Conspiracy of silence (expression)

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Not to be confused with Code of silence.

A conspiracy of silence, or culture of silence, describes the behavior of a group of people of some size, as large as an entire national group or profession or as small as a group of colleagues, that by unspoken consensus does not mention, discuss, or acknowledge a given subject. The practice may be motivated by positive interest in group solidarity or by such negative impulses as fear of political repercussion or social ostracism. It differs from avoiding a taboo subject in that the term is applied to more limited social and political contexts rather than to an entire culture. As a descriptor, conspiracy of silence implies dishonesty, sometimes cowardice, sometimes privileging loyalty to one social group over another. As a social practice, it is rather more extensive than the use of euphemisms to avoid addressing a topic directly.


Examples of the use of the term vary widely and include:

  • On 19 March 1937, Pope Pius XI used the term in his encyclical Divini Redemptoris to characterize the failure of the non-Catholic press in Western Europe and the U.S. to cover the persecution of Christians in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Mexico, and Spain.[1]
  • Between 1972 and 1994, members of the Charlestown community in Massachusetts were unwilling to share information that would facilitate homicide investigations because of their reliance on vigilante justice, fear of retaliation by criminals, and anti-police sentiment.[2]
  • The refusal of law enforcement officers to speak out against the crimes of fellow officers, also called the Blue Code of Silence.
  • Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence: Christian Churches and the Global AIDS Crisis (2006), a book criticizing the activities of Christian churches.
  • Conspiracy of Silence, a 2004 film drama about the sexual activity of some who have taken vows of celibacy.[3]
  • Political adversaries, according to the New York Times in 2013, sometimes agree to avoid topics they all find difficult: "But on one topic, there was a conspiracy of silence: Republicans and Democrats agreed that they did not really want to talk about the Iraq war."[4]
  • Co-workers avoid criticizing a colleague, for example pilots do not report another pilot's alcohol problem: "There is a conspiracy of silence among macho men: 'Don't rat on your buddy.'"[5]
  • Acknowledgement of war crimes
  • Breaches of human rights, such as vanishing persons and torture
  • Social conditions - gang crime, drugs or other unlawful or disparaged activity. Omertà, the Cosa Nostra (Mafia) cultural code of Sicily, is a significant example of an entire culture built upon silence. Stop Snitchin' is a recent example.
  • The unspoken agreement of journalists and media outlets to suppress coverage of topics that their readers, advertisers, or sources prefer to avoid, as explored in Chris Lamb's Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball.[6]
  • Avoidance of recognition of some problem in order to officially hide a possible problem and thus avoid accusations, investigations or liability.
  • Personal problems - for example the increasing alcoholism of a significant individual in some context may become the subject of a culture of silence, whereby attention is averted by the relevant group.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Divini Redemptoris, Encyclical of Pope Pius XII on Atheistic Communism, § 18: "A third powerful factor in the diffusion of Communism is the conspiracy of silence on the part of a large section of the non-Catholic press of the world." Accessed 17 July 2014.
  2. ^ "The code of silence is cracked in Charlestown". Boston Globe. October 29, 1993. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  3. ^ Gates, Anita (December 3, 2004). "Sex, Conspiracy and Suicide: Just Another Day at Church". New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  4. ^ Baker, Peter (March 19, 2013). "Iraq War’s 10th Anniversary Is Barely Noted in Washington". New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  5. ^ Weiner, Eric (July 14, 1990). "Drunken Flying Persists Despite Treatment Effort". New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Professor Publishes Book Concerning the Media and Baseball Desegregation". The College Today (The College of Charleston). April 23, 2012. Retrieved January 30, 2015.