On Secret Conspiracies

Recently, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert had an extended interview with the former Director of the FBI James Comey. Given that the role he and his public statements played in the results of the 2016 presidential election, people are certainly entitled not to like him. The interview probably wouldn't do much to change your mind one way or the other but it's interesting for a couple of reasons:

First, given the tendency to try and reduce everything to Facebookable soundbite clips, it becomes more and more difficult to understand what's going on. Even a major network news program will stay on a story for perhaps the eight minutes between commercials before changing to another topic. Only through on-demand mediums like podcasts and YouTube can you actually sit still with one person on a single topic for any meaningful length of time to actually figure out what's going on. That's why when I want to understand something, I look for long-form treatments of it.

The other important lesson this illustrates is that when faced with someone who does something we don't understand or disagree with, it's extremely difficult to take the time to wonder why they did that. After all, we're in a fast paced society that requires us to form an opinion thirty seconds ago. The time for asking questions was yesterday. And usually that means that we leap to ascribing sinister motives. 

But more often, the reason people do things we don't understand is because they know something we don't. Is the driver ahead of you not moving when the light turns green because he's a bad driver? Or is there a person with a cane in front of them who hasn't finished crossing but that you can't see (because the other car is in the way)? This is easy to imagine in the case of an FBI Director who almost certainly knows all kinds of things we don't. And so it's not entirely fair to start ascribing motives to them without knowing what those things they know might be.

Naturally, it's possible for the opposite to be true. Someone might do something you perceive as stupid because you know something they don't. It happens all the time, I'm just confident it's less often than we might first guess. Walking through life assuming you're smarter and more knowledgeable than everyone around you can come back to bite you.