Let’s Associate Ourselves with Causation

So, yesterday I asked for a ceasefire on false dichotomies.

Today, I’d like to discourage a myth of responsibility in the upcoming election.

Here it goes again: If you don’t vote for Candidate-X, you’re voting for Candidate-Y. Maybe you didn’t fall for the whole false dilemma thing from the last post. That’s fine.

Let me tell you a story.

It was 15 years ago, and I was picking up my notebooks and shoving them into my polyester messenger bag. (I didn’t say it was an interesting story.) Class had ended, and all the graduate students were engaged in the liturgy of leaving the classroom. I was wondering about coffee when my Philosophy professor interrupted the exodus.

“Don’t confuse causation with association!”

He offered it as a valediction.

Since it was the last day of class, I thought he was cluing us in on the final exam. As if to say, “Hey, there will be a question about this on the test!!”

That’s not at all what it was. There was not a single question on the test that asked about it. Not a one!

It was the last will and testament of a dying class. His last words to us before we set off into the world with all this jumbled mess of ideas to sort through.

It’s been 15 years, and I finally see why it was so important to him. It’s now important to me.

You see, you can try to use the X and Y argument at the top of the page to wrangle me into voting for one of the presidential candidates. You can use a false dichotomy, or you can make a reasoned argument for why abstaining to vote for a presidential candidate is a bad idea on account of the outcome.

The outcome. There’s the rub.

The primary outcome of my decision to vote for nobody is the alleviation of my conscience. It offends my cherished values to vote for either candidate. (I’m not even talking about third party candidates, but this applies there too.)

The associated outcome might (let’s emphasize MIGHT) be the election of the worst of the two  candidates. But that, you see, is not my fault. I did not cause it to happen.

Intent is the issue here. I do not intend to vote for nobody in order to have somebody elected. That is silly. I am not causing either candidate to be elected, because I chose neither of them. You may associate the outcome with my lack of vote, but that is not the same.

My intention is to assuage my conscience – to vote my values by not voting for any candidate who so wholly fails to represent what I cherish.

My intention is primary. The outcome of the election is secondary.

So, thank you Philosophy professor. Causation really was important. It really is.

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