James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, August 20, 2007

Circumstantial Plausiblity

A friend is reading Mein Kampf and has sent me some of his observations on it. One point he raises is that wild assertions (such as Jewish conspiracies) are easy to make but difficult to disprove. But if they are not refuted, they slowly gain in popularity. So the problem is, do we "dignify" the insane assertion by taking the time to refute it? Or is our silence a sign of consent or agreement?

In the 1920's and 30's, the Germans who knew better than to believe Hitler's crap didn't take the time to discredit it. And this is understandable; to them it already discredited itself. To "learn from history" in this case, then, is to not sit idly by as wackos proclaim their theories; we should take the time to refute them so that nobody believes them.

But wild allegations are difficult to disprove. I think the reason is because of what I call "circumstantial plausibility." Rich and powerful people make friends with other rich and powerful people; in their private conversations they might be discussing how to manipulate the stock market or create political turmoil in some foreign country. How do we know that they're not? If two such individuals both profit from a particular crisis, and if it is known that they were acquainted with each other, some people jump to the conclusion that they orchestrated the crisis.

This is akin to assuming that if something isn't known, it is being kept secret, or if something isn't found, it is being hidden. How can these be disproved? How does one prove that nobody knows? How does one prove that something doesn't exist?

I don't know the answer. Ultimately, finding an explanation of the unknown is a matter of belief. The best any of us can do is believe the most reasonable explanation, until new evidence from the paper trail, the money trail, reliable witnesses, or statistical probability convince us otherwise.

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