Last month, our local story discussion hit "The Adventure of the Dying Detective," and just a week later, I find a friend or two, as well as one documentary film-maker, suspect someone they think is very clever is pulling the Sherlock Holmes maneuver from that story.
If you recall, as surely you do, Sherlock faked an illness that has been fatal to others in order to inspire a confession from one Culverton Smith, who had been letting that disease kill people on purpose.
In our discussion of the story, we came to the conclusion that Sherlock Holmes's clever ploy was actually quite flawed, depending upon a whole lot of other people behaving exactly as they needed to, and a whole lot of things just had to work out perfectly.
And that is exactly the flaw with so many conspiracy theories. For the proposed theory to be true, a whole lot of things would have to work perfectly and a whole lot of people would have to cooperate in perfect harmony . . . which people don't often do. It's the plain truth that hits me in the face every time I watch one of the National Treasure movies: The heroes find some immense repository of treasures that took hundreds of people to build, and we're expected to believe those hundreds of people all managed to do the required work in complete secrecy, with all of them being entirely competent in a crazy level of engineering and not keeping a map or any of the treasure for themselves.
Perhaps it's my view of humanity's general level of ability en masse that might affect my lack of belief in most conspiracy theories. The real conspiracies out there are usually by an established group working together, like a business or other enterprise operating in the open with nobody paying that much attention, often something we eventually know is happening, like gerrymandering, but are unable to stop.
And one of the most common conspiracy theories of late has been that we have a Moriarty-level mastermind manipulating everything around him while having problems reading, judging what a basic human response to a question might be, and generally seeming like a windbag with nothing to offer and no one close to him willing to even point out the toilet paper is stuck to his shoe.
Ah, but that toilet paper stuck to his shoe was the detail that proves his true genius, wasn't it? Staging minor goof after minor goof takes a truely disciplined actor beyond even Sherlock Holmes's level, and, wow, isn't it amazing that he's thinking that many steps ahead.
Even Sherlock Holmes in "The Dying Detective" couldn't get Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Watson, Billy the page, and Inspector Lestrade to all fake having the same deadly disease along with him, just to throw his rivals off the scent. What a genius someone must be to pull that off!
But, as we all know, even if we knowingly pretend not know it, Sherlock Holmes was fictional. Not a real human being, which is actually how he accomplishes a lot of what he does -- his author bends reality to make his schemes work. Because in a fictional reality, there is an order to the universe that was placed there by the hand of a single being.
There's a certain faith behind conspiracy theories, a faith that the universe is an ordered place, where improbable things are happening through someone's plan. It's almost like that need for an ordered and plotted universe transcends the need for belief in a higher power, or that the higher power behind the order in the universe is this person or group. Even when one wants to deny the actual, perfectly logical ordering of the universe.
Sometimes, people who don't do the common sense things get sick. It's the way the world works. Sometimes, "a cigar is just a cigar." And somebody out there is is more clever than Sherlock Holmes himself?