before the market catches up, anyone who pays any attention can see that markets do not self-regulate in any beneficial way. Just look at Flint’s water or the Cayuhoga river fires. The simple reason for these market failures is that purchasers are not always (or even usually) rational decision makers. When quality, safety, price, profit, and coolness are vying for our attention, quality and safety don’t fare well. Add some basic power differentials and things like that, and the entire theory of market self-regulation is absurd.

I, and many others, have pointed out these absurdities, yet Libertarians persist in their beliefs. My best guess as to the reason is that Libertarians are hunting for the “True Scotsman” which allows them to deny any counterexample given (I told you I’d address this later). Whenever we point to a Libertarian failure, they say that it wasn’t really Libertarian. They say that since pure Libertarian values have never been put into practice, we can’t know whether they are absurd or not. That’s an informal fallacy, of course, but it can be awfully persuasive.

So, the only other strategy I have for debunking Libertarianism is to attack it at the theoretical level, and that’s where my title comes in. In all my years of studying Libertarianism, I’ve never come across an argument that was coherent and robust enough to be worth attacking. Whenever I start, I feel guilty of committing the Straw Man fallacy, and I stop. Even when trying to construct the best Libertarian argument I can, it’s never strong enough to withstand the logic of a five-year-old’s “Why?” questions. I’m stuck.

So, I guess there are only three ways to go from here. One is for someone to show me what mistake (or mistakes) I’ve made so I can accept Libertarianism. The second is to show me a coherent and robust argument for Libertarianism that I could refute. The third is to find someone more comfortable with marketing and persuasion than I am to fight the battle for me. I’m open to any of them if anyone is willing to help me.

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Do I Want to be a Politician?

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“That’s the future mayor of Hartford right there.”

That’s how my friend introduces me whenever we meet someone new together. I know that part of it is an acknowledgement of how much he appreciates what I think about politics and government, and I’m humbled by his compliment. But I also know that there’s not-very-subtle subtext there: “You need to run for office Jamil.”

I’ve rejected the idea of running for political office my entire life. In fact, aside from my spotty voting record, I’ve never actively participated in formal politics. I was asked to run for the Hartford Board of Education in 2013, but I declined. I was focused on finding a job right after finishing college. But more importantly, I didn’t want to fundraise. “Dump your cell phone contacts, and ask everyone on that list for $50. That’s fundraising.” That’s how the process was explained to me. I didn’t want to ask my friends for money because I knew they’d give it to me whether they had it or not, and we were all fucked up enough then that $50 was alot.

“You’d make a really good politician.”

My mother said that to me a few weeks ago. I’d called her to tell her about the latest time I’d been fired from my job. She’d always encouraged me to enter politics, although being the mayor of Hartford was her goal for herself. But how could I be good at politics? I can’t even keep a job, how can I be responsible for other people’s welfare?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why they’re encouraging me to get involved. I’m always talking and writing about politics, so isn’t the next step to get involved and do something about it? That was the argument of my political science professor. He compared political power to the ark of the covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark. He said the key was to open the ark just enough to use the power for good, but that it would still hurt the wielder and those they care about.

He presented the idea to me as a responsibility- someone has to do it, so maybe it should be the most reluctant people who do it. That reasoning resonated with me, and I even reached out to learn about a potential city council run a few years ago. Something that’s always bothered me about being a writer is that my approach has been more destructive than constructive. Getting involved in politics seems like the perfect way to fix that. Instead of simply complaining about policy, I could make it!

But that’s the thing. Believe it or not, all of my writing is very personal. I couch my opinions in generalizations and broad terms, but I’m basically complaining about things that bother me. If I were to run for political office, it would be to, again, correct the things that personally bother me.

And frankly? I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s problems because I can barely solve my own. I don’t enjoy being in charge of other people or telling them what to do. I don’t have any answers for anyone. How could I as the mayor of Hartford make decisions for over 120,000 people? I didn’t even like telling my student workers in the registrar’s office what to do.

