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Conspiracy Theories and Polite Society

Per the electronic NYT of August 1, 2016:

“The indictment (against Hi-Rise) does not address the long-held suspicion among many homeowners whose properties were battered by the storm that engineers, adjusters and out-of-state insurers colluded to minimize payouts. But court filings hint at how widespread the practice was at Hi-Rise, at least.”

Without intending to opine on whether the charged individuals were in fact engaged in a criminal conspiracy, I offer this newsworthy item as an exemplar of what goes on: There are routinely individuals (sometimes, formally known as victims) with knowledge and understanding of actual specific industry bad practices and actual cross-industry bad practices (herein, Group 1), and there are individuals (sometimes, formally known as defendants) that knowingly and in agreement with one another exploit the vulnerabilities of Group 1, as well as exploiting others without such knowledge and understanding about their victimization. The charged and uncharged wrongdoers are noted herein as Group 2. A question inevitably arises as to how to classify the states of mind occupying the individuals within Groups 1 and 2.

  • The NYT uses the term “suspicion” in its preliminary evaluation of the states of mind of Group 1 presumably because officials have not secured guilty pleas from alleged wrongdoers (or maybe not even looked into or identified how and what they’ve done).  This seems fair, especially in light of the laws defining libelous communications, the likely low level of investigation performed by the holders of suspicion, etc. However, its fairness in polite society may be eclipsed by its inaccuracy; i.e., it may be fair to say but utterly lacking in truthfulness and in fact misleading to hold such false belief, however polite. The persistence of false belief only prolongs and protects bad practices.
  • The Group 2 individuals are often described with such language as ‘eagerly anticipating their day in court’ or other such exaggerations and untruths. They usually do not confess, though some will plead guilty (especially where unable to afford an adequate legal defense), if charged. [Cf. does a federal conviction rate of greater than 90% for fiscal years 2001 through 2012 (p. 8) signal good things and/or bad things about the federal criminal justice system?] Then, it becomes fair to describe Group 2 criminal conspiracies for what they are – intentionally and widespread bad conduct. Thus, polite society may run a bit slower than the enlightened suspicious ones.

My point is this: One individual’s suspicion may be a far more accurate indicator of what’s going on than what is publicly acknowledged by polite but comparatively well endowed society. The ability and willingness to maintain suspicion, especially against the winds of polite society (as, after all, anyone can maintain suspicion where it is generally accepted) are essential attributes of the skilled investigator, auditor, journalist, etc. Effective inspection and oversight demands suspicion (cf. skepticism and objectivity). Of course, this tends to alienate both the wrongly doubted and the wrongdoers a step or two ahead of polite society, a hazard that makes the practice of effective IO, especially where the risks are high, a thing too rare.