Yesterday, Bobby Jindal said that last week’s Oregon massacre was the fault of the shooter’s father. Not the shooter himself – but his father. As I have written before, most of us associate blameworthiness with causation: one is not to blame for something he did not cause. And by cause, we usually mean more than just but-for cause (as, for example, the true but inane argument that everything a person does was caused by his parents’ coital exploits 9 months before that person’s birth). What we usually require before assigning blame is proximate cause: the accused must be (or be responsible for) the most important link in the causal chain, and often the cause closest in time to whatever bad result is at issue.
The bad result at issue here would be the killing of 10 people (including the shooter). Most sane people would agree that the proximate cause of that result was the shooter’s act of aiming a loaded gun at helpless victims and then, having decided to kill them, pulling the trigger. So there are two potential villains here: the shooter himself and the gun he used to kill. Take either one of those links out of the causal chain (each one immediately preceding the deaths), and 10 people live.
Jindal is a Republican, so we knew what he’d say about the shooter’s guns: they had nothing to do with the killing, despite the demonstrable fact that the killings could not have happened absent the trigger pulls.
What was less predictable was that Jindal would absolve the shooter too. The shooter’s decisions, likely born of anger and hatred and twisted dogmas, were not the proximate cause of his actions; rather, we are to blame his dad. We all know what the shooter’s dad did to set Jindal off on his obscene rant: he questioned why his troubled son had been granted access to so many guns.
We are to believe that the shooter’s father is to blame – that he was the proximate cause of the killing – because he somehow represents the following: “cultural decay, the glorification of evil, the devaluation of human life, the breakdown of the family, and specifically the complete abdication of fathers.” Those are the things the shooter’s father represents, says Jindal, and they are also the “real problem.” (These assumptions apparently result from the facts that the shooter’s parents were divorced and that the shooter no longer lived near his father.)
Let’s wade through this a bit. By now we’re pretty good at Republican code language, so we know what Jindal means by “cultural decay” and “the breakdown of the family”: he means the gays. The gays are to blame. There is no evidence that the shooter’s father was gay, but he’s not a gun-toting swagger hound, so who knows? No doubt, the gays somehow insinuated themselves into the value system of this family, broke it down, and caused a murderous rampage – while dad just let it happen. The “glorification of evil” probably has something to do with the gays, too – but this might apply more broadly to the failure of American families to sufficiently inculcate their children with the Christian values of self-loathing, disdain for the human form, conformity, and stone throwing. We know, too, what Jindal means by the “devaluation of life”: abortion, abortionists, contraception, and women’s decision-making generally. So far this was pretty predictable Republican “reasoning”: the Oregon shooting was caused by gays, secularism, and abortion.
The last of Jindal’s death factors was a little out of place, though. Right wingers usually talk about the abdication of fathers only when they’re using code to discuss black people – it’s one of those things that they think proves the inferiority of blacks in all things “cultural.” There’s always a wisp of the animal kingdom when Republicans discuss the black family, isn’t there? A sort of papa-lion-abandons-his-young-in-the-jungle-to-be-eaten-by-other-lions sort of thing.
Although conservatives delight in discussing the alleged inferiority of the African-American family structure, they certainly never use the phenomenon of absentee fathering as an excuse for the troubles of black children. No matter how profoundly dysfunctional a child’s rearing might be, the trouble with the child victims of dysfunction is their own failure to live the American dream despite it all – you know, laziness.
At any rate, the shooter in this case wasn’t black. So why did Jindal trot out the old family-structure meme? And why, in this instance, did Jindal use an absentee father to absolve this victim of dysfunction? Probably because the real culprit – an asshole with a gun – would be a wee problematic for Jindal’s overlords at the NRA. The gun was not to blame, and even the asshole was not to blame. Jindal’s argument rends the whole causal chain link from link, then creates a new chain sporting rainbow colors and uteri.
So check this out: if you’re a kid born into a dysfunctional inner-city family and your daddy has abandoned you and left you to fend off marauding predators all by yourself, suck it up, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and stop being such a taker. But if you’re a white kid with 13 guns who decides to off a whole classroom full of compatriots because you were having a bad day, no worries, Junior – it’s all daddy’s fault.
Behold the party of “personal responsibility.” Behold the mind of a teabagger.