There can be no doubt that conspiracies exist.
Sometimes things happen which can only be explained by co-operation by those with an improper motive.
Sometimes such co-ordination can occur in the public sphere: ministers, officials, and state agents, together can be engaged in conduct injurious to the interests of those whom they are supposedly serving.
And sometimes such activity - or inactivity - is done in silence, on the basis of silent intuitions or shared assumptions, rather than by any express agreement.
I enjoy a good conspiracy story.
For me, one of the great merits of the X-Files show was the unfolding of the "mythology" - the story of a conspiracy between terrestrial and extra-terrestrial agencies behind a tactic of plausible deniability.
The show had other merits.
So conspiracies do happen, and they make good drama, but when should one believe that they occur in our non-fictional world?
My view is relatively simple.
There are conspiracies and there are cock-ups, and conspiracies tend to occur so as to hide the cock-ups.
It is only when there is something to hide that groups of people will have sufficient presence of mind and mutual interest to work in such a concerted way.
Such anxious and strict co-ordination seems rare for human beings unless there is some evasive and selfish purpose.
However, it must be said that "coincidences" do seem to happen.
And sometimes these coincidences do seem to be convenient.
For example, we have recently seen the investigation of the founder of WikiLeaks.
Many jumped quickly to the view that there must be a conspiracy, even though there was no evidence, but because the timing seemed such a coincidence.
But disconnected events do happen.
The political genius is usually not someone who can contrive such useful events, but someone who can exploit the opportunity presented by an unexpected event.
In his works of diplomatic history, my favourite historian AJP Taylor repeatedly showed how politicians and diplomats invariably reacted to unexpected events; sometimes to their advantage, but sometimes rather badly.
All because a politician can exploit an unexpected event does not mean that the event was unexpected.
After all, being able to manipulate opportunities is often how such people become powerful in the first place.
The most sensible position is to have a presumption against a conspiracy theory being correct, especially when the available information is limited.
This is not to deny that that the conspiracy theory can be correct; but the first step should not be to theorise but to seek further information and to work out how the situation should be investigated.
That is why this blog has urged that:
- the investigation against Julian Assange proceed under Due Process;
- there be a formal inquest in to the death of Dr David Kelly; and
- the allegation in the New York Times that there is collusion between News International and the Metropolitan Police be the subject of a fair and open inquiry.
When faced with the possibility of a conspiracy, the lazy mind may assume that there "must" be one.
This is rarely correct.
However, the better response is not to simply deny the conspiracy but, if it is sufficiently serious an allegation to warrant examination, to look at the evidence and to apply the appropriate methodology to the evidence.
In politically-charged matters, this may include a formal criminal investigation, or a coroner's inquest, or a parliamentary or judicial inquiry.
And that is an evidence-based approach upon which both Agent Scully and AJP Taylor (who otherwise would seem to have little in common other than my idolisation) would agree.
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