No time for cod explanations

No time for cod explanations

Have you noticed the quantity of cod psychology that has been unleashed since the arrest of Oscar Pistorius? How the South African’s dangerously fast driving takes on a “darker hue” in the light of the alleged murder. Or could his pain at his mother’s death hint at something “troubled” in his psyche?

We saw the same with Jimmy Savile (“he always looked a bit creepy to me: did you see his dead eyes?”) and Stuart Hall (“all that bluster and bluff was just a cover, then”). We take an alleged crime, get excited about it, and construct a narrative not around the evidence, but around a foible or two with ambiguous overtones. And we call it analysis.

It is the knowing nods that get me. So Pistorius was rather obsessed with celebrity culture, was he? He once had a boating accident while drunk, did he? He had previously rowed with his girlfriend, had he? Well, that explains it, nudge, nudge. The guy must have been psychologically unhinged.

In one profile, Pistorius’s “dark side” was apparently revealed by an interview given after losing in the 200m final at London 2012 in which he questioned the length of the prosthetics of the winning athlete. “He had never run a 21-second race before . . .” Pistorius said. “You need to look at the facts behind it. It wasn’t a fair race.” So, there you have it. He is a cold-blooded murderer.

This post hoc analysis based on ambiguous fragments of a person’s life has got to stop. Not just because it is crude and opportunistic, but also because it demeans everything we know about the complexities of human action. It is gossip of the worst kind masquerading as serious analysis. Even worse, it leads directly to the sophistry that surrounded Chris Jefferies.

Remember Jefferies? He was the retired schoolteacher who was demonized following the discovery of the body of Joanna Yeates in 2010. Tiny aspects of his life were positioned with immaculate suggestiveness. He was a “lover of poetry” who walked in a “strange” way and who once showed a “documentary on the holocaust” to his pupils. Oh, and he had an “A to Z of Bristol in his car”, presumably to navigate to the spot where Yeates’s body was dumped.

Jefferies was innocent, but this is not really about innocence and guilt, or even privacy. It is about our unabashed tendency for sotto voce insinuation. Perhaps Sherlock Holmes is to blame, and our desire to be amateur detectives. Or perhaps we are deluded by the narrative fallacy, the yearning to create simple stories around events and people, even when we have precious little knowledge of them.

Whatever the explanation, it is time to grow out of it. Cod explanations are the last refuge of scoundrels

By Matthew Syed Р

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