So while there’s certainly a simple answer to the question, I do think it deserves a two part explanation. No, I don’t want to be a politician because I don’t want to be in charge of other people. But I also don’t recognize the authority that allows a small group of people to lead a larger one. Which means that my role of always complaining about the people who do use that authority actually does matter. I think these authorities do need to be deconstructed and constantly scrutinized, because we’re giving a small group the literal power of life and death over others. I’ll always have something to say about that.

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Ethical Non-caring

There are approximately 7.85 billion people in the world. I care about dozens of them. Maybe over a hundred, but certainly less than 500. Which means there are approximately 7.85 billion people in the world that I simply don’t care about. It sounds a little strange, cold even, to say it like that, but it’s true. I’m not a sociopath or anything. I have a general feeling of goodwill towards everyone and everything. If I had three wishes, I’d probably use one of them to grant everyone happiness or contentment or something. But, that’s different than actually caring.

I’d imagine most people are in a similar situation as I am. Basically, almost all of the other people on the planet are abstract to me. I know they exist only because I typed a question into a search engine and the search engine told me there are approximately 7.85 billion people. I believe the search engine. Computers are supposed to be very reliable when it comes to data, but I have no actual experience of these people. It’s hard, for me at least, to care about abstractions. To be clear, when I say I don’t care, I mean it in the strictest sense. There’s no real feeling one way or the other. I don’t like them or dislike them. They don’t affect my life in any perceivable way.

There are a few different ways to get from my lack of care about most people to my general goodwill towards all people. I’m just going to sketch them quickly. If anyone wants more detail, let me know and I’ll be happy to provide it. It starts with a kind of variation on the Golden Rule. (Fun fact, this is about as close to deontology as I get.) I have a basic belief that virtually everyone is the same. I don’t mean in terms of capacities or personality or anything like that. I mean in terms of moral worth. So, on pain of being inconsistent, I have to want for most people the same things I want for myself and those I do care about. Without relevant differences, I have no grounding for any other position.

Next, is the fact that I care about things as well as people. I have direct experience of my town, state, country, the planet, the environment, and a whole host of similar things. I have experience of schools and markets and jobs and society. And, I care about these things (I don’t always like them, but I care about them). I want what is good for them. It just so happens that the things that are good for the environment and society and all that are good for the people who live in and with these things.

Also, I care about ideas. I like justice. I hate injustice. As a result, I am interested in having more justice and less injustice. This probably sounds a bit funny. We are used to hearing, “Justice for [insert victim’s name here].” But, odds are I don’t know the victim, even if I know the victim’s name. I’m less interested in justice for the victim than I am in justice for the sake of justice. If I had to care about each victim to care about justice, I wouldn’t have the capacity.

Now, six paragraphs in, just to drive all of my writing teachers a little crazy, I’m going to start talking about the point I wanted to make. I don’t understand how anyone could be different than I am when it comes to caring. I’m not saying that as a rhetorical device to persuade others to be more like me. It’s a statement of fact. I don’t understand. How do people care about things and people that do not impact them in any way?

I guess I’m mostly asking conservatives this question. At least here, in America, they are the ones who make a big fuss over the things that don’t affect them at all. For example, they seem to care deeply about the private lives of LGBTQA+ individuals. I don’t get it. How? Why? I just don’t care about what any consenting, grown-up people do with each other or with themselves. Caring about who some stranger is kissing, what they are wearing, or where they are pissing makes about as much sense as caring whether it will rain in Hartford on May 8, 3126. It’s creepy. It’s like taking voyeurism to the craziest possible extreme. It seems pathological to me.

Anyway, that’s where I am. Strangely, I care about why other people care about things they shouldn’t. If I knew why, maybe I could help them stop caring. Then we’d have more room for everyone and everything I do care about.

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The Badass & The Beautiful

I saw Lisa Fischer perform a couple of nights ago at the Ridgefield Playhouse. She was accompanied by Taylor Eigsti on piano. It’s the first live music I’ve seen in over a year. That’s gotta be my longest drought ever. The venue was only at partial capacity, we wore masks, maintained social distance, and I’m fully vaccinated. It was nice to get out. I wanted to talk a little bit about the show because it was unlike any concert I’ve ever seen, in a good way.

