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The Giants Play Rousseau’s Game

November 7, 2010

After reading Rousseau’s Social Contract it was clear that an integral part in creating his ideal solution to the psychological problem human beings face in civil society is teamwork.  While this sounds a little cheesy, the idea definitely does come into fruition on a rare but inspiring occasion in real life.  While often times what we see in society is greed, egocentrism, and vanity, there are those rare occasions when people put aside these natural instincts and work for the good of the whole, as Rousseau suggests.  While the Detroit Pistons may have once been an example of this happening in the real world, this year there is a new sports team who showed their ability to set aside human tendency to self destruct and work together for the “general will”.  Being a San Franciscan, I can’t help but see the connection between my team The San Francisco Giants, and Rousseau’s proposed idea that,

“Each of us places his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and as one we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”

This is exactly what my team did this year.  Lead by manager Bruce Bochy (though there is really no “leader” in this scenario), the Giants started out as a bunch of as Bochy has called them “misfits” to a team who worked together with passion, unity and equality to win the World Series.  When Rousseau talks about law he states that,

“Public enlightenment leads to the union of understanding and will in the social body: the parts are made to work exactly together, and the whole is raised to its highest power.”

Many times in his Social Contract does Rousseau make similar statements about parts working together to make the whole the best it can be.  In the 2010 playoffs this is what the Giants were all about.  A few specific situations provide good examples of this.  Edgar Renteria has declined dramatically over the past three years.  He only had 22 RBI’s this season but went into the post-season optimistic and supportive, while still warming the bench.  When Renteria finally got a chance to play he didn’t wallow in self-pity or selfishness.  He played his best and excelled to help his team win their first title in 56 years and won the series MVP award.  This was a memorable moment in the giants rise to championship, but not the only one that mattered.  Every player held importance and cared from starting pitchers to closers to people like Barry Zito, a regular season pitcher who wasn’t awarded a chance to play in the playoffs.  This wasn’t important to Zito though and he realized and accepted his place in the group as a whole.  When the Giants won the final game Zito was one of the last players to go back into the field house after basking in the glory of his teams win; not his win, but his teams. No prima donnas, no me, only we; the perfect solution to humanities tendency towards corruption.  Rousseau would be proud.

  1. Zac Hiller permalink
    November 7, 2010 9:18 PM

    Interesting post with a very creative twist to Rousseau’s theory. I agree with everything you said and it is clear that the San Francisco Giants were made up of players all about the team. However, do teams that act like Rousseau says normally succeed in baseball? The New York Yankees have won the most World Series of any baseball team ever and clearly they are made up of superstars concerned with statistics and salary. It is good to see a team win as a team yet I think when it comes to sports it is hard to apply the political science theories we learn.

  2. crorey permalink
    November 7, 2010 9:34 PM

    Why did the Giants all act together for the general will though? Because it was also in the own selfish will as well. If one of the players didn’t want to win the World Series, do you think they would have been such a good team? I highly doubt it. Teamwork is a lot easier when everyone wants the same thing. Rousseau talks about how if someone wants something the majority doesn’t want, then that individual is just wrong. He says in Book II, Chapter 3, of “On the Social Contract,” “For the general will to be well articulated, it is therefore important that there should be no partial society in the state and that EACH CITIZEN MAKE UP HIS OWN MIND.” This implies that each citizen will do what is best for the general will, but as Hobbes states, man acts in his own self-interest. Although it is true that Giants were an example of Rousseau’s idea of the people acting in the general will, this fact is not as amazing as it may sound becuase all of the players, coaches, and staff had the same goal of winning the World Series. If 1/4 of the Giants didn’t want to win the World Series but tried their best for the other 3/4 that did, then that would be amazing, but this is clearly not the case.

    • aracontrol permalink
      November 8, 2010 2:13 AM

      Being an avid Pistons fan, I thank you for giving credit to the Pistons Championship team of 03-04, and I am going to use this team as another example of how sports teams can be compared to Rousseau’s ideas. I thought the quote you used was applicable in both situations.
      “Each of us places his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will;” -each player has there own individual strengths that come together successfully in the direction of the general will – the team. Society, or the team in this example, all have the same common goal: of being successful.

      However, I have a different interpretation of the quote “…is therefore important that there should be no partial society in the state and that EACH CITIZEN MAKE UP HIS OWN MIND.” Yes every individual is self-interested, which is separate from the what is best of the general will. But when these self-interested man are able to have fraternity among each other, this is when they are truly successful.

