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Joint and several liability

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One argument you still hear a lot about the 2016 presidential election, usually from leftier than thou types, (see this comment thread for illustrations) is that you can’t blame X for the outcome, because the outcome was multi-causal, and who’s to say that X was the decisive factor?

The problem with this argument is that it’s wrong, and it’s wrong because it depends on a wrongheaded model of causation.  That an event has many causes doesn’t mean that one cause in isolation wasn’t decisive.

For example, suppose I lob a Molotov cocktail into your living room and your house burns down as a result.  Now this event is certainly multi-causal.  I mean if your house had been made out of stone it wouldn’t have burnt down now, would it?  I’d also like to point out that it’s relevant that you had a dangerous amount of flammable material in the living room — dangerous in the sense that this material caused the fire to burn much faster when I lobbed a Molotov cocktail into your living room than the fire would have burned if you had had the foresight to decorate in a minimalist industrial Bauhaus aesthetic, for example.  That would have given the fire department a much better chance of saving your house.

So really, can you say I’m to blame for burning your house down, when there are many, many hypothetical circumstances in which my lobbing of a Molotov cocktail into your living room wouldn’t have had that – we now all agree — highly unfortunate result?

This, in effect, is the argument for not blaming the mainstream media, or Jill Stein, or Glenn Greenwald, or Vladimir Putin, or a whole bunch of other people and institutions, for getting Donald Trump elected.

Trump got elected by an incredibly thin margin. Flip 44,000 votes out of 13.3 million cast in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and Clinton wins.  That is one out of 300. One in 300!  And that isn’t even taking into account turnout effects, which of course are crucial.  A couple fewer bullshit email stories, a couple less bits of Russian ratfucking, a slightly less narcissistic Dr. Jill Stein — any of these things would have been enough, individually, to make the difference.  It was that close.

So don’t tell me you’re innocent.  Because it insults my intelligence.

 

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