Monday, December 16, 2019

The Moriarty fallacy

We always thought Moriarty would be this genius, didn't we?

The ultimate criminal, capable of coming up with plots so intricate, so masterfully contrived, that even Conan Doyle couldn't tell us what they were. He could tell us about the ingenious things Sherlock Holmes did to shed light on a series of events that had no explanation, and show us the reasons for something that seemed impossible. But even Doyle couldn't explain how Moriarty's crimes were so much better than the average criminals, other than the fact that he didn't get caught or suspected while others did.

I grew up believing in Moriarty. Or thieves like Alexander Mundy or Thomas Crown. And then the TV show "COPS" came along, week after week, showing us what real-life criminals looked like. Not a lot of Moriartys or Thomas Crowns in that lot. Shirtless drunks suddenly seemed to be a large part of crime in America.

But it's not just American crime. The man who stole the Mona Lisa just walked in the Louvre, took the painting off its pegs and hit it under or wrapped in his smock and walked out with it. And maybe we still don't know for certain who Jack the Ripper was, but do you think it's because he was a genius? That guy just got lucky. (Or unlucky, if he fell in the river or something.)

We're starting to see some really incredible crimes these days, and they're not being done by Moriartys, either. Just folks with too much wealth and power going, "That law doesn't apply to me," and going about their merry crime way. Perhaps they have a mega-corporation under them, perhaps they're painting it with the "it's just political" brush that somehow magically makes it not subject to traditional criminal prosecution, but whatever the tactic, it sure isn't the work of a Moriarty-level genius. Obviously.

And yet, Moriarty, like Santa Claus, stills lives in our heads, doling out crime presents to all the bad little boys and girls. He's inspiring, really, for those who take on the role of law enforcement and criminal investigation, that great white whale that might be out there to one day catch among all the plain ol' stupid whales, who are still big and whale-ish and need dealing with.

Ah, but wouldn't the world make such comfortable sense, if there was a mastermind Moriarty with some specific end to all of what seems like nonsensical crime of late, someone whose skill one could admire as they vanished into the fog with their loot.

But, alas . . . .

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