10:56

Shades of grey

I always read Matthew Parris and feel that he is a man of intelligence, subtlety and humanity. I read Peter Hitchens and feel that he is a man of intelligence, rigidity and intolerance. One sees the world in shades of grey; the other as a Manichean contest in black and white.

Parris was writing in the Spectator about the Megan Stanners story – and he observed the sad reality that so many people wreck their lives, health, finances, reputations and families not through wickedness but by foolishness, weakness, naivety and circumstances. This seems to me to be an empirical truth as I have met very few really bad people in my life – but then I have been lucky. A spell in prison might disabuse me though I suspect that the number of the truly wicked, even there, would be small.

The same goes for conspiracies. Some people see them everywhere – but whenever there is an alternative cock-up theory I have found that is normally the explanation. Life is wonderfully complicated - too complicated for most conspiracies to work – ‘best laid plans’ and all that. And yet so many otherwise intelligent people will go with the outlandish explanation rather than prosaic common sense. For example when the Madeleine McCann story reached its grotesque nadir, the press started to theorize that her mother was a suspect because she wasn’t distraught enough. Someone, who should really know better, opined to me that there might be something in it –‘no smoke without fire’. I was incredulous. The McCanns had three other children. They were both doctors and Catholic. You would have to have lived on a diet of Rosemary’s Baby and its like to give such an idea airtime – and yet there he was saying it with complete seriousness.

One thing you can’t underestimate is the stupidity and credulousness of some people, some of the time.
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