Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Friday 22 February 2013

On the Subject of Speculation

I’ve been thinking for a couple of weeks about writing a blog on the subject of speculation. I just didn’t think it would be this blog.

One of the pleasures of being a writer is the opportunity to speculate on a daily, sometimes even an hourly basis. We ask the question, ‘what if’ over and over again, and, if we’re any good, we come up with interesting answers that weave extraordinary tales.

I had a fascinating conversation with a scientist about speculation. He compared sitting around talking science with his students and colleagues twenty years ago to doing the same thing today. Then, they’d discuss research and who had done what, and what their findings had shown, and they’d argue over just what those findings were and who had done what experiments and their inaccurate memories would throw up all kinds of new ideas, and they’d speculate, and get excited about things, and possibly further their work. Once in a while, they might even have a proper Eureka moment.

Twenty years on, two minutes into a similar conversation, someone with a smartphone would be able to verify exactly who had done which experiments and what research, and who had achieved precisely what results, and the conversation would be killed stone dead. The scientist in question has taken to asking his students and colleagues to turn their phones off in order to establish a more creative environment in which to discuss subjects that many of us would consider to be very much fact based.

Interesting, isn’t it?

Anyway, that’s the gist of what I was going to talk about in my blog on the subject of speculation. I was going to talk about how there are similarities between disciplines that seem fundamentally different. I was going to suggest that creativity is a widely used tool in essentially fact-based disciplines, and that order and method are incredibly useful to those of us who work in creative fields. You only have to have a fondness for grammar to understand that it can be a precise and beautifully mathematic discipline and that it can impose order on creative chaos.

The problem, if I have one, is that I’ve been rather absorbed with talking about the Oscar Pistorius case over the past week, so I’m going to mention that again today. If ever we were all joined in a national sport, or, in this case, perhaps a global one, it is, surely, speculation. Isn’t that what a huge amount of the news, especially this sort of scandal is all about? We all do it, and, in this case, we’re all in it together. We are, in some ways, all masters of it. None of us has ever met Pistorius, and we probably never will. Many of us are picking up imperfect news feeds, written by journalists, who themselves have agendas or are writing comment, which is, of course, speculative. None of this affects us and none of it is real in any way that counts, and yet we cannot get enough of it.

This is just the beginning of a case that will, no doubt, run and run. How many of us, drawing obvious comparisons, have not gone back to speculate about that other famous case, now more than eighteen years old, of another national hero, another sportsman, another iconic figure. That case was resolved, the alleged murderer was found not guilty, and yet here many of us still are, speculating. Voices were heard in that courtroom, as they will be in another courtroom in South Africa over the coming months, but only the alleged culprits, OJ Simpson and Oscar Pistorius know whether they committed those crimes. Only the stories of the victims of the murders that OJ Simpson was accused of, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, murdered in June of 1994 went untold. Forensics experts and pathologists and scenes of crime officers did everything they could to piece together the facts as they saw them from the evidence they collected. However, science can be  a speculative process too, open to interpretation by those who answered the questions on the stand, and by those in the jury box who listened to the questions put to the expert witnesses and to the answers they gave.

Reeva Steenkamp will not be able to speak for herself in court, as Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were unable to tell their stories. She will not be able either to point the finger at Oscar Pistorius and accuse him of her murder, or to exonerate him of a premeditated attack on her. Reeva Steenkamp was cremated at a private ceremony in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday. She is gone.

Oscar Pistorius can stand in court and say whatever he chooses about what happened in that house in Pretoria only eight days ago. He can take an oath before God to tell the truth, and he can break that promise, for what is it to break a promise if you have already committed a heinous murder? All anyone else can do is speculate.

So that is what we do, and we do it the World over, in our masses.

Everybody speculates.


  1. I don't mind the speculation so much, more so what is done with it. scientific discussion and speculation doesn't usually end with pop-culture references in music (admittedly OJ, and Ron Goldman get the stick more than Nicole Brown Simpson), nor encourage cruel jokes abound (most at the moment seem to be about ... surprise surprise, Pistorius' disability (can he really STAND trial, etc, etc.)

    for some reason 'celebrities' get more than just the usual speculation, it almost seems like people are just waiting for something they can use to 'bring them down'.

    take the late Princess, at first there was horror, sympathy, and then jokes began. with the rise of social media it's become more and more common to 'cash in' on the misery of others. sure there's a tendency to do that even to people within our greater social circle, but celebrities are still the favoured target.

    is it because we feel they 'owe us' something, for 'putting them' where they are? or is it envy? if I was to present a theory, I'd like to offer the 'balance theory'.

    essentially it's predicated upon the idea that the average person believes that being famous (or rich, successful, attractive, all of the above, etc.) creates a 'plus', a good thing that balances out whatever bad things may happen. the more rich, successful, etc. you are, the more 'pluses' you have to mitigate the minuses of everyday life.

    so they reason in their head "well sure, something bad has happened, but their rich, successful, etc. so they'll be ok." I even had one guy say to me "it's ok to treat her bad, she's good looking", as if that'll make up for the misery people visit upon her because ... she's good looking. while I imagine that 'better' looking people often get away with things that others don't, it seems that this perception gets twisted to the extent that people justify abhorrent behaviour because of the perceived 'stacking' of pluses.

    problem is, there's little to support the idea that they have it 'better'.

    p.s. apologies for hammering this topic over the last few days, but this is a bit of a crusade for me heh.

  2. I can't see how the guy can ever have a fair trial. So many details have been leaked, so much said in the media that there is no way the jury won't have pre-judged him.