Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Cold Eyes of Octopi

They're wonderful animals, delicate, complicated and shy.” so says Doc in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday. Now, you might think, if you were unaware of the context, he's talking of women, but no, Doc is referring to octopi, which being a science enthusiast (as was Steinbeck) it was not, I think, an attempt to discuss women in veiled terms. However, as the reader, it struck me that such a description could also be applied to roughly half the female population, by the male sex, because I think women would be less likely to say it of themselves, though it would be a rather antiquated view.
I, however, would put up my hand and say it's true, of myself anyway, and only in regard to the complicated and shy. I wouldn't have a problem with it, yet it would fall short to say it of all women. Yet I'm confusing the matter because let's be clear Steinbeck doesn't. It just got me thinking, particularly since we now live in a very politically-correct world, and where free speech and sensitivity are at all time high. Censorship is not, I think, very far away. And what a sad day that will be, and all because people can't police themselves in public forums and mistake free speech for abuse; or think that once-used terms, now considered 'offensive', should be banned from thought, from speech, from print. Each year we inch that bit closer to George Orwell's 1984, and to a repeat of history. That is, however, what living is: repeats. Similar circumstances coming round...
Different times, but people, fundamentally, are the same; react to situations as they might have done in other eras – with or against, in the middle, rise up against a dictator or follow his lead, refuse to be conquered or admit defeat and give victory to the conqueror. You don't realise history is being made nor realise the part you played until you look back on it. The pivotal moment only spotted after; often a long time after when historians have some hard facts and can piece it together: this piece fits here, that piece slots in there. If that hadn't happened or because of that etc. I wonder how these times, in time, will be considered, or we as a people.
No, you need a cold eye for history, not a dispassionate one, but an eye that's not too close to it, not going through it, because there will be propaganda you might not see clearly whilst in its throes. Like fake news, which once that term was brought out nearly everything was declared to be, because whatever suits purposes people use. And it's so easy for establishments and people in positions of power, or wanting to be, to wrest control of and, in some way, gain from.
Too much distance though can change history. The interpretation of it, which in my opinion, is dangerous, particularly if it's less given to understanding and more to condemning or rewriting to make it more or less acceptable. This can also change the views of the people who were in it, if they're still living. Societal attitudes can make people agree: Yes, that's how it was, because the actual experience can be a fog. A pea-souper where action and thinking are somehow not recorded as they would have been had life been quieter. Or they can recede, not forgotten but less vivid, and so doubts of how it was creep in. But I've said all this before elsewhere as it's a personal bugbear, so won't go on.
No movement or attitude that grew from another time, and is still around, is what it once was or set out to be. Feminism's not, the EU's certainly not, and student unions are a product of young minds, which, too often, are overly concerned with contemporary life and how they're seen so they ban or boycott everything and anything that goes against their values, often without giving the subject a fair hearing. How can you learn if all your energies are thrown instead into protesting? How would we get anywhere if we didn't stop to listen and consider? Outspokenness or rebellion doesn't breed tolerance; it can even lead to the opposite.
But then, how exactly did this internalized (and now publicized) debate develop from a sentence about octopi? Because as animals they divide opinion: fascinate and repel.

Picture credit: Octopus Biology, Ernst Haeckel