"Why, why, why are you taking three onions?" was the question Antony Worrall Thompson asked himself as he stole food in Tesco's. He also took cheese and wine and, perhaps not the sort of items to appeal to a virtuoso chef, "two packets of discounted coleslaw".
Pretty small beer – except he didn’t nick any beer. Not exactly a great train robbery. The disproportionate fuss being made is all because he’s a celeb. I can put up with the fuss and the silly headlines: I’ve Been Edam Fool But I’m Going To Be Gouda. What’s not so easy to stomach is all the cod psychology being dished up to “explain” these petty acts of dishonesty. The media shrinks are lining up on opposite sides. There are those who say that Antony did it because he was “suffering from low self-esteem.” Then the others who say he had too much self-esteem which tipped over into arrogance and made him think he could do as he liked.
It’s all jargon and baloney. He did it because he was a naughty boy. It’s not a hanging offence, and I guess the natural response is to feel sorry for him. Poor chap, he obviously feels mortified and can’t understand what came over him. His theft was a minor act of wrongdoing. Why can’t we leave it at that? I loathe the medicalisation of morality – the attempt to account for ordinary human conduct by means of psychopathy. This is an approach which ultimately demoralises our behaviour. If we’re always being told to ask what “made” someone do what they did, then that completely undermines moral responsibility.
Society rightly prizes freedom. But when someone uses his freedom to do something wrong, then there are shoals of psychiatrists and media pundits rushing to provide medicalised, deterministic excuses. Sometimes this is taken to absurd lengths. A few years ago a twenty-two year old man murdered his parents and absconded with all their savings to New York. When he was caught and brought to trial, he was found not guilty because, at the time of the murder, he was alleged to have been “suffering from narcissistic personality disorder” .I think a better description of him would have been “callous, murderous prat.”
This demoralisation of what are essentially moral issues prevails in the political and social realm. If a group of thieves riot and steal plasma TVs from high street shops, the handwringing brigade want to know what “made” them do a thing like that. The usual cause is identified as poverty – or, in the fashionable jargon, “underprivilege” and “social exclusion.” But this phoney, pseudo-explanation only serves to insult the great majority of poor people who don’t riot and steal.
By his foolish, small criminal acts Thompson has brought suffering upon himself. Let’s forgive him and talk about something else. Most crimes can be forgiven and atoned for eventually. But that old- fashioned virtue of forgiveness can only be exercised when the culprit admits guilt.
The substitution of bogus psychological causation for moral culpability undermines our freedom of choice. A free society needs to believe in right and wrong. Our very understanding of what makes a human being depends on it.