Cover-up? What cover-up?

If we want to expose cover-ups, it’s time we stopped talking about them. Paradoxical? No.

If people look for a cover-up, they will be looking for some organised conspiracy. They will be looking for evidence that X and Y knew each other, and also knew Z, and P and Q and R, and that they had some secret meeting or secret code or way of communicating, or that they all had some significant shared history, and were planning the whole thing.

There may be no such evidence forthcoming. Perhaps even worse, there may be some such evidence, but little else other than loose connections, so that those who are in the business of trying to ‘expose’ a cover-up themselves look like they are barking mad, as they try to pin significance on facts such as belonging to the same club, or once having been married to someone’s cousin, or whatever.

The mistake lies in thinking that cover-ups need be planned in such a deliberate way. They may be. But they may well not be. But continuing to talk about ‘cover-ups’ implies that there is some deliberate, corner of a shady car park meetings type cover-up. It is most probably not like that.

All that is needed for a ‘cover-up’ to take place is to arrange people’s interests so that they are tied to the continuing and untroubled operation of an organisation which might be threatened if certain things were exposed. All that is needed for a ‘cover-up’ is to ensure that people who are in a position to know inconvenient things cannot get their voices heard by those higher up the chain, or are somehow in debt to, or dependent on, those higher up the organisation, or can easily be made to look as if they are misguided, or bearing a grudge of some sort. All that is needed for a ‘cover-up’ is for the odd whistleblower here and there to be treated badly. When you look at how ubiquitous such features of organisations are, the question is no longer, ‘is there a cover-up’ but ‘what is being covered up?’

You can add to the difficulty the simple fact that so long as people’s interests are so wedded to the success of an organisation, – which will be stronger in cases where they have already invested a lot (e.g. through training in a career), and stronger in cases where there is no ‘exit strategy’ (e.g. if financial insecurity and loss of social status may follow exit from the organisation) – they will have so much invested in it that, since they are likely to be reasonably decent people themselves, they will have to think of the organisation as being reasonably decent. So they are already automatically biased against believing anything really bad about their organisation, or their wider social group. I have found this out to my cost in the few occasions when I have explained to people what has been going on in some of the places where I have worked. The only way to get most people to believe me is to present a view of things which is considerably less bad than it actually was. Tell the truth, and hardly anybody will believe you. Why? Not because they are bad people, but because they themselves have got so much invested in how things are that they can’t afford to think what you say is true.

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