Piaget found that if you told young children a story about a boy who had accidentally broken seven cups, they regarded that boy as far naughtier than a boy who had accidentally broken only one cup. From a cognitive point of view one can explain this by saying that the children in this experiment do not yet fully comprehend the notion of an accident. If something is truly accidental, then the resultant damage was not intended, and the concept of naughtiness is inappropriate.
Of course, it is hard to shake off the feeling that a child who breaks seven cups by mistake is paying less attention than a child who breaks one by mistake and is therefore culpable, because there is a tendency to think that things must be proportional, simply because they often are.
Princess Diana was one of the most photographed people on the planet. She was avidly followed by millions. Her face on a magazine always boosted sales. Her story was a drama with which many could identify. When she died in a car crash there was an understandable wish to find out exactly what had happened, and an underlying assumption that the causes of her death would be proportional to her fame. A woman of her renown could have been tracked, followed, stalked and then dispatched by persons unknown, for reasons unknown, the complexity of all these arrangements (someone waiting by a Parisian tunnel with a laser or a sniper’s rifle) being almost a homage to her, albeit of a malevolent kind. The notion that a woman of stratospheric status could be brought down by an inebriated chauffeur is hard to stomach, and frankly somewhat insulting to her. Rather than the Just World Hypothesis, this is the Unjust World Hypothesis: if something manifestly unfair and shocking takes place, forces of unfairness and shock must have been assembled with commensurate malevolence so as to break the protective carapace of Fame. It would be good, in the twisted sense of that word, to find a bullet somewhere.
Why has there never been a conspiracy about J.D.Tippit? (I wrote his name from memory, and when I checked I found I had got it slightly wrong, which strengthens my following argument). He was the Police Officer who was shot by Harvey Lee Oswald 45 minutes after someone shot J.F.Kennedy. Both Tippit and Kennedy had served their country. Both saw active service, Tippit being in action on the Rhine and getting decorated for it, Kennedy having served in the US Navy. Tippit had been a good cop for 11 years, Kennedy an inspirational President of the the United States for 3 years. The fact that Tippit was shot by a disturbed loner makes sense. In the popular mind, it matches. Cops sometimes get shot by no-good guys with guns, and Tippit was an unknown cop. The same disturbed loner being able to kill a nation’s handsome president makes far less sense. Once again, it is pretty insulting. Surely more assassins are required to bring down a very high status person? At least one other armed man must have been somewhere, on a grassy knoll of popular indignation.
So, every anniversary a new bullet is found, some scrap of doubt which is twisted into the projectile of a disturbing fact by some people’s longing for proportionality.