I didn’t know what to expect going in. I was only familiar with Lisa Fischer through her work with other artists. I know I could have gone on YouTube and watched clips from other concerts, but I like to be surprised, even when I see a band that I’ve seen plenty of time before. That should give you an idea of the types of shows I go to. Dickens said, “Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who plume themselves on being acquainted with a move or two, and being usually equal to the time-of-day, express the wide range of their capacity for adventure by observing that they are good for anything from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter.” When it comes to music, I am a gentleman of the free-and-easy sort. Still, I was surprised.

For starters, I can’t even tell you what genre of music she performed. As someone who hates genre labels, this alone was wonderful. Taylor Eigsti was described as a jazz pianist, and there were elements of jazz in the performance, but if you wanted to tell someone what jazz is, using this performance would be a mistake. Many of the songs she did are associated with rock and R&B, but the arrangements were nowhere close to either. I had the thought as I was listening that this is probably the closest I’ll ever come to experiencing a Mahalia Jackson concert, but none of the songs were gospel. Ms. Fischer’s voice even acted as a musical instrument in a way that I usually associate with classical and opera. It was simply a music performance without any baggage or pretense.

The vibe was warm and friendly. There was a lot of banter between songs, and she interacted with the audience. She even sang little snippets in between the main songs as she was talking. Those were some of my favorite moments. I had no idea Kansas’ “Dust In the Wind” could sound like that.

The pianist favored creating a firm foundation over everything else. The chords were dense. Even when he soloed, they were brief and to the point. His technical facility was obvious, but his goal was accompaniment. It was the perfect platform for Lisa to do her thing.

And what a thing she did. Her voice was extraordinary. It’s common for people to talk about how someone can “really sing,” but wow. Her range, control, pitch, dynamics, and rhythm were perfect. She was in command of everything. She had a way of changing the timbre of her voice to suit the music. This is going to sound strange, but I mean it as a huge compliment. I had a lot of trouble following the lyrics, even for the songs that I knew the words to. It wasn’t because her annunciation was bad or anything like that. Instead of hearing the lyrics as words that have definitions, I heard them as pure, musical notes. The songs might have been about washing dishes for all I know, but they gave me chills.

I was a bit hesitant to buy the tickets and I was nervous about going on the day of the show with COVID and everything. I’m so glad I did. It was a great way to be out in the world again. If you like music, whatever the genre, I strongly recommend Lisa Fischer. It was the first time I’d felt hopeful in a while.


A note on the title. I know I don’t use words like that, but it’s how she billed herself, so it seemed appropriate.

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A Baseball Gig

I just published my first piece with MLB & NFL News and Videos – Grunt Talks G.T Sports (grunttalksmlb.com). You can read it here: Who Referees the Umpires? I’d appreciate any feedback. And, while you’re there, check out some of the other content, like this great baserunning video or the comparison videos. This should be fun. I’m looking forward to it.

If you’re feeling generous, you can support my writing here: Gene Glotzer is Writing (buymeacoffee.com)

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Adventures In Parenting – Bad Words

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I’ve recently had two interesting conversations with my daughter about bad words. I’m going to tell you about the second one first. She was watching YouTube. I wasn’t really paying attention until my daughter said, “She’s going to get demonetized.” I looked up and asked why. My daughter said, “She just said shiitake mushroom. YouTube doesn’t let monetized videos have swears.” I laughed. I never use bad language, and my daughter knows I don’t want her using it either, but I don’t worry about it too much. It’s everywhere. I know that. Even if I’m not happy about it, there’s not a lot I can do about it except set a good example.

Then, my daughter asked, “How can a word be bad?” That’s a great question. I’m always really proud of her when my daughter asks something like that. Although, the good questions are often hard to answer simply. We talked a bit in the abstract about how language works. How there’s nothing inherent in the word “red” that is red. It’s just through custom and evolution that we’ve settled on “red” as a label for red things. It’s the same thing for bad words. They are bad because society has singled them out as bad. It’s not that the words themselves are inherently bad, it is all of the associations we’ve built up around them.

She wanted to know why those words were singled out. I told her that I didn’t know exactly, I’ve never done an etymological study of swear words, but I could give her my best guess. I said, “Those words usually mean something that we don’t like to talk about. Like, shiitake mushroom means poop.” She immediately responded with, “It does?!” which made me laugh. I said, “Yes. And poop is smelly and dirty. It’s waste. So, if you call something poop, you’re not saying something nice about it. It’s insulting.” I added, “And a beaver’s home means what God does when he sends sinners to helicopter. No one wants to be condemned to helicopter, so we find it insulting when someone tells us that’s where we belong.” I’m sure there’s a lot of religious and superstitious reasons, too, but I hope this was a decent approximation for a kid.

The earlier conversation was harder and I wish the order had been flipped so I could have referenced our shiitake mushroom conversation. This one started with my daughter asking, “Why can’t people say the N word?” I took a minute before answering. This needed some care. Finally I said, “Because it’s a slur. Do you know what a slur is?” She did not, at least not in the sense I was talking about. So, I explained that a slur is a word whose purpose is to other a group of people. Its point is to belittle, insult, and dehumanize. I told her that there is no good or appropriate way to use a slur and that she should never, ever say it.

She thought for a moment and said, “I don’t even know what the N word is. I just hear people say ‘the N word’ or I see N, star, star, star, star.” I was pleasantly surprised. We live in an awfully racist place, and I hear the word far more than I should. But, I said, “I’m not going to say it. I’ve never said it and neither should you.” After a minute, she asked, “Are there other slurs?” I told her yes, but I wasn’t going to say any of them either. Then, she moved on.

I was tempted to try to explain to her that there are slurs people use against women and Jewish people since she is a member of those groups. And I wanted to let her know that it’s different when a slur is used by a member of the group it’s meant to demean. But, I didn’t. I couldn’t figure out how to tell her those things. I still don’t know. Language is tricky, even for those of us with decades of experience. Bad words are hard to navigate for everyone. Even though I don’t use them myself, I need to know when it’s acceptable or not for others to use them. I need to know when to let things go and when to voice my objections. I want to teach my daughter that, too. Right now, though, the important message is that she shouldn’t use bad words. Hopefully, I’ll figure out a way to explain the rest of it soon.

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Introducing Jam Sessions!

Hey everybody! I want to invite y’all to my new Twitch channel, Jam Sessions! It’s a creative writing stream where I write live while interacting with the chat and, hopefully soon, take your phone calls. I’ll be live at www.twitch.tv/jam_stunna, and you can find the uploads of my videos there and at my YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/c/JamStunna. I hope to see you soon!

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The Irony of Philosophy Being the Ultimate Dead White Male Discipline

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When I was in college studying philosophy, there was a lot of hand-wringing about how exclusive the discipline was. There was a noticeable lack of women and people of non-European descent. (Today we would add a lack of LGBTQA+ people, but it was the early nineties and that didn’t seem to concern anyone as much as it should have.) They talked about the problem a lot, but, aside for some lip service to Indian philosophy and Confucius, didn’t seem to be doing anything about it. In my late-teens naivety, I thought the problem would fix itself. The world was slowly getting more inclusive. The end of South African Apartheid was current events. A deal between the Israelis and Palestinians seemed inevitable. I’m pretty sure something big had just happened in Berlin. I thought that inclusivity would find its way through all walks of life.

