Thursday, 6 February 2014

Oscar Wilde and Jane Goodall

Today I read The Importance of Being Ernest yet again and also saw Jane Goodall give a lecture. Oscar (yes, we're on first name terms) says nothing in a delightfully clever way, Jane does the opposite.

JACKFor heaven's sake, don't try to be cynical. It's perfectly easy to be cynical.
ALGERNONMy dear fellow, it isn't easy to be anything nowadays. There's such a lot of beastly competition about. 

So many layers that you're not actually sure what Oscar's views on cynicism actually are, and best of all it doesn't matter. You may not like him minister but you can't deny, Oscar Wilde's got s t y l e.

And Jane just talks about the environment, about hope, about cruelty to animals. About all those things that people who generally irritate me talk about. Because it's obvious that they don't really care, they're just pretending to care because it's fashionable to care, or because they're insecure and it gives them something to hold onto, or because they think it'll get them money (see how easy cynicism is). Jane was introduced by the usual academic bores who said the correct and expected things in the correct and expected places: they told us how grateful we should be, they recited her Wikipedia article to us, and they thanked her. They used up all the adjectives in their vocabulary, and enough superlatives to feed a large family, or even a hobbit, for a month. I began to yawn and my mind wondered if a security company using concepts from a Panopticon could be successful (don't watch all houses, but just make sure that no-one knows which houses you are watching).

Then Jane took the stage, and within minutes had won over the entire audience by capturing the Vice Chancellor of UCT and making him act as a male chimpanzee, while she acted as a female chimpanzee who was attracted to him. Then she told us about her mother, about her trip to Africa, her experiences with animals who showed more signs of intelligence than her Cambridge professors, and about her charities. She told us why she still held onto hope when so many had left hope to die a horrible death, worthy of George R R Martin. She spoke without cliches, without using adjectives as crutches, without superlatives. She didn't tell us that her incredible, phenomenal, fantastic mother was uniquely exceptional, inspirational and admirable. She told us two simple stories which showed us the person who her mother was. She spoke well, she spoke sincerely, and most importantly of all, she spoke entertainingly. She shared her knowledge through the sparkle in her eyes as well as through the words she spoke.

It's the second time that I've been to a lecture and haven't found being cynical as easy as Oscar claims it to be. The first was when Sam Vice spoke about being cynical in the new South Africa. Jane's definitely not worried about being fashionable, she doesn't come across as insecure, and she doesn't seem to care much about money - when she talks, ulterior motives don't scream their lungs out, don't drown out her words as they do for most public speakers.

And best of all, she brings stories of hope from China, one of the countries which so many people choose to focus their cynicism on. China, everyone knows, is the land of exploitation and pollution and animal cruelty, and yet apparently they are among the largest adopters of her Roots & Shoots campaign. The country that kills its children in factories to make money has now banned shark fin soup to balance the scales.

And as the first cynicism I've felt in the last two hours crept into the last sentence, it's time to end.

You can watch a video recording of the lecture here: