On the moral outrage of the “normal.” A response to Madonna King

2 Apr

PeripeteiaI’d planned on a peaceful afternoon following a few arduous days but then I read this piece by journalist Madonna King, titled “Billy Gordon must stop making excuses for bad behaviour” and honestly, if this doesn’t encapsulate everything I’ve been writing about for the last few days I can’t imagine what would.

King opens by observing that Andreas Lubitz, co-pilot of the Germanwings flight that ended in tragedy after he flew the plane into the French Alps might well have been suffering from depression however, that doesn’t mean he ought not to be recorded in history as a mass murderer responsible for the deaths of 150 passengers.

From this King moves onto the saga of Queensland politician Billy Gordon, currently facing universal disapprobation for past crimes and present misdemeanours. Many people, King claims, suffer difficult childhoods and depressive illness, but they don’t all fly planes into mountains or resort to criminal activities, so why should anyone excuse the behaviours of Lubitz or Gordon on the grounds of their struggles with their personal demons?

Indeed, goes the illogic of her argument, Lubitz and Gordon are even more morally bankrupt because they did not manage to deal with their demons in a manner that did not cause anguish to others.

Let me unpick King’s moral dummy spit.

While there are undeniably common factors in depressive illness, and in the reactions to childhood trauma, it should never be forgotten that every circumstance is individual, and neither depressive illness nor childhood trauma occurs to robots and replicants but to human beings, formed by genes, nature, and nurture, different in every case, different even within the same family. To argue that because one person does not react like another to trauma indicates that they are exceptionally morally deficient, is the worse kind of middle class, self-righteous, pseudo-psychological conservative claptrap.

Lubitz undoubtedly will quite rightly be remembered as the murderer of 150 passengers and the bearer of anguish to hundreds of others. However, no human action takes place in a vacuum, and understanding Lubitz’s circumstances is not “making excuses” for his acts, but informing ourselves, the better to avoid such catastrophes in the future.

Likewise, knowing where Billy Gordon is coming from is not “making excuses” for his actions, but adding to our knowledge of how the events of an individual’s life form him or her, and of the enormous variety of responses and reactions individuals can have to what on the surface appear to be identical or very similar circumstances.

Taking a moral stand on these matters does nothing to inform us of anything. This is a classic example of how pointlessly destructive moral stands can be. If we say, as has Ms King, that explanations and understanding are “excuses” for certain types of behaviour, we come to a dead-end. If we want to reduce and prevent certain types of behaviours, we won’t do it by simply deciding they are “bad.”

Gordon has at some point this week described a deprived childhood. To which King replies: Guess what Billy. You should have spent less time wanting what others had, and less time breaking the law too.

He should have spent less time wanting what others had? What? It is an offence have nothing and want what others have? The poor must not envy and covet the privileges of the comfortable? They must simply accept they can’t have them?

King goes on: Excuses are now the reason for bad behaviour across the community. An act of road rage because someone cut someone off at the pass. A scratch along the side of a car because someone took somebody else’s car park. One punch outside a night club because someone thought someone else’s drink had been spiked. 

There is a vast difference between excuses and reasons, a difference that entirely escapes Ms King. These are explanations, however inadequate, of certain actions. They are vital to increasing our understanding of why some of us behave so abominably at times, and therefore indicators of how our abominable behaviour can be addressed and hopefully reduced, in the interests of the common good.

There’s not one among us, including Ms King, who can know with any certainty that we will not at some time become the victim of peripeteia. How we react in unexpected circumstances is determined by any number of factors, the majority of which are likely entirely unknown to us.  Morality is largely unhelpful in these situations, and is particularly so when applied after the fact.

Apart from anything else, it is profoundly arrogant for anyone to assume or demand that every individual who suffers trauma and/or mental illness reacts to her or his circumstances in the same way. Using some of us as a yardstick by which to judge the others is a game of the privileged and the entitled. Traumatised and mentally ill people do not lose our individuality because of our experiences. We have the right to be who we are, without the burden of the expectations and moral judgements of the “normal” and the “healthy.”

Thank you Eroticmoustache (I think :-)) for the link that led to this rant.

16 Responses to “On the moral outrage of the “normal.” A response to Madonna King”

  1. Michaela Tschudi April 2, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

    Thank you. I’m shouting HEAR HEAR from my office.

    Liked by 1 person

    • helvityni April 3, 2015 at 9:43 am #

      To spot a Liberal on any blog, there’s one word that gives them away, ‘envy’. They accuse others of being envious.

      My usual answer is: that’s your illness, we aim higher, we want ‘equality’.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Michaela Tschudi April 2, 2015 at 6:10 pm #

    And I’m also shouting FUCK YOU to all those dimwits who inflict their moral outrage on us

    Liked by 1 person

  3. paul walter April 2, 2015 at 9:16 pm #

    I just commented but it ended up on the conservstism thread. The comment expressed my suspicion of what this sort of stuff is really sbout.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. doug quixote April 2, 2015 at 11:44 pm #

    It shouldn’t be too difficult a concept to differentiate between reasons and excuses!

    To offer a reason or an explanation does not extend to justification. It may, at an extreme; but at an extreme, a puddle of water becomes an ocean.

    A journalist and author should know better, even if she has spent the last year or two studying Joe Hockey.

    Hmmm – on second thoughts that does offer a reason or an explanation . . . but not a justification for her failure of comprehension.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. hudsongodfrey April 3, 2015 at 12:50 am #

    It does indeed take a particular kind of righteous idiot to conflate the murders of 150 people with any of the charges or allegations leveled against Billy Gordon.

