It’s gedankenexperiment time!
Suppose mafioso A pays hitman B to kill politician C. Is B any less a murderer than if he’d committed the crime off his own back? Obviously not: he’s 100% guilty. But does it follow that A is not responsible for the killing? Again, clearly not: it was his actions and his intentions which led to the politician’s death, 100%. But what if A decided to kill C because of informant D, who tipped him off about C’s planned crack-down on organised crime. Then doesn’t D also deserve some blame for C’s death? And if so, does that lessen the guilt of either A or B? Again, and of course, no.
In principle there’s no limit to the number of people who can be responsible for the same crime: suppose a man is strapped into an electric chair, and a group of people each have a green and a red button in front of them. If all of them press the red button, then the man fries, but if even one of them presses the green button then he goes free. The experiment is performed, and the man dies. Now isn’t each and every button-presser responsible for his death? And does the size of the group make any difference whatsoever?
Of course the psychology doesn’t work that way: if the group is a thousand strong, the amount of guilt that each button-presser feels may well be lower than if the group consisted of just one person. But psychology’s a poor indicator of responsibility: people can feel terrible guilt for events which are completely beyond their control. I’d say that under any decent moral or legal system, every member of the group should be judged a murderer.
The point of all this is to dispel the fallacy that for a given event, there is a fixed, finite amount of responsibility which must be divided up cake-like between the parties involved. This results in bogus arguments along the lines of: “Well if you think that apparently decent person 1 shares some of the responsibility for this atrocity, then you must think that evil bastard 2 is less than fully responsible for their actions. You ****ing ****er&%!?!!”. It’s rubbish: some tragedies are no-one’s fault at all, others require contributions from lots of individuals, some essential to the outcome, others acting to ratchet up the likelihood of disaster.
A couple of examples of this in action: many people (including me) believe that the War in Iraq significantly increased the risk of terrorist attacks against in the UK, and therefore lay some blame for the 7/7 bombingsÃ‚Â at the door of the government. Does that mean that we think that the bombers themselves are anything less than 100% responsible for their dreadful actions? Are we moral determinists offering excuses for terror? Of course not.
Secondly, rape: it’s obvious that through her behaviour, a woman can put herself at a greater or lesser risk of being raped. To take an extreme example, if she chooses to spend the night blind drunk, on her own with a known sex-offender, in his bedroom, dressed only in her underwear, then no-one sane could disagree that she was putting herself at a huge risk. (Even under these circumstances I wouldn’t want to say that it was her fault that she was raped, just on compassionate grounds.) So to suggest that women should avoid taking wreckless risks, and take sensible steps to ensure their safety, is only common sense. But is any of this to diminish, even slightly, the responsibility of any man who commits this horrible crime? No, not for a second.