OCCASIONALLY, while shopping in a supermarket or a department store, you might see a shoplifter being caught, held and taken away. It's never a pretty sight and one memory stands out. It was an incident in a Dublin city centre store.
I know shoplifting costs the retail trade big money. I know we're each responsible for our own actions. I know a policy of always prosecuting shoplifters may act as a deterrent. And I know the glib cliches about not doing the crime if you can't do the time.
But this was awful. A young woman screaming, pleading, begging to be released, promising, swearing never to do it again.
And, yes, I know all shoplifters aren't in dire need. Not all of them are stealing to feed their families. I know there are gangs who specialise in shoplifting. I know that someone caught may cynically shriek and wail in hope of being let go.
But that's not what this was. This was the naked shame and fear of a woman barely out of her teens. This was infinite regret.
This was knowing in this overwhelming moment how this foolish act would ripple through her life, through her family, her friends, her neighbours, her classmates or workmates. This was a young woman realising that being caught in this one act might forever change her relationship with all of those. To all who knew her, it would cast a veil of dishonour over everything else she was.
She was taken away, to await the gardai and all that followed. The rest of us went about our business.
This distressing scene came to mind last week as the nation was subjected to another kind of shrieking and wailing.
Sean Quinn's friends and neighbours can't be faulted for their loyalty. It's laudable to go to such a family and say: "Sorry for your trouble. Is there anything I can do?" It's right to say: "Yes, three members of this family have been judged on serious evidence to have broken serious laws.
"But this is not all they are. And we will help them through this hour of need, because that's the kind of people we are. And we know Sean Quinn to be more than a lawbreaker."
But that's not what the Quinn supporters in Ballyconnell said last week. And that is not what Quinn's advocates in the media are saying.
"We stand by our own." That's what they say.
Whatever they did, we stand by our own. And by reason of being good people, our people, whatever they're accused of, there must be a conspiracy against them. They must be victims of those despicable people beyond up in Dublin, bad cess to them.
That is not sympathy for someone in trouble. That is solidarity with someone caught doing wrong.
That is what Fianna Fail said when Charlie Haughey was caught lying and stealing. We stand by our own.
It's what Fianna Fail said when big chunks of money turned up in Bertie Ahern's pockets.
It's what the hierarchy of the Catholic Church said when they knew that people under their jurisdiction were fondling, punching or raping children. We stand by our own.
These were not expressions of sympathy, they were defiant displays of solidarity, with a concomitant display of disrespect for the victims.
Three years ago, when a Listowel man was found guilty of sexual assault, his neighbours made a display of solidarity in the courtroom, in front of the victim (who got a rough time from some).
"What about the victim?" a journalist asked one of the man's supporters.
Came the reply: "I didn't know her."
Over the past week, Sean Quinn and his brother Peter and a range of others have launched an assault on the victims of the Quinn family's actions -- the rest of us.
This has been accompanied by serious accusations against identifiable members of the judiciary, against the people now running Anglo Irish Bank and against the media.
Sorry, that should be "the Dublin media".
Because, you see, living above here in Dublin, in our mansions, we have a fierce hatred of all who live outside the Pale, in their thatched cottages. We make up stuff about folk with country accents, because that's just the kind of gobshites we are.
We're not genuinely Irish, you know. We're West Brit Free Staters, gombeens, sleeveens, slaters and twisters who burn with envy and revulsion.
And you can't believe a word out of anyone about Sean Quinn, unless they were born within five miles of his home and/or worked five years in his factory.
It's pathetic. We live in a little sliver of a country on the edge of Europe. Throw a stick out of any Dublin window and the odds are you'll hit someone from Kerry, Mayo or Meath. And if you're not related to them, you've probably had drinks, a fight or sexual relations with their cousin.
Yet, some seek to divide us by geography, by place of birth, by public sector versus private, by gender, by any mechanism that mobilises group loyalty to defeat fairness.
Sean Quinn continues to make very serious allegations. He states blatantly that the asset-stripping his family did was done before court orders were issued.
I spent some time last week plodding through legal judgements relating to the Quinn scandal. In particular, re-reading Judge Elizabeth Dunne's finding of contempt of court.
Did the judge get it wrong? Is she part of some conspiracy to do down the Quinns, corrupted, perhaps, by the Anglo people or Matthew Elderfield?
That's the implication of the Quinn bullshit that is being ladled over us.
Read the judgement. It's online. It's not John Banville, admittedly, but it has great characters and a staggering plot. Read about Mr Gurniak and Ms Puga, about Galfis and Finansstroy.
Read about documents supposedly signed in April 2011 -- but which the judge believes were signed two months later. The events are complex, bewildering in places, but the judgement seems to me to be coherent and convincing.
This is not about a longing to see anyone banged up. If that's the penalty, so be it. What matters is that the law of the land is enforced.
And this isn't just about the Quinns. We all are being asset-stripped to protect the interests of careless, greedy people.
Four years after all this began, I'm tired of being lectured on what wonderful chaps they all are.
We've seen the Quinns at work, a once powerful family taking on the legitimacy of the courts.
We've seen Sean Quinn blustering, waving aside inconvenient facts. To answer cold, hard evidence, we have heated arrogance. Don't look at what we did. Look at who we are.
Tell that to the kid who is screaming for mercy when she has been caught with a pair of jeans stuffed up her jumper.
The old line from The Outlaw Josey Wales comes to mind.
"Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining."