I like to think of myself as having a fairly evidence based world view. I
aspire to judge the world around me like a scientist. As such I require
evidence, references, and peer review. I tend to be very skeptical
about conspiracy theories. About a year ago I read Christopher Steele’s
now infamous Russia dossier, claiming Russia’s FSB helped get Donald
Trump elected. What was just as shocking as its content was that I
instantly bought it.

The fact that I have believed in this has
bothered me a fair bit, so I have been trying to figure out why I
believe in it. I will in this post try to explain why and how my world
view shapes how I gauge the plausibility of a story. Lets be very clear
here, very little proof has been produced to substantiate the claims. If
proof emerges that disproves the content of the dossier, I wont dispute
it. Everything as far as I know could be made up.

So why would I
believe it? Clearly given that I don’t share Mr trumps politics I could
be biased simply because I want it to be true, but I don’t think that
is it. I don’t believe in common conspiracy theories about other
politicians I disagree with. I could say that it “smells” true, but that
might be the least scientific way to judge something. “Feeling” or
“wanting” the earth to be flat doesn’t make it so.

Lets start
with the obvious, conspiracies do exist. Watergate, Iran Contras, Enron,
the plot to kill Hitler in 1944 and Bernie Madoff are all historical
facts. They are however easily outnumbered by the conspiracy theories
that have no factual basis, so its prudent to be very skeptical. It
means that we need to think hard about what to believe in, especially
since conspiracy theories flourish so easily online.

One
important marker that tells me this is true is that it never goes over
board. Trump is offers lucrative contracts, but he turns them down. The
Russians have “Kompromat” on Trump but they never use it. If you make up
a Conspiracy theory you don’t cut out the juiciest bits. Almost all
conspiracy theories are out to discredit someone, and this one is way
too off the mark to be useful if it was made up.

My main hint
that this is real is the smell of office politics. This is the reason I
wanted to write this, and Its also something I think is very important
in order to understand the world in a broader sense.

If you have
ever worked with other people on a project you know that decisions and
actions are very rarely as well coordinated as thy should be. Different
people have different ideas and pull in different directions. Ideas are
approved or shut down because of from whom they emanate, what group they
belong to, their status, what group will benefit or get credit.
Conspiracy theorists often ascribe super human coordination to the group
of people who are executing the conspiracy. When have a group of people
ever been perfectly in line and synchronized? It doesn’t happen. If a
Conspiracy hinges on people working perfectly together, then its
probably not true.

When reading dating profiles, CVs and other
self descriptions, I have learned to not read what is written but read
the person who chose what to write. You can lie and say you are 6 feet
tall, when you are really just 4.8, but you cant escape the fact that
you though stating your height was a good idea. That is inescapable, and
tells me something deeper about you.

The Steele report sounds
like the kind of venting you would hear in a bar from a friend talking
about how messed up things are at work. I think a fair bit of the
content in the dossier is not very accurate. You could disprove a
specific thing in it, but it may still give the over all conspiracy
weight. If your friend at the bar tells you management did something
stupid today, are they lying? Probably not, but they are probably also
not privy to all information and they are only telling you their side of
the story. If the boss was there telling you about their reasoning for
the decision it might not sound as bad. This is hear say, not facts.
Your friend in the bar, may not have all the facts, and may have some
things wrong, but they are still probably capturing the culture and
issues at their job pretty accurately.

Hunter S Thompson’s
reporting was once called “The least factual, but most accurate
account”. I can tell you a story about a someone that is not true but
that still accurately reflects a persons personality and motivations.
These are assertions about culture.

We often attribute too much
intelligence to conspirators. Some how I’m supposed to be convinced
George W Bush was the master mind behind 9/11 but he couldn’t pronounce
“nuclear”? Conspiracies or any kind of illegal behavior emerges from an
environment where it is accepted. This is where culture comes in. If you
have spent a decade thinking about how to invade Iraq, of course you
are going to try to use 9/11 to that end. Bernie Madoff didn’t start out
as a fraud, but once you are in a culture of success its easy to start
hiding losses to retain that culture. As the losses grow you go further
and further and soon you you are doing things you once couldn’t imagine
yourself doing. People don’t ask questions because they want to believe
what they are told. People don’t lie to create conflict, they lie to
avoid conflict.

Its what Nick Davies describes as “the Conspiracy
of power recognizing power” in his excellent book “hacked off”. We
envision long tables where powerful men meet in secret to decide the
fate of the world, but in reality there is no need to meet. Most
powerful people know without asking what actions will be supported or
opposed by other powerful people. If you plan to propose a tax cut for
the rich, you don’t have to ask rich people if they will support you in
the next election. If you plan to invade one of the oil riches countries
in the world, you don’t need to ask oil companies if they are onboard.
Facebook told their employees to pay anyone who could make content to
generate engagement, and before they know it an army of people are
trying to write the most shocking headline about Hillary they can,
because that’s where a culture of
anything-goes-as-long-as-it-generates-clicks eventually takes you.

I
have a saying I keep repeating about foreign policy and it goes: “All
foreign policy is really domestic policy”. If you want to understand a
country’s foreign policy, you must understand, that it doesn’t have a
foreign policy, it has an amalgamation of policies driven by different
people, sometimes pulling in the same direction and sometimes not. Each
individual person, has their own objective, like appealing to a specific
electorate, sucking up to the boss, outmaneuvering the boss, helping
friends, keeping enemies down or trading favors. Some are ideological,
some are not. Culture is important because it is the thing that can make
the majority pull in the same direction. The same goes for
understanding Companies, Parties, or any other organization.

The
content of the steely report is the product of a Russian culture of an
over zealous security service. Putin is an old KGB man so in he has
created a culture where everything can be solved the KGB way. They
didn’t plan any of this, they video tape lots of people who stays at
their fancy hotels, why not? tape is cheep. It just turned out that one
of them decided to run for president of the US. Russian hackers probably
try to steel e-mails from everyone, and once the DNC emails landed on
their desks, why not leak them to Wikileaks? Russia has attempted to
discredit democracies for years, it was just their luck that they found a
candidate that slotted neatly in to this narrative. On the other side
we have a campaign with a culture of anything goes as long as it pleases
Trump. This is not a story of a grand plot, its a story of people who
where so busy wining one race, they forgot that there was other things
they could loose at in the process.

And this is the point. When the
campaign says there was no conspiracy, I think many of them believe what
they say. I don’t think they recognize that what they did was a
conspiracy. There was no secret meeting between Putin and Trump in a
hill top castle where they signed a fellowship in blood and used table
sized maps to carve up the world between them. When Trump JR shares his
email conversations, he thinks that they prove that all they did was
meet some Russians to get dirt on Hillery, not conspiring with a foreign
power. What he is not recognizing is that the this is what a real
conspiracy looks like.