Plausible Deniability

What a great phrase

Plausible deniability is such a great phrase to say out loud; so musical, sonorous, and rhythmic: the wet consonance of “plausible” filled with that medicinal “zz” sound near the end; the quick tongue work of “deniability,” like you could do something outrageous with your mouth but for now, deniability.

Its suggested meaning is beautiful, too, if treacherous. Plausible deniability is a balletic secrecy. Plausible deniability is like an isometric hold—you don’t look like you’re doing anything, but it is the resistance to facts that builds strength, gives you forbearance. Plausible deniability is something one has to ask for. 

Plausible deniability is based on the idea that what we do with knowledge between each other can be damaging if negotiated inappropriately, because all of us are implied in a system of information that can be used to harm any one of us. We might all have this information at our disposal in many different contexts, but “I can’t know what you know or think you know, and we can’t know we both know it, because if the authorities come looking at me for information, I need to reliably state that I do not have it.”

We need our hands clean.

An interesting facet of writing a lovelorn newsletter is the knowledge that those who should read it don’t. It is a false positive. I’m not clever enough to look for your tracks in the ground, even when starving, even after a profound snowfall, when the footprints of prey become artifacts. Plausible deniability is the permission we give ourselves to have conversations to ourselves. This way, the chin music stays inside my brain. I realize I am not starving, but merely ravenous.

However. Lately I have been paying attention to a new discourse on disclosure. Set all information free. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is power. Radical candor, absolute transparency, “lovingly naming elephants in the room.”

Once upon a time, probably when I was in college, there was such a thing as oversharing. It was a terrible vice. In fact I am trained enough in distaste for oversharing, that unless personal admissions are staged in the abstract language of allegory, gonzo reveal, or psychoanalytical sublimation, I cringe. Astute declarations, however, are the language of protest, and we are at war for the balance of humanity.

So with the stakes of disclosure so high, I think of what it means to transfer the charm of plausible deniability, of innuendo, of secrecy, of intimacy, of a profundity of emotions I have married to specific body parts that respond only to blood pressure, the resistance inside a drum, the big drum inside my blood, the tinny feedback from the pre-language of pure listening…I think of what it means to transfer all of that, into exposure. Pure display, pure feedback, pure sunlight, pure air, pure touch.

I do know what you know. You know what I know. Those authorities? What if they want us all to know the truth? They in turn would know it too. Then we can have all of the same information and then the magic of plausible deniability would be the splendor of the plausibly undeniable: that you and I still discover one single channel through which any of this, all of this, makes any sense at all; that it might exist we might just exist, you and me.