A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Conspiracy Formula: A bit of tongue and a bit of cheek
The argument that conspiracies do not, cannot, exist is foolish; worse than foolish: insane and foolish. Conspiracies exist everywhere. The best ones are made up of two people, they easily keep each other in check, often with strong mutual interests and very little persuasion needed. But, as the numbers involved increase, the requirement for incentives to maintain the silence of conspiracy also increases. And there is a limit for how many people can be involved without the certainty of exposure. Most conspiracies collapse because the incentives don’t keep up with the numbers of people who have relevant knowledge, but many conspiracies do pay attention to the needed incentives.
Clearly this a math problem: how many people; how much incentive; what defines the limits? Here is my simple minded offering for this under-explored field of inquiry.
‘F’ (amount of fear) plus ‘C’ (compensation) divided by ‘n’ (number of people needed for an action) = ‘M’ (a constant, the total motivation required to remain silent). This number might marginally increase if people are added who have moral principles.
(F+C)/n = M
What this means is that if you need 20 people to run a conspiratorial operation, then the level of fear and compensation must be increased over a conspiracy that requires 5 people:
(5 + 10)/5 = 3 ; (25 + 35)/20 = 3
Another feature demonstrated by the formula is the interchangeability of fear and money: “I will fire you if you tell, and I will also give you a thousand bucks for not telling.” Then, there is “I’ll fire you and deny you future employment if you tell.” vs. “I’ll give you $20,000 if you don’t tell.” Displayed in formulaic form as example:
(17 + 13)/10 = 3 for the first situation, (27 + 3)/10 = 3 for the second (there is almost always a salary base) and (5 + 25)/10 =3 for the third (there is always an implied threat).
Clearly, there is an upper limit for how many people can be involved before either the amount of fear or the amount of compensation will produce a value that falls below the constant, M, and the conspiracy is exposed.
For the sake of the argument let’s say that the threat of death (it has to be real) is 90 and the threat of death, torture and the death of one’s family is 120. Monetary compensation becomes progressively less effective as the numbers go up – that is the amounts have to increase exponentially as the measured effect goes up arithmetically – such that the power of $5 million (score of 150) is only marginally more than $4 million (score of 144). So, in our model, with a constant, M = 3, a conspiracy could contain with efficiency: (120 + 150)/n = 3, gives n=90 as the largest number of people that could contain the conspiracy.
But there is more. The cost would be $450 million on top of the cost of making the threat of death and dismemberment of hundreds of people a reality. If the monetary side is removed the conspiracy could include, (120 + 6)/n = 3, n=42, (the 6 represents base salary). If the threat side were removed, (12 + 150)/n = 3, n=54, (again, always an implied threat) hardly changing the situation for maintaining the conspiracy, but changing greatly the dynamics of the situation.
Leaving the detail, but retaining the concept, of this model; what are the arrangements of threat vs. compensation powers in the real world. There are 3 major seats of power: commercial/corporate, governmental and criminal. If we define them conceptually by the ways that they might attempt to hide a conspiracy, we get: (small value F + large value C)/n = M, for commercial; (large value F + small value C)/n = M, for government; and (large potential value F + large potential value C)/n = M, for criminal. Therefore, if we identify a conspiracy as, (9 + 60)/n =3, n=23, then we would suspect that it was formed out of the commercial sector of power. If the incentives were reversed, we would suspect the government; and if they were more equal, we would suspect criminal origins, especially if the fear and compensation components were large.
But what would we think or say about a discovered conspiracy that clearly originated in governmental offices with the form, (100 + 140)/n = 3, n=80, and another originating in corporate suites, (120 + 90)/n = 3, n=70? If we followed the conceptual definitions, then they both would be criminally based rather than defined by the room from which they were directed. (A note here: the n value is the maximum number that could contain a conspiracy under the defined circumstances, it is not required for the model that that number are always involved. Especially grievous actions might want to be protected by over-funding both the threat and the compensation.)
Some real-life examples: Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Bradley – AKA Chelsea – Manning and several others, not so regularly reported on, have exposed conspiracies that originated in government/military offices. Manning has been tortured (by Geneva standards, if not by the reader's) and his freedom taken from him; this would get a very high F score. Assange and Snowden, both, have their lives threatened and freedom limited. Snowden has lost considerable income and Assange has been attacked economically. In their cases they would get high F and high C scores. The display of the consequences for breaching the conspiracy curtain is clearly intended to fix very high F scores in the minds of the other members of the conspiracies and it can be assumed that compensations are being quietly discussed by those remaining with damaging knowledge.
The military, surveillance and “diplomatic” conspiracies exposed clearly increased their n value over what the F and C values could contain to match or be more than M. It would be expected by the model that the n value would be lowered and that perceived F and C values reconsidered. Another way of saying this is that the attempts to control and contain information would take on more and more of the criminal model, out of what would appear to conspirators to be necessity – the thought of doing away with the secrecy of conspiracy would not occur as an option (see Gen. Keith Alexander’s responses).
And finally, the model tells us that all conspiracies would tend to move toward the criminal form over time and the inevitable dribble of exposures. F scores would increase as would C scores and n values decreased as much as possible – fitting the criminal model exactly. The conclusion has to be that, in terms of this model if nothing else (and I think there is plenty else), commercial/corporate, government and criminal enterprises are melting together into a toxic stew that cannot be un-stewed by any presently legal or societally sanctioned actions.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying, nothing wrong with probing the legal system for its possibilities, nothing wrong with whistle-blowers falling below the value of the conspiracy constant M and blowing the whistle – accept that the F scores are increased along with the C scores and the criminality goes up. It is even possible that a synergy of action could reinvigorate the government sector of power with the will of the people; again, worth a huge try. But, at the same time I’d be looking at plans for that ark.