Appearing to be conspirators when not conspirators

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Appearing to be conspirators when not conspirators

Post by JANE DOErell » Sun Jun 03, 2007 5:00 pm

Does English have a word for people who are not conspirators acting in such a way as to appear to be conspirators?

I was reminded of this possibility again when book reviews in Slate states "....—a second gunman. And—by definition—a conspiracy. ...."

There is no reason why two gunmen cannot arrive at the same location and shoot somebody or something. It happens in crime drama on TV occasionally. Two hunters in the woods have been known to coincidently shoot the same deer.

Why can persons writing about popular conspiracies find it so hard entertain a coincidence theory?
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Appearing to be conspirators when not conspirators

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Jun 04, 2007 3:09 am

Jane, I am not aware of a single word, or even a set phrase, that describes your concept.

The Slate review you have linked to focuses on the assassination of J F Kennedy, including the controversial theory that more than one killer was involved.

If there were in fact two of them (a hypothesis that remains to be proved), it would raise the question, "Were they acting independently or together?"

To my mind, the issue of conspiracy versus independent assassination largely boils down to the probability of the elements required for the event to happen all coming together in the right way. In other words, what is the probability that two killers were each engaged in assassinating JFK in the same place at the same time collaboratively versus independently?

If we assumed, for the sake of argument, that there were indeed two killers, it would be far more probable that their actions were co-ordinated rather than independent. Even if by some extremely improbable coincidence they had independently chosen the same occasion, time and place to shoot the President, I think it would also be fair to assume that since they would have no prior knowledge of each other's plot, on discovering the presence of the other assassin they would in practice be faced with the choice of either aborting their mission or seeking to kill or disable the unknown other: the risks incurred by trusting the stranger, even one avowedly intent on the same aim (as it were), would be much greater than any incurred by not trusting him.

It is not reasonable to suggest that TV crime dramas are a good analogy with the real world, since their plots are driven by scriptwriters and producers, not by the mix of partially predictable events and more-or-less purposive human actions that tends to characterise real life.

Compared with the likelihood of two assassins simultaneously targeting JFK, the probability that two hunters will independently shoot the same deer at the same time is relatively high. In the USA and Canada, hunting is a popular sport; deer are of interest to hunters all the time, not just for the four or eight years of a presidential term; they are known to be plentiful in certain locations; there is a defined hunting season to force a concentration of the hunters' efforts; some localities in which the deer population is exploding offer bounties to approved hunters; and since most hunters go hunting at the weekend, it follows that there is a fairly good chance that within one or two hours' travel time from a town of any size, on a Saturday or Sunday during the hunting season one will encounter other hunters, or bands of hunters, in areas where deer are known to be common. Clearly, this combination of factors will tend to produce circumstances in which the same deer is the target of more than one hunter at a time fairly often.

As to why "persons writing about popular conspiracies find it so hard entertain a coincidence theory", the answer is presumably that by definition, storytellers organise events in such a way that they appear to make coherent sense to the consumers of their output: the human mind appears to be designed to seek out patterns and frameworks that help it to make sense of what would otherwise appear to be chaotic or random events.

From this perspective it makes more sense to construct a narrative in which the participants are in some way connected with each other, wittingly or not, than to construct a storyline in which there are no such connections. In so doing, the professional storyteller is merely meeting the psychological need of the consumer of his or her tales. This arrangement creates meaning for the consumer, and value (in other words, a more saleable, or at least memorable, product) for the purveyor(s) of the story.

In short, conspiracy is a sexier sell than chance. This is especially the case during periods in which politicians and their stooges in the media are more than usually active in coaxing the populace to be paranoid about issues that the latter does not understand very well and/or about which it has limited access to reliable or impartial information. It is thus not surprising that 9/11 has spawned a welter of conspiracy theories, ranging from the plausible and persuasive to the barkingly weird.
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Appearing to be conspirators when not conspirators

Post by Shelley » Tue Jun 05, 2007 9:02 pm

And yet, there is the phrase "events conspired" (to bring about a certain end or a chance meeting, for example). There are a couple of movies I can think of that are built around this theme: Crash, Grand Canyon. Events don't think or plan ahead, but the people living in the events do. They may not be aware that their random acts may appear to be conspiratorial further on down the line.

I think Jane DOErell brings up an interesting question. If people were able observe how their seemingly disconnected choices and actions played out in the larger picture, well, gee -- a lot of us would be paralyzed, I suppose. The JFK assassination is a bad example, I think, for examining the possibility of (in that case) an unfortunate "coincidence" occurring. Shooting a deer during hunting season is better. I think Erik is right that connecting the dots to spell out a conspiracy is what sells today, and controlled conspiracy is what we're talking about here. But what about uncontrolled conspiracy? I guess, by definition, conspiracy requires conscious choice but I understand Jane's perspective and wouldn't dismiss it completely.
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Appearing to be conspirators when not conspirators

Post by Phil White » Tue Jun 05, 2007 10:20 pm

Jung's "synchronicity" seems to me to come pretty close, although the ramifications into the collective unconscious remove the aspect of "pure coincidence".

It is used to describe events that are coincident and appear to be meaningfully related but are not causally related.

Personally, I've always regarded Charlie Watts' drumming as a fine example of extended bouts of synchronicity: A series of coincidental events that appear to be meaningfully related but that have no causal relationship.
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Appearing to be conspirators when not conspirators

Post by Shelley » Wed Jun 06, 2007 1:21 am

Speaking of Synchronicity, wasn't it the Police who sang about "seren-dipity-doo-doo-doo do-dah-dah-dah . . ."?

Yeah, I thought about synchronicity to describe Jane's notion, too. It's a good one, because it somehow implies more at work than just coincidence. It's easier for me to combine disconnected events, though, rather than people. Here's something:

Twice, today, in rapid succession as I was going through a stack of papers on my desk, synchronicity was at play in such a way that, no sooner than a person's name appeared on a paper in front of my eyes, the phone rang and that person was talking to me. The first time it happened I chuckled and thought, "oh, there it is! I wonder if I can make that happen again?", and sure enough BANG! (I only pretend I'm doing it: I know I'm not. But one time, I did turn off the lights on the top of the Empire State Building from a mile and half away, just by pointing my finger. True story.)
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Appearing to be conspirators when not conspirators

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Jun 06, 2007 1:40 am

After the 2000 release of the film The Perfect Storm, the film's title appears to have become a shorthand way of describing a conjunction of improbable or particularly unfortunate circumstances that enables something unusual or extreme to happen that could or would not otherwise occur -- for instance, "a perfect storm of rising fuel prices", or "a perfect storm of global crises". But there is generally no implication in the way the expression is used of the existence of a conspiracy, or of a deliberate orchestration of actions that is intended to result in the eventual outcome.

While looking for examples of usage, I also found the term being used by marketers to describe a conjunction of positive circumstances, such as "a perfect storm of opportunity". But it seems fair to say that the term occurs much more frequently in a negative context than in a positive one.
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Appearing to be conspirators when not conspirators

Post by Shelley » Wed Jun 06, 2007 2:29 am

No deliberate orchestration which is what Jane's "coincidence theory" would entail. I've heard people use "the perfect storm" in just the manner you've described.
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Appearing to be conspirators when not conspirators

Post by Edwin Ashworth » Sun Jun 17, 2007 10:15 pm

It never rains but it pours. But then it does have four pairs of pants.
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Appearing to be conspirators when not conspirators

Post by Tony Farg » Mon Jun 18, 2007 1:13 pm

Am I missing something about all the pants? What's that all about?
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Appearing to be conspirators when not conspirators

Post by Edwin Ashworth » Sun Jun 24, 2007 10:49 pm

It's a vital question in interviews for admission to the Secret Service of Freedonia, Tony. If you fail the interview, you get the job. Reminds me of how new Presidents - sorry, I mean Prime Ministers - are chosen in our wonderful country.
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