Saturday, September 19, 2020

Joe Biden's Counterfactual

During the CNN Town Hall with Anderson Cooper, Joe Biden made the following statement, regarding the coronavirus:

If the president had done his job, had done his job from the beginning, all the people would still be alive. All the people — I’m not making this up. Just look at the data. Look at the data.

This does not count as a gaffe. This does not count as a function of Biden’s incipient senile dementia. It counts as a manifestation of human stupidity.

In the first place, it is what is called a counterfactual conditional. It is not a statement of fact. It cannot be proven or disproven by data-- though it is not clear that Biden knows anything about data.

A counterfactual conditional posits an alternative reality, a world that did not happen, but that might have happened. It’s like saying that if it hadn’t rained we would have gone to the picnic. Now you might say that we had planned to go to the picnic and would have done so under more favorable weather conditions, but in truth, the world where we were at the picnic is a fictional world, not a real world.

After all, if it had not rained we might have set out to go to the picnic but our plans might have been aborted by a traffic accident. There is no such thing as empirical data that proves that we had been at the picnic.

What might have happened cannot be proved or disproved by facts or data. Biden does not know this. He will never understand this. His statement was absurd on its face. It had nothing to do with the facts as they occurred in the real world. Naturally, Anderson Cooper did not call him out on it.

Of course, Biden does not really explain what he means by the president’s having done his job. He might be referring to what he would have done, but that too is not a fact. We have no reason to believe that he would have done or not done anything if he had been in power. In truth, his presidency would have probably been run by Kamala Harris, so, statements about what he would or would have have done are empty.

Biden might have referred to other countries where leaders did a different job, but those countries also saw a lot of people die from covid. In no nation has there been a zero death rate from covid.

Biden might have referred to Andrew Cuomo and Phil Murphy-- two governors whose states, under their great Democratic leadership, managed to lead the nation in coronavirus deaths-- for being derelict in their duties.

Note that when Trump mentioned that blue states were leading the nation in deaths, the anguished outcry was swift. Serious and unserious thinkers declared that he had just committed a monumental gaffe, something that was worthy of Hitler. In truth, he was merely stating a fact-- a fact about death rates in certain states.

In a federal system of government local authorities are responsible for the hospital systems. They are also responsible for policing and for sending children back to school. Naturally, the Democratic candidate has nothing to say about their dereliction. In his alternative reality, the fault lies solely with one man.

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