Cause and Responsibility

August 30, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Causation is a tricky problem, especially when any degree of distance separates a causal factor from the actual behavior we are trying to prove, and especially when that causal factor is social – a structure, a culture – rather than individual. Moral responsibility is a different matter, less subject to the rigors of scientific proof.

When Dr. Tiller, who did late term abortions, was assassinated, Operation Rescue disclaimed any moral responsibility for the crime although they had long been calling for the doctor to be “brought to justice.” At the time (in this blog post) , I was reminded of the assassination of Thomas Becket by Henry II’s knights. I should have added that King Henry, at least, later took responsibility for the crime.

Now we have a pastor in Arizona who, shortly before Obama made a local appearance, preached a sermon with prayers for the death of Obama.

One of Anderson’s parishioners was Chris Broughton, who showed up at demonstration in Phoenix outside where Obama was speaking. Broughton was carrying an AR-15 assault rifle.
Broughton didn’t shoot. But somebody else might. Rick Sanchez on CNN says
A CNN source with very close to the U.S. Secret Service confirmed to me today that threats on the life of the president of the United States have now risen by as much as 400 percent since his inauguration, 400 percent death threats against Barack Obama — quote — “in this environment” go far beyond anything the Secret Service has seen with any other president.
An “environment” is not legally responsible for any specific act. It would also be difficult, if not impossible, to show which individuals created the environment. That’s the wonderful thing about thinking only in terms of individuals and ignoring social forces. It allows you to disclaim all responsibility.

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