      In 2004, the Detroit Pistons a team with five equally valuable players each with different talents, won the NBA Championship, over the Los Angelos Lakers – a team brought to the finals with a majority of the teams weight falling on Kobe and Shaq’s shoulders. However, it was the Pistons that won the series 5-1.

      Lets look at the starting five, each had there own role on the team, and therefore had different self-interests, however they were motivated with a general will to win – a communal fraternity that Rousseau approves of.

      Chauncey Billups’ role on the team was the point guard, the isolation demander, “Mr. Big Shot”. His self-interests on the team included shooting the big three pointer, driving to the basket getting a quick bucket, or finding an open player to get an assist from.

      Rip Hamilton’s role on the team was the mid-range shooting threat. His self-interest included outrunning the man guarding, getting open, and knocking down a mid-range jump shot.

      Ben Wallace’s role on the team was defense -rebounding and blocking. He was never seen as offensive tool, but rather his self-interest lied in his defense.

      The moral of these breakdowns is to show that, each player has a role on the team, and each player is self-interested in what they do best for the team. People/Players act in their own self-interest, but when there is a common fraternity, community or team presence in the society (like the Giants and Pistons), the self-interested men are able to work towards success – whether it be a successful society or an NBA championship.

  3. seangordon permalink
    November 7, 2010 9:57 PM

    I love these posts that draw parallels to the sports world. While I think that some of Rousseau’s theory was designed with a somewhat larger group of people in mind, this is definitely a believable and understandable comparison. The Giants may not be what one would call a body politic , however, you use them here appropriately enough to describe one of Rousseau’s many complex ideas in a nice fashion.

  4. Sam Russ permalink
    November 7, 2010 10:34 PM

    Your example of the Giants is a good one for representing a successful general will. It reminds me of players who deviate from the general will and how they are handled. Something that has always been present in sports where the athletes are paid and held in contract is the possibility that a player will holdout from playing hard or even from playing at all in order to achieve personal gain of some sort. For example, Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets football team held out from training camp before the season in order to get a contract that paid him significantly more money. Brett Favre of the Vikings held out for…somewhat unclear reasons depending on who spins the story, and his teammates and the fans definitely lost some respect for him because of it. While players often say that they cannot comment for or against a player holding out for contracts because they do not wish to meddle in their money issues, some players will comment if they feel a teammate is compromising their contribution to the team. It might not seem to be the greatest comparison at first – athletes and politicians – but in the end they both get paychecks, and the potential to reach great fame.

  5. November 8, 2010 3:48 PM

    I really enjoy the comparison between the Giants and Rousseau’s ideas here. Fortunately for me my roommate is a huge giants fan and i was able to see every game and can really attest to this comparison. Even though baseball is not as much of team sport as other sports, the Giants were able to win the world series and swallow their prides by playing as a true team. This teamwork consisted of different hitters and pitchers stepping up every game, rather than the same great players being the only ones playing good day in and day out. Teams with superstars like the Yankees and Phillies fell victim to this because the same players always played well, never did they get the combined team effort like the Giants did. An even bigger testament to their teamwork was shown in their post game interviews when either a hitter who had a big day or a pitcher with a dominant performance, never gloated about their indiviual performance but instead insisted on thanking there own teammates. Don’t be surprised is this theme of teamwork produces champions in other sports as well.

  6. November 9, 2010 12:09 AM

    As a San Francisco native I could not agree more with you. The giants clearly exemplified Rousseau’s notion of taking one for the team. If you look at many teams over the past several years who use Rousseau’s belief of making sacrifices to help out the common good you will find many teams that are able to excel. Again, to jump on the Bay Area bandwagon, the San Jose sharks are able to stay consistently in the top 5 every year because players are willing to take salary cuts, they don’t complain about ice time and they put their best effort on the ice every night. So I completely agree with you that “Public enlightenment leads to the union of understanding and will in the social body: the parts are made to work exactly together, and the whole is raised to its highest power” applies to the SF Giants and accurately displays that when a group makes sacrifices for the common good everyone has the opportunity to excll.

  7. mattwales permalink
    November 9, 2010 5:35 PM

    I like how you use Rousseau’s idea of the coherent whole and apply it to the San Francisco Giants, yet there is one major difference between this baseball team and the civil society Rousseau describes. Although the players on the Giants banded together and worked towards the general will, is the general will in this case any different from the personal wills of each player? I would say that the sum of the individual wills of players equated the general will of the entire team, everyone was obviously playing to win the World Series.

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