Clearly, I was wrong. Not about the world getting more inclusive. Despite some stumbles, Israel and Palestine are no closer to agreement, that is still happening (We’re nowhere near where we want to be, but 30 years ago, there was virtually no mainstream talk about indigenous people or Trans rights. Now everyone has an opinion about them.) I was wrong about philosophy following along. It is still one of the most exclusive domains. People in philosophy know it, they often refer to the lack of diversity as a crisis. This piece from the American Philosophical Association (APA) gives an idea, only about 30% of philosophers are women. The Society For Under-Represented Groups in Philosophy says it is even worse for racial and ethnic minorities. Liam Kofi Bright (a Leverhulme Prize winner), Carolyn Dicey Jennings, Morgan Thompson, Eric Winsberg, and Eric Schwitzgebel have an upcoming paper about the difficulties facing non-Hispanic black philosophy majors. The APA does have a Committee for Inclusiveness in the Profession, but they haven’t released a report since 2018, and that one wasn’t encouraging. There’s even a hashtag on Twitter to call out manels, which are panels composed entirely of men.

I find it strange that philosophy faces this problem for one simple reason. Philosophy is about as universal as a human activity can be. It’s right up there as a part of life with food, water, and shelter. People like to say things like music are universal, but there are deaf people, and I’ve even known some hearing people who have no feeling for music at all. I can’t even imagine something capable of reason that doesn’t philosophize. Kids are probably doing it before they can communicate, but it is obvious as soon as they start communicating. Everyone, everywhere, from the beginning of humanity has done philosophy.

Some might say that I’m defining philosophy too broadly. I don’t think so (obviously), and here’s why. Everyday people, even those who have never heard the word philosophy, are pondering the same issues (broadly speaking) as professional philosophers. The average person may say it as, “Is this all there is?” while the professional talks about Russell’s paradox and logical possibility. I’m not saying that the level of sophistication is the same. I’m just saying that, at heart, they are the same activity. Whenever someone wonders what the best alternative is, or questions our capabilities, or thinks about the world beyond themselves, that person is philosophizing.

My view leads naturally to the cause of and a possible solution to the problem. Sexism and bigotry have been the biggest barriers, in every field, for ages. And they still exist. I don’t want to minimize that in any way. But, the crux of why philosophy has made so little progress addressing the issue is because of the hyper-professionalization of philosophy that accelerated in the second half of the twentieth century. At the same time the world was opening up, the philosophy profession was building their walls higher and higher. It’s gotten to the point where the only way that philosophers will accept anything as truly philosophical, it has to be said by a professional philosopher, and there is only one career in professional philosophy, the academic. If you’re not a PhD with an affiliation to an academic institution, if you aren’t fluent in symbolic logic, and if you don’t write impenetrable prose full of jargon, you won’t be taken seriously. To put it simply, professional philosophy has taken something that comes naturally to us all and created lots of barriers to entry. Any barrier to entry, in any field, is bigger for those without privilege. Thus, philosophy remains stubbornly white and male.

Mostly anyone who has come this far has probably guessed the solution: relax the professionalization (deprofessionalize?) of philosophy. There are at least two parts to that. The first is to create a space for amateur philosophy. I don’t mean Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance type garbage (It really is garbage. It’s probably the only book I’ve ever read that I would describe as utterly useless.). There’s no reason why amateur cannot be serious and insightful. For example, regardless of what I think about using children to push political agendas, Greta Thunberg and Malala are not professional philosophers, but they are engaging with important philosophical issues. This should be welcomed and encouraged. Toni Morrison and Ava DuVernay are two others who consistently make pretty brilliant philosophical points without being philosophers. It goes beyond that, too, since all of them have platforms. There would be no NBA without amateur basketball leagues (The NCAA doesn’t count. I’m talking about playgrounds and community centers.). We need philosophy clubs accessible to everyone. They could be formal or informal, but that’s how interest is generated.

The second part is to expand the profession. I can’t think of any other discipline that only has one possible career. Sociology has its academic theorists, but it also has social workers and school counselors. Law has its academic theorists, but it also has everything from public defenders to court reporters. Even the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), which are notorious for excluding women, have made progress at least in part by expanding their professions. You can be involved in STEM at colleges and universities or at elementary schools, even preschools. You can work for governments or private enterprise. You can make video games or Mars rovers. STEM is everywhere.

It is rare for philosophy to be acknowledged anywhere outside of the academy. There are some obvious places to start. Lower educational levels is a no-brainer. Most people, if they are exposed to philosophy at all, don’t see it until college. Since we all philosophize anyway, why not teach people how to do it well whether they choose the profession or not? Regulatory spaces, compliance, and law are some other logical places. It’s surprising how little ethics factors into their decisions. I can also see philosophers being used to vet other experts’ reasoning. If a bridge is damaged, imagine three different engineers give three different ways to fix it. Now, they would most likely just go with the cheapest one. Philosophers can help us choose the best one. There are plenty of other areas where philosophers could help.

I know that there are at least a handful of intelligent philosophers out there, so I’m sure someone has talked about this before. I’m not claiming originality. But, professional philosophers aren’t making much headway. Maybe, if some amateurs like me start speaking up, we can help. We’re here and want to contribute if you’ll have us.

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Defensive Shifts Are Not the Problem

Photo by Owen Lystrup on Unsplash*

Jay Bruce retired from Major League Baseball thirty-four at bats into his fourteenth season. It’s always a little sad when a player retires, especially if the retirement is forced by performance or injury. In Bruce’s case, it was performance. He only had four hits in those thirty-four at bats. That’s a .118 average, much better than I could do, but below what was expected. Bruce was a quality major leaguer for over a decade. I hope everyone remembers that, and I’m sure the people of Cincinnati have many fond memories. I’d like to congratulate him and wish him well in retirement.

But, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I want to talk about defensive shifts. Tom Verducci took Bruce’s retirement as an opportunity to rail against the shift in this piece. I usually like Verducci, both in writing and on air, but this is just dumb. It’s almost the epitome of a grumpy-old-man take. Change is bad! Bah! Humbug! In the article he calls for MLB to ban the defensive shift. Verducci describes Bruce, “as a left-handed pull hitter without much speed.” Here is the crux of his argument: since 2015 (when shifts became widespread), “left-handed hitters such as Bruce, Brian McCann, Anthony Rizzo, Matt Carpenter and Kyle Seager have seen their careers turn for the worse because of the shifts they face in which one or two infielders position themselves on the outfield grass to their pull side.”

Now, I happen to think Verducci cherry picked his stats to make his case. There are plenty of players against whom the shift doesn’t work. But, I’ll grant everything he says and accept every point he makes and I’m stuck with an overwhelming feeling of, “So what?” Why should the league intervene because Jay Bruce, Brian McCann, Anthony Rizzo, Matt Carpenter, and Kyle Seager have trouble competing against a defensive strategy that they face? It’s like asking the NBA to do something about Hack-a-Shaq. It’s not other teams’ fault Shaq couldn’t shoot free throws. It’s a strategy that’s within the rules. It would fail spectacularly against Steph Curry. It worked on Shaq because he lacked a certain skill. I don’t mean any offense to slow, left-handed, pull hitters, but there is absolutely no reason for baseball to change the rules because some players are less skilled than their counterparts.

Verducci says that the shift is, “harming careers and the entertainment value of the game.” The harming careers part is nonsense. The shift isn’t harming careers. The careers are being harmed by not being good enough to compete at the major league level. And for every Jay Bruce or Brian McCann who can’t hack it, there are plenty of young, dynamic players that would be thrilled to get a chance. It’s not like rosters are shrinking or jobs are being eliminated. Rafael Palmeiro might struggle in the modern game. Johnny Unitas would probably struggle in the modern NFL. That’s just how things work. Things change and those who can adjust thrive while the others fail.

More importantly, Verducci is wildly overestimating the entertainment value of slow, left-handed, pull hitters. I say this as someone who adores David Ortiz, but losing one-dimensional players would probably benefit the entertainment value of baseball. Instead of teams looking for the next Mark McGuire or (roided) Barry Bonds, they will learn to hunt for players unaffected by the shift. Maybe Ichiro will be the ideal. Or Ricky Henderson. That would be amazing. People would start wondering why hockey, soccer, and basketball are so static and dull.

So, Mr. Verducci, I promise I will stay off your lawn, but, in exchange, please spare me the outrage or whatever it is you’re feeling. We should be rewarding teams and players for innovative thinking. Natural, evolutionary changes are where its at. Try to keep up.

***

* I know I talk about lefties here, but the picture is a shift against a righty. I hope that’s OK.

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Tools of the Trade

Photo by Thomas Def on Unsplash

Every job has its tools. My first work experience was as a paper carrier when I was ten or eleven. I had a big sack that went over my shoulder to carry the papers. I also had a hat, gloves, a jacket, boots, sneakers, and rain gear. All of these tools helped me do my job, but that doesn’t mean I used all of the tools every day. The scarf was very handy in January, but not so much in July. This may seem obvious, but I didn’t carry the scarf with me during the summer while I worked. Likewise, I only brought the rain gear with me when it was raining. It would have been counterproductive (slowed me down) to carry everything whether I was likely to need it or not.

I’ve found the same is true with every job. I worked in restaurants for a while. Mops and knives were both important tools for me to do my job, but I didn’t bring the mop with me while cooking, nor did I carry chef knives while mopping. In financial services, if I were giving a talk, I’d bring a laptop and a projector and leave behind my file cabinet and printer. In the warehouse, I didn’t bring a forklift to check my email. And it’s not just my particular jobs. A doctor doesn’t bring a full surgical kit into the room for a routine physical. A catcher leaves his mitt in the dugout while batting. It’s just common sense.

Cops are different, though, and I can’t figure out why. Guns are one of the tools used by the police. I’m not going to address whether that should be the case, but for our purposes just accept that it is the case. But, guns are not a tool to be used in the vast majority of a cop’s duties. So, why do they carry a gun everywhere they go? It doesn’t matter if they are serving a warrant or directing traffic or speaking at a school or responding to a 911 call, they carry a gun.

Maybe the cops think they are Batman. Batman never knows when he might need some shark repellent bat spray. Likewise, cops never know when they may need a gun. But, that is only true in the most trivial sense. Technically, no one knows when any tool may come in handy. We don’t all walk around all the time with epi pens and a defibrillator, a set of socket wrenches, jumper cables, a ruler, a level, etc. All of those things could be useful at any given moment, but they are not likely to be. A police officer may respond by pointing out that someone with severe allergies might carry an epi pen all the time and many drivers keep jumper cables in their cars. That is true, but those are people with increased likelihood of needing those tools. A beat cop will almost never need a gun.

Before anyone gets testy, I said “almost.” I said earlier that I didn’t keep a mop with me while I was cooking. That doesn’t mean that I never spilled anything while cooking. It means that when I did spill something, I went and got the mop to clean it up. Having the mop behind the grill all the time would have been riskier than it was worth. I might have tripped on it and cut or burned myself or someone else. I knew where the mop was and could access it as needed. The same is true of cops and guns. Having a gun on your person at all times increases the risk of accidental discharge, theft, and escalating situations. Keeping the gun somewhere safe where it can be accessed as needed (which is gun safety 101, by the way), would allow police officers to do their jobs more efficiently.

I want to expand on that last bit a little. There is the famous quote from Homer’s Odyssey, “The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.” Or, as my therapist puts it, “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Nothing increases the likelihood of using a tool as much as physical possession of the tool, even when other tools would be much more appropriate. How many times have we all used a butter knife as a screwdriver? Or a sleeve as a napkin? They don’t do nearly as good a job as the right tools would have. And, we should remember that butter knives and sleeves aren’t inherently dangerous. At least ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a cop’s intention should be to defuse a tense situation, but they use a gun to try to do so. There isn’t a more inappropriate tool to use in those situations.

So, I’m just asking cops to catch up with virtually every other profession. Don’t carry all of your tools with you all the time. It’s a waste of resources and can be dangerous. Also, always use the appropriate tool for a given situation, not whatever tool happens to be on your hip. It’s got to be embarrassing to be a cop. They can change that by showing the same base level of competence that a ten year old paper carrier does.

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