To follow on from yesterday’s post about Oscar Pistorius, the man without a leg to stand on—from both a legal and a biological perspective—also proves to be a useful case study in how people lie. Pistorius has maintained that he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, to death because he awoke in the night and thought he had been burglarised; in the confusion he mistook Steenkamp—who had locked herself in a bathroom—for an intruder and then, in a panic, shot her to death.
The story depends on a confusion as regards how we sleep and wake up. When Pistorius crafted this story he wanted to play on the idea that when we wake up we are woozy—our minds are stuffed with cotton wool, and we are never really awake until we have had our first coffee. Now imagine, says Pistorius, you felt like you do when you catch a train to work; except it is nighttime and someone is in your home—in addition, you live in a very violent society, as South Africa undoubtedly is, and you are disabled. Surely, surely in these circumstances your brain might become so befogged that you could shoot your girlfriend to death by accident; obviously, through terror, you would fire again and again—and due to wooziness the shots would be all over the place…
The problem is that if you think about it for a moment nobody wakes up in that way—not when they think there are ructions down below. At sometime or another I am pretty sure most people have been woken in the night and thought something or someone was in the house with them—perhaps something has gone wrong, a bat is trapped in your aunt’s bedroom or the boiler has burst.
Yet from the first moment the body breaks sleep—primed for it over the aeons—it assumes that another tribe has penetrated the camp or a hyena has loped in to snack on the babies.
Consequently, if woken in the night by strange sounds, you snap upright and every sense is primed. There is an adrenaline dump and you do not feel as if you have wandered downstairs—cozily wrapped in a duvet, about to trip on children’s toys—as you stumble along without slippers. No, you are right awake and ready to find out what thing has caused the disturbance.
Even if you arm yourself with a cricket bat or a golf club—or a firearm—you do not then, even if the adrenaline has put you on edge, proceed downstairs to blaze or whack away at any shape that moves in the darkness; even frightened people—even people confronted with a dangerous animal—will take a tentative shot, check the result, then act again. It is only in corny sitcoms that the suburban dad rushes downstairs waving his best golf club with no discrimination—when the lights go on it turns out he really hit…ha ha ha. In other words, this only happens when you make it up for effect—if you are a bad writer, or a bad liar.
Of course, there are circumstances when you do whack or blaze away without discrimination, such as, you know, when you are in a blind rage with something or someone; just like when I was ten and was defeated by the last boss in Super Wario for the nth time and so hit my Game Boy on an armrest again and again in frustration…until the LCD exploded and bled a dark black blotch across the screen. I felt very sheepish about that big black liquid pool I had caused, so I just said, “I dropped it on the stairs, Mum,” very quietly. You know, women—especially models, like Steenkamp—are a game as well; and if they irritate a man with a certain image he likes to maintain he might wrathfully hit his toy again and again until it complies—or until it is quite broken, anyway.