Last photo of Gareth Williams alive, taken by CCTV in August, 2010. Image Source: AFP/Getty via The Mirror.
This is the kind of story that feeds the public's hunger for conspiracy theories. Millennial paranoia is so intense that people will believe anything, as long as it comes with bits of data and a cryptic hint or two to let them rationalize the unexplained. Paranoia calms people down. It is therapeutic. It makes weird incidents make sense. Mass-media-driven conspiracy theories are, in the short term, an easy and simple way to avoid revolutions."Gareth Williams could not have locked the bag from the inside, meaning a 'third party' must have done it, according to a lawyer representing his family. Relatives believe his death in 2010 may have been linked to his work at MI6, where he had recently qualified for 'operational deployment', and that fingerprints, DNA and other evidence was wiped from the scene in a deliberate cover up.
Police have always said they were keeping an open mind on whether the 31-year-old codebreaker was murdered or died as a result of an accident, possibly during a bizarre sex game.
But at an interim hearing ahead of the full inquest into his death, Westminster Coroner’s Court in London was told that a delay by MI6 in notifying police of his disappearance meant a post-mortem examination had been 'ineffective' and the cause of his death remained unclear.
A series of blunders, including a mix-up over DNA found at the scene, had also hampered the inquiry, Dr Fiona Wilcox, the coroner, was told."
It is much harder to face the unexplained without paranoia and without easy explanations. The sad, unsettling death of this young man offers a glimpse of a larger, dark world around daily reality. That dark world is not MI6 and the UK government and establishment, although obviously they are not squeaky clean. Rather, that dark world is the vacuum behind them, which makes these scenes possible. There is something wrong with Britain. Indeed, this story exposes the rotten underbelly of perfidious Albion. Speaking as someone with an abiding love of Britain, it hurts to say that.
It is not just Britain. It is as though Gibbon's 1776 'decline and fall' thesis has been internalized, in Great Britain, Europe, and America, from the national level right down to each individual. Mass demoralization may spread to Asia as well if the recession finds its way there in the next year or two. However, as one of the characters in Whit Stillman's film, Metropolitan, says: "You're going to have to accept the possibility that we aren't doomed"; he also implies that one can fail without being doomed. Failure, cloaked in cynical fatalism, is not an option. Anti-fatalism means we have to stop believing bullshit and pull ourselves together. In other words, the Millennial mystery is not the dead boy in Pimilico. It is us: we have become a mystery to ourselves.
It is simpler to believe in a crumbling society - greedy, violent, corrupt, politicized, credulous, war-mongering, symbol-driven and mad - than it is to do something about it. There are serious problems: a PBS Frontline documentary, Murdoch’s Scandal, which aired 27 March 2012, exposed decades of media and social corruption in Britain's upper strata. The PBS investigation could be criticized for some political bias and the Murdoch hacking scandal is not without its own dead bodies. But at the end of the day, politics do not explain our problems. Corpses in Mayfair flats have no politics.
The question is what to do. The phrase, 'corpses in Mayfair flats,' comes from C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups, published in 1945 (read it here). The book is part of Lewis's dystopian sci-fi Space Trilogy. Gareth Williams's death, explained by MI6's 'dark arts,' made me think of a passage about tabloid stories in That Hideous Strength.
Every fairytale has to have a fairy at its heart, and Lewis's was a terrifying Miss Hardcastle, aka Major Hardcastle, aka 'The Fairy' to her underlings. 'The Fairy' is the head of the police branch of a futuristic semi-governmental, semi-private agency devoted to social and scientific experimentation, called the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.). The hero is Mark Studdock, a young professor striving, to his regret, to get into the 'inner circle.' When he is sucked into work at N.I.C.E., he is told he will have to write newspaper articles, at which, barring the high-end papers, his intellectual pretensions balk. But the Fairy tells him that the tabloids, not the respectable press, tell real truths about the world. And part of that truth involves corpses found in Mayfair flats:
In Lewis's view, The Fairy demonstrated that post-WWII Britain had fallen prey to murderous functionaries. These are the people who turn the establishment into the nightmarish system which conspiracy theorists fear.You don't seem to realize what we are. We're an army."
"Anyway," said Mark, "I'm not a journalist. I didn't come here to write newspaper articles. ..."
"The sooner you drop all that talk about what you came here to do, the better you'll get on. I'm speaking for your own good, Studdock. You can write. That's one of the things you're wanted for."
" ... I've no notion of spending my life writing newspaper articles," he said. "And if I had, I'd want to know a good deal more about the politics of the N.I.C.E. before I went in for that sort of thing."
"Haven't you been told that it's strictly non-political?"
"I've been told so many things that I don't know whether I'm on my head or my heels," said Mark. "But I don't see how one's going to start a newspaper stunt (which is about what this come to) without being political. Is it Left or Right papers that are going to print all this rot about Alcasan?"
"Both, Honey, both," said Miss Hardcastle. "Don't you understand anything? Isn't it absolutely essential to keep a fierce Left and a fierce Right, both on their toes and each terrified of the other? That's how we get things done. Any opposition to the N.I.C.E. is represented as a Left racket in the Right papers and a Right racket in the Left papers. If it's properly done, you get each side outbidding the other in support of us - to refute the enemy slanders. Of course we're nonpolitical. The real power always is."
"I don't believe you can do that," said Mark. "Not with the papers that are read by educated people."
"That shows you're still in the nursery, Lovey," said Miss Hardcastle. "Haven't you yet realised that it's the other way round?"
"How do you mean?"
"Why you fool, it's the educated reader who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they're all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the highbrow weeklies, don't need reconditioning. They're all right already. They'll believe anything."
"As one of the class you mention," said Mark with a smile, "I just don't believe it."
"Good Lord!" said the Fairy, "where are your eyes? Look at what the weeklies have got away with! Look at the Weekly Question. There's a paper for you. When Basic English came in simply as the invention of a free-thinking Cambridge don, nothing was too good for it; as soon as it was taken up by a Tory Prime Minister it became a menace to the purity of our language. And wasn't the Monarchy an expensive absurdity for ten years? And then, when the Duke of Windsor abdicated, didn't the Question go all monarchist and legitimist for about a fortnight? Did they drop a single reader? Don't you see that the educated reader can't stop reading the high-brow weeklies whatever they do? He can't. He's been conditioned."
"Well," said Mark, "this is all very interesting, Miss Hardcastle, but it has nothing to do with me. In the first place, I don't want to become a journalist at all, and if I did, I should like to be an honest journalist."
"Very well," said Miss Hardcastle. "All you'll do is help to ruin this country, and perhaps the whole human race. Besides dishing your own career."
But Lewis stressed that murderous functionaries did not have to win. His hero and his heroine (Studdock's wife, whose maiden name happens to be 'Tudor,' endlessly trying to finish her doctoral thesis on John Donne) awake in the novel to new visions and new potential. Lewis's message, even with its Elizabethan astrology and Anglo-Saxon and Celtic mysticism, was clear: there are still people out there who are not striving to make things monumentally worse with everything they do. And they will turn the tide.
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