    Nor is the difference between excusing bad behaviour and forgiving a wayward past given due weight. If we want a representative democracy then by all means open it up to those who’ve redeemed themselves. When the experience of a candidate probably mirrors that of a wider cross section of his community, then to exclude him seems to add to a sense of marginalisation.

    I’m not 100% clear on what the law states about candidates with criminal records in Queensland, as the following will make clear, but if somebody does know then please enlighten us……

    If there are eligibility conditions for political office imposed by the electoral commission then to circumvent them would smack of dishonesty. I’d hope that it might go without saying that a political party imposing it’s own discriminatory standard in such a case ought to be ashamed of itself. But the right thing to do in the former case of legislated bars to his candidacy would have been to fight to relax any such provisions prior to standing Gordon for office.

    That said, it bugs me that it has emerged one of the people involved was religious and that conservatives do favour the kind of moral judgements that presuppose a notion of inherent evil being at the root of every kind of human failing. How very charitable of them to forget about the doctrine of salvation when it suits their political ends!

    People who think that god created us corrupted in the very flesh and perversely ordered us to be good on threat of eternal torture have no business sharing anything further on the subject of morality. They clearly know nothing about it.

    As to any lesser excuse for political expedience at the expense of inclusive representation it is below contempt when somebody capable of overcoming a chequered past should be denied the very right to argue the virtue of their own rehabilitation. Which is just to say that should Gordon not be cut from the cloth that we hope he is then let his case rise or fall on it’s merits. Merits I presume to be self evident within the community that elected him, in all likelihood fully aware of his character and history. If after this he manages to stand for resisting small mindedness perhaps a better thing will have transpired.

    Liked by 1 person

    • doug quixote April 3, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

      Hi HG. I have discovered this reference:

      Part VIIC of the Crimes Act1914 (Cth) provides that where a conviction for an offence has been pardoned, quashed or spent, the person is:

      1. Taken to have never been convicted of the offence; and
      2. not required to disclose the fact that they were charged with
      or convicted of the offence.

      This right of non-disclosure of spent convictions applies to the disclosure of information “to any person, for any purpose” and, therefore, will apply to requests for information made by an employer to an applicant during the recruitment process.

      A person’s conviction becomes “spent” if they have been granted a pardon, or they were not sentenced to imprisonment for more than 30 months and the relevant “waiting period” has expired. The waiting period is 5 years from the date of conviction if the person was treated as a juvenile in relation to the offence, or 10 years in all other cases. If a person is convicted summarily of another offence which was committed during a waiting period, the court may order that the first conviction not become spent until the waiting period for the later conviction has ended. Where the later conviction is by indictment (a serious criminal matter), the court has no discretion in relation to the treatment of the earlier conviction – it will not become spent until the waiting period for the later conviction has expired.

      The right of non-disclosure does not apply in certain circumstances. These exclusions are listed in Division 6 of Part VIIC and Regulation 8(1) of the Crimes Regulations1990, and include, for example:

      Prospective employees or members or law enforcement agencies and intelligence security agencies;
      Bodies involved in the care, instruction or supervision of minors, for the purpose of finding out whether a prospective employee has been convicted of a “designated offence” (namely a sexual offence or any other offence against a person who was under 18 at the time the offence was committed);
      Convictions for designated offences for the purpose of assessing the suitability of a person for certain positions with the Australian Defence Force;
      Convictions for offences involving violence for prison administration positions.”

      from Fitzroy Legal Centre,


      Liked by 1 person

      • Marilyn April 3, 2015 at 5:37 pm #

        Exactly right, and they were juvenile “crimes””, he was a poor aboriginal kid in Joh’s Queensland who through dint of hard work has pulled himself up to work in the army reserves, helping other poor aboriginal kids and now a politician.

        It’s nothing but another vicious LNP/Courier Mail witch hunt with the ALP giving it all plenty of oxygen with their arbitrary rant that he should leave parliament.

        Who of us at 13 didn’t do dumb things after all?

        The whole domestic thing reeks of a set up too, why write to pollies about things supposed to have happened in 2005? And when his mother said she did not want an AVO or accuse Billy of violence does everyone repeat the original lazy lie?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson April 3, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

          I too wondered why a complaint of domestic violence was made to a politician and not police.


      • hudsongodfrey April 3, 2015 at 6:14 pm #

        Interesting discussion and list of many answers to my own questions also at the link below.


        Liked by 1 person

  6. eroticmoustache April 3, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

    Hi Jennifer,

    I’m just about to read this piece. I’ve been working on my own response to King. If you’re interested: http://goo.gl/mdalu3


    • eroticmoustache April 3, 2015 at 3:03 pm #

      Holy crap, I think we wrote more or less the same article. How cool. Though I’m a bit jealous I didn’t of think of “moral dummy spit” when trying to come up with a description of King’s article. And I did try pretty hard. Naturally I agree with every point made.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marilyn April 3, 2015 at 5:38 pm #

        And what gets me is the western media hypocrisy who have bent over so far backward to make this mass murderer just a depressed naughty boy they have become pretzels.

        if he was a muslim the entire muslim world would be forced to supplicate themselves in prostration for months, as he is a boy just like us it’s kinda ho hum.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson April 3, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

        As I agree with your post, EM. Strong analysis, great detail. Thanks for sharing!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Debra Duncan April 4, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    One of my favourite quotes, from Marshall McLuhan in 1967, is ‘Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity.’

    Liked by 